Personality of a rAgam
Last Updated On: March 25, 2003
Just as beauty of paintings and sculptures are in the eye of the beholder, we firmly believe that a rAgam is a collection of sounds and sound sequences which is enjoyed and experienced differently by each individual listener. Each listener is interested in different aspects of a rAgam or songs in the rAgam. We believe that many rAgams' personality (also known as svarUpam or bhAvam) cannot be described sufficiently in a scientific, notational or even detail descriptive manner, just like art cannot be completely described in words.
Here we try to describe various aspects that guide us towards the personality of a rAgam.
svarams are not given a specific frequency in Indian music. A varying scale is used, where-in the base note "sa" (shadjam) is fixed arbitrarily during a concert based on the vocalist's natural base tone or the instrument's chosen base tone. Usually these correspond to one of the 12 notes in a harmonium or piano, but it is not sacred. The artist decides on the base for the concert, and accompanists tune their instruments to this base.
The frequency of other notes in a rAgam are then fixed relative to the shadjam by a multiplicative factor between 1 and 2. For example, the frequency of shudhDha madhyamam is 4/3 of shadjam and that of panchamam is 3/2 of the shadjam. The use of ratios of small integers usually provides good soothing music, though there are exceptions. In the exceptions, the note cluster has a specific effect and provides its own beauty, just like abstract art is beautiful for some.
The frequency of the higher octave is obtained by multiplying the frequency of standard notes by 2. The frequency of the lower octave is obtained by dividing the frequency of standard notes by 2. The notes hence form a geometric progression.
Western music uses 12 fixed notes (frequencies). The C note is a fixed frequency (left most key on a piano). Indian music uses the variable scale and also uses lot more notes within the octave. For ease of notation and to reduce complications during study, Indian music refers to 12 note system too (especially South Indian classical music). There are systems where 22 distinct notes (frequencies) are mentioned and used, where-in the additional notes fall slightly lower or higher than related notes. Please refer to other sites that describe notes and frequencies in more detail.
ArOHanam and avarOHanam
The scale of specific rAgam can be described by its ascending sequence (ArOHanam) and the descending sequence (avarOHanam). This defines one aspect of a rAgam. This aspect is dependent on notating each note's (svara's) relative frequency with respect to the base note "sa" (shadjam) and serves as a guideline of sequences that are to be used for a rAgam.
The ArOHanam and avarOHanam cannot fully describe the rAgam due to following reasons.
1. svarams same, but different bhAvam
dhEvagAndhAri and Arabhi are a good example of same ArOHanam and avarOHanam, but the bhAvam of each is different. dhEvagAndhAri is a slow tempo rAgam that evokes a different feeling inside us, while Arabhi is generally rendered in medium or fast tempo. The jIva svarams are also different giving a different energy field around the auditorium. Another example can be nAyaki and dharbAr, where-in only the prayOgams are different and give a different energy field.
2. Oscillation not notated
rAgams like saHAna, bEgada and kAnada among many others require this feature in order to give the correct bhAvam to them. Many such rAgams can be learnt and mastered only through repeated listening of experienced singers, rather than through scientific repetition of svaras within ArOHanam and avarOHanam and their prayOgams.
3. anya svaras introduced
In some rAgams anya svaras are introduced in some visEsha prayOgams. Simple example is bilaHari and kAmbOdhi.
4. Domains of rAgams to be exclusive
There are many rAgams with very little differences in their structural guidelines (ArOHanam and avarOHanam). These rAgams must be sung with care so that the individuality of each rAgam is clearly reflected. For example, jayanthasri is similar to HindhOLam, with an extra vakra panchamam included in the avarOHanam. Artists frequently touch upon the panchamam when singing jayanthasri, lest it become a HindhOLam phrase.
In our opinion, each rAgam, when sung with shradhDhA, involvement and accuracy can develop an energy field around the whole auditorium. We feel the cool effect of Amruthavarshini or the heat of dhIpak rAg is very possible, if not on a bigger scale, at least to the people within auditorium.
This also means that certain rAgams do not go well with others. Hence the choice of rAgams are important. Some artists and experts will be able to shed more light on the details.
We had one experience during AlApana of a concert. The vocalist made an AlApana in simHEndra madhyamam, when he briefly did a svara bEdham on rishabam to produce a few phrases of subhapanthuvarALi. This seemed to go against the energy and ambience set by initial rAgam. My concentration and enjoyment was somehow disturbed, eventhough no wrong notes were sung. The violinist tried a different svara bEdham - both rishabham and gAndhAram playing out panthuvarALi within his AlApana of simHEndra madhyamam. Since the energy field had already been disturbed, I am not able to comment on this svara bEdham combination.
School of learning
The school of learning also bears its influence on the rAga bhAvam (personality of the rAgam). We can find multiple ArOHanam and avarOHanam definitions for the same rAgam due to the influence of various masters over period of time. The tutleage decides on the personality of the rAgam. Due to the same, there is also differences in opinion between various listeners depending on which school of learning they appreciate and which aspect of the music they enjoy.
Listener of Carnatic music
Listeners of music can be classified depending on what their expectations are. Here are some (in random order and not mutually exclusive):
Hence, the viewpoints on personality of a rAgam (svarUpam or bhAvam) depends on the type of listener who airs the viewpoint.
We have a strong belief that many rAgams are not simple ones to learn by pressing a few keys on keyboard (especially a western one). Many rAgams must be learnt by listening only and comes through practice and experience. Nobody can explain in words or scientifically notate to satisfaction of majority of the people.
Our advice to one and all is to enjoy the music in your own way and not worry about scientific analysis of the difficult and complex rAgams that have been passed from one generation to the next.
I would appreciate any further feedback on above thoughts.
History of changes
Created this page on March 25, 2003.
ArOHanam & avarOHanam of sampUrna mELakarthA rAgams
ArOHanam & avarOHanam of asampUrna mELakarthA rAgams
ArOHanam & avarOHanam of janya rAgams
Notes on janya rAgams
rAgams MP3 samples