• Hindustani Raga Index •

 


An open-ended project seeking to bring North Indian raga closer to all who approach with open ears. Combines direct input from dozens of leading Hindustani artists with in-depth insights from music history, global theory, performance practice, cognitive science, and much more! [out 2023]


—Project Preview—
Ahir Bhairav | Antardhwani | Asavari | Bageshri | Basant Mukhari | Bhairav | Bhairavi | Bhimpalasi | Bhupali | Bihag | Bilaskhani Todi | Chandranandan | Charukeshi | Darbari | Desh | Durga | Gorakh Kalyan | Jhinjhoti | Jog | Jogkauns | Kafi | Kalavati | Kaunsi Kanada | Lalit | Malkauns | Marwa | Megh | Miyan ki Malhar | Multani | Parameshwari | Patdeep | Pilu | Poorvi | Puriya | Puriya Dhanashree | Shree | Tilak Kamod | Todi | Vachaspati | Yaman
Megalist of Ragas (300+)

What is raga? | Geometries | Structures | Families | Gharanas | Instr. | Talas | Times | Lakshan. | Murchanas | Search | GlossaryTags | QuotesFeedback

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—RAGAS IN DEPTH—


History, geometry, mythology, phraseology, global comparisons, etc…

• Raag Ahir Bhairav

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Inextricably linked with the Indian sunrise, Ahir Bhairav draws on ideas from both the North and South of the Subcontinent. Possibly named for the Ahir cattle-herding caste, the raga is fabled to mimic the ringing of cowbells at dawn – with patient ascent patterns often settling into extended oscillations on the komal re (seen by some to symbolise the sun’s morning emergence).


• Raag Antardhwani

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Among the youngest ragas to have found global acclaim, Antardhwani (‘sound of the inner self’) was unveiled by Shivkumar Sharma in the 1990s, who discovered its unique hexatonic shape by chance while retuning his santoor. Drawing from the geometries of Bhairavi, the raga is adored for its calming, meditative flavours, partly inspired by the late Pandit’s lifelong love of yoga.


• Raag Asavari

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An antique late morning raga, Asavari comprises two main variants: an older, Dhrupad-favoured ‘komal re’ form, and a more recent set of ‘shuddha Re’ offshoots. Both call for complex connective motions and expressive oscillations on dha, which may be tuned ati-komal. Classical ragmala paintings often depict Asavari as a female snake-charmer sitting atop a mountain.


• Raag Bageshri

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An ancient raga of the late night, Bageshri is associated with vipralambha – the profound longing felt by separated lovers. These sentiments are reflected in its multipolar phraseology: artists may resolve to Sa for a clustered, inward-turning feel, or to ma for a more open sound – often seen as symbolising two lovers, or perhaps competing waves of emotion within a single soul.


• Raag Basant Mukhari

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Blending the poorvang of Bhairav (SrGm) with the uttarang of Bhairavi (PdnS), Basant Mukhari bears the imprints of multiple musical cultures. While its main modern inception is traceable to vocalist S.N. Ratanjankar’s eclectic Carnatic borrowings, some also link it to the near-extinct Raag Hijaz, itself derived from Arabic maqam. Scale-congruent forms thus turn up across the Islamic world.


• Raag Bhairav

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Revered as the primary raga of Lord Shiva, Bhairav takes its name from Kala Bhairava (‘fearsome form’) – an apocalyptic manifestation of the deity fabled to have cut off one of Brahma’s five heads to silence his arrogance. Renditions reflect the gravity of this ancient lore, depicting Shiva’s tandav (‘dance of destruction’) with wide-roving motions and dense oscillations on re and dha.


• Raag Bhairavi

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Probably the most prominent raga in the entire Hindustani canon, Bhairavi (‘awe, terror’: after the Fifth Avatar of the Mother Goddess) is a concert-closing staple. Unique in its chromatic flexibilities, the raga may span the full swara spectrum, allowing for a multitude of moods in the hands of a master. Long linked to the dawn hours, it also enjoys fame in filmi and other fusions.


