Seasons, Moods & Timings of Ragas in Indian (Hindustani) Classical Music: Know when a raga should be played
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.