• Raag Bhimpalasi

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Associated with the invigorating warmth of the late afternoon sun, Bhimpalasi evokes multiple shades of shringara (‘romantic love, erotic desire’). Thought to have arisen from an archaic union between Bheem and Palas, the raga calls for direct, passionate melodic outpourings, balancing a deft pentatonic ascent with the symmetry-inducing addition of Re and Dha on the way down.


Raag Bhupali

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Hailed for its structural simplicity, Bhupali is often the first raga taught to Hindustani students. While the same Major Pentatonic scale form is shared by countless global cultures, India’s incarnation (named for Madhya Pradesh’s Bhopal region) presents its own quirks – invoking tranquillity and home-bound reassurance with interlinked sliding motions and emphatic resolutions.


• Raag Bihag

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Created via the artful grafting of tivra Ma onto a Bilawal-oriented base, Bihag contains a wealth of melodic possibilities. Long linked to late evening festivities, its meend-laden tendencies are explored with symmetrical articulations and fluid resolution phrases, guided by nuanced swara hierarchies which may display significant gharana-to-gharana variance.


• Raag Bilaskhani Todi

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An auspicious form, Bilaskhani Todi is fabled to have been created by Bilas Khan: son of Tansen, the legendary composer of Emperor Akbar’s court. On trying to sing Todi at his father’s funeral wake, Bilas found himself so grief-stricken that he mixed up the swaras – however, his panic was allayed on witnessing the corpse slowly raise up one hand in approval of the new tune.


• Raag Chandranandan

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Chandranandan (‘moonstruck’) is a modern classic, created by Ali Akbar Khan in a spare studio moment via spontaneously blending concepts from the Kaunsi family. The recording sold wildly – but, when concert audiences called out for the raga, he found that he had forgotten how to play it. The sarod master’s paradox-laden path of rediscovery is a truly curious tale…


Raag Charukeshi

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Adopted from Carnatic music, Charukeshi calls for wide-open melodic exploration, favouring long melodies which wind around themselves while visiting the furthest reaches of all three octaves. Like many Southern scales, it is often used as a canvas for reshaping and recolouring ideas from adjacent ragas, while itself presenting an odd marriage of major and minor.


Raag Darbari

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Darbari has been described as “the emperor of ragas, and the raga of emperors”. Its majestic tones famously echoed across the marble floors of Mughal palaces in centuries past, bringing solemn relief to kings, warlords, and diplomats alike. Consequently, renditions tend to retain a grave, reverential patience, laden with heavy, vocalistic ornaments and turns.


• Raag Desh

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Intimately connected to Indian national identity, Desh gives melodic direction to the famous patriotic anthem Vande Mataram, as well as soundtracking dozens of Rabindrasangeet. Associated with the second quarter of night, renditions tend towards the sweet and romantic, borrowing liberally from thumri, hori, and other folk forms. Re assumes a special prominence.


• Raag Durga

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Beguiling in its pentatonic simplicity, Durga (‘invincible, impassable’) is inextricably tied to visions of the Mother Goddess: depicted in Hindu lore as a destroyer of demons and protector of the faithful. Despite these ancient associations, the raga is of relatively recent Carnatic import, only gaining broad acceptance among Northern rasikas around the mid-20th century.


• Raag Gorakh Kalyan

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A spacious, folksy raga of the late evening, Gorakh Kalyan (named for Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh) has fabled links to Saint Gorakhnath – a yogi and mystic-musician said to have travelled throughout the Subcontinent in search of spiritual wisdom and sonic enrichment. Some include only four swaras in aroha (SRmD), leaving room for winding, ambiguous lines in the descent.


• Raag Jhinjhoti

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A staple of thumri, tappa, and other light-classical styles, Jhinjhoti is a hearty raga of the late evening and early night hours. Particularly beloved by instrumentalists, it is a favourite of Hindu weddings and other celebratory gatherings, offering a reassuring familiarity via balancing Durga-like ascending phrases with a special treatment of shuddha Ga in descent.


• Raag Jog

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A lively late-evening raga, Jog translates as ‘state of union’ (derived from the Sanskrit concept of yogi). Its oddly bluesy harmony presents an enchanting almost-familiarity to uninitiated listeners, mixing major and minor flavours via a characteristic ‘Gmg zigzag’ phrase in descent (which, via the wonders of convergent evolution, suggests the structure of a 7#9 ‘Hendrix chord’).


• Raag Jogkauns

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Created by vocal master Jagannathbuwa Purohit Gunidas in the 1940s, today’s Jogkauns is often summarised as ‘Jog plus Chandrakauns’ – although his original inception in fact drew more from the melodies of Malkauns than this latter raga. Gharana-blending singer Kumar Gandharva soon picked up on the new form, quickly garnering acclaim from audiences across North India.


• Raag Kafi

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Perhaps more like an compendium of folk tunes than a fully codified raga framework, Kafi offers unusual chromatic freedoms. Almost always appearing in mishra (‘mixed’) form, renditions will often borrow from affiliated ragas as well as semi-classical styles such as thumri, dadra, and ghazal. Lyrical material tends towards the romantic, matched by free-roaming melodies.


• Raag Kalavati

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A playful pentatonic form, neatly structured as a stack of ‘regularly narrowing’ intervals (4>3>2>1 semitones). The wide, triadic poorvang and clustered uttarang combine to give a reassuring momentum, with increasing melodic urgency as you go higher (a ‘triple jump followed by a sprint’). Consequently, performances of the raga tend towards energy and rhythmic charge.


• Raag Kaunsi Kanada

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The modern form of Kaunsi Kanada is often summarised as a blend of two ragas: ‘Malkauns on the way up, and Darbari on the way down’. But the whole is more than the sum of these parts, with both sides interacting to offer labyrinthine moods – described by Debasmita Bhattacharya as one of “heavy introspection: like a man who weeps inside, but can never show his tears”.


• Raag Lalit

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Lalit is an oddly-shaped sunrise raga. Among the most influential forms in Hindustani history, its distinctive ‘double Ma, no Pa’ structure has a malleable ambiguity, capable of conjuring flavours ranging from “sadness and anguish to the serene and devotional”. The evenly-weighted treatment of the twin ma swaras leads some to see the tivra as a kind of ‘komal Pa’.


• Raag Malkauns

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Among the most revered ragas in the Hindustani pantheon, Malkauns (‘he who wears serpents as garlands’) combines structural simplicity with a nuanced mythological ethos. Said to have been composed by the goddess Parvati to soothe Lord Shiva’s murderous rage, it is associated with states of ‘severe tranquility’, calling on artists to approach with solemnity and trepidation.


• Raag Marwa

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Notable for omitting its own Sa for long stretches, the hexatonic Marwa conjures moods of ‘austere, spiritual renunciation’ – summoning these sentiments with low, slow lines which patiently outline the raga’s highly irregular geometry (three adjacent plus three wide-set swaras). Its descent-dominant melodies often tease at resolutions which never fully arrive.


• Raag Megh

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Likely the oldest surviving member of the Malhar family, Megh (‘cloud’) is said to have saved the life of Tansen himself. Legend holds that great composer’s forceful rendition of Raag Deepak caused rivers to boil, and oil lamps to burn uncontrollably. His efforts to quench the blaze came to nothing – until he met two sisters, Tana and Riri, who sung Megh to set off a great storm.


• Raag Miyan ki Malhar

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Derived from the Sanskrit for ‘banishing uncleanliness’, the main raga of the Malhar family is mythically connected to Miyan Tansen, said to have sung it at Emperor Akbar’s 16th-century royal court to summon the monsoon. Still inextricably linked to the rejuvenating effects of rain, Malhar’s twin ni swaras are essential to generating the charged energies of bursting clouds.


• Raag Multani

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Multani is an afternoon raga of angular shape and ancient heritage: the name suggests origins in the Punjabi Multan region, long heralded as a holy site by Hindus, Sikhs, and Sufis alike. In Deepak Raja’s reflection, its Todi-congruent swaras fit with “oppressive afternoon heat…the virtual wilting of the body and mind under the remorseless tyranny of the North Indian summer.”


• Raag Parameshwari

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A mellifluous modern form created by Ravi Shankar in 1968 (…while sitting in the backseat of a car). Though somewhat resembling a ‘komal re Bageshri’, its hexagonal structure summons its own colours and tensions – with early performances exerting hidden influence on countercultural icons including George Harrison. A captivating scale, ripe for open-ended experiments.


• Raag Patdeep

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Derived from the Dhanashree family, Patdeep somewhat resembles a ‘shuddha Ni Bhimpalasi’: ascending pentatonically before revealing Re and Dha in descent (and thus mirroring the Melodic Minor). Its distinctive interval structure, featuring a run of adjacent whole-tone jumps (gmPDN), can be rotated via murchana to form Charukeshi, Vachaspati, and Ahiri.


• Raag Pilu

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A true thumri raga, Pilu’s highly permissive melodic framework functions more like an alliance of amorous folk tunes than a ‘fully codified’ form. While relatively rare on the khayal stage, it enjoys wild popularity across a swathe of semi-classical styles, invoking both variants of Ga and Ni to animate countless love songs and Krishna bhajans with a heart-on-sleeve romanticism.


• Raag Poorvi

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Poorvi is a long-lived sunset raga from East India, which to many evokes a serious mood of mystical contemplation. Mixing wide and narrow intervals (all swaras have at least one immediate neighbour), its complex twists and turns belie the base scale’s neat, symmetrical nature – with Sa and Pa often being omitted in ascent in order to ‘obscure’ this geometric balance.


• Raag Puriya

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A prominent sunset raga, Puriya uses the same six swaras as Marwa, reshuffling them to bring a distinct set of melodic forces. Renditions tend to focus on the low and middle octaves, seeking a fine balance between ascending and descending phrases. Some describe its mood as one of ‘sombre piety’, while others find more playful essences in its odd geometry.


• Raag Puriya Dhanashree

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Like the scale-congruent Shree, Puriya Dhanashree’s hemitonic clusters outline a major triad (SGP) with the first and last steps ‘enclosed’ by their immediate neighbours – giving two sets of three adjacent swaras (NSr, MPd). Pa exerts the strongest gravity, easing the tension of the tivra Ma and providing temporary anchor for melodic lines which may span all seven swaras.


• Raag Shree

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According to Gwalior vocal master Omkarnath Thakur, Shree is associated with those sunset hours when “disembodied spirits…become active, and aid in the black magic of Tantriks”. Tied to ancient mythologies of Lord Shiva, the raga takes its name from ‘Sri’, a sacred Sanskrit syllable which in Vedic tradition represents the material nature of humanity’s place in the universe.


• Raag Tilak Kamod

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Mirroring the Western Major scale, Tilak Kamod’s seven swaras offer robust melodic flexibility across a range of sentiments (“heroic courage, philosophic poise, devotional contentment, suggestive eroticism…”). One origin tale traces the raga to Pyar Khan, a rabab pioneer said to have devised it after overhearing a village woman sing while grinding corn in Uttar Pradesh.


• Raag Todi

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Pivotal to Hindustani history, the Todi raganga overflows with musical ideas found nowhere else on the planet. Some link its ambiguous geometries with “existential unsettlement”, while others hear “the playfulness of a newborn, content and smiling”. Rajan Parrikar hails it as “the most profound, finespun idea in melodic music…from ecstasy, to frolic, to pathos, to melancholy”.


• Raag Vachaspati

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Vachaspati (‘lord of speech’) is a recent import from the South, adapted from Carnatic music’s 64th parent scale in the mid-20th century. Consequently, its Northern form is still in a state of flux, with few firm melodic conventions aside from staying within the scale’s bounds. The swaras resemble overtones 8-14 of the harmonic series – the foundational constituents of all resonant sound.


• Raag Yaman

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Among the first-learned and most-performed ragas, Yaman’s influence on modern Hindustani music is impossible to overstate. Linked to the early night hours (‘when lanterns are lit’), the disbalancing effects of tivra Ma – the only non-shuddha swara – allow for a kaleidoscopic emotional range, with Sa and Pa often being skipped in aroha to accentuate these yearning tensions.


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—EXPLAINERS—

Unravelling Hindustani raga from multiple perspectives…


Glossary: Raga Jargon •


Conceptual enlightenment: Sharpen your Hindustani toolbox with 200+ raga-related definitions – unpacked using analogies, etymologies, illustrations, audio clips, and more. Scroll around and see what you discover…


e.g. Akaar | Bhakti | Chalan | Dhun | Gurukul | Jatigaan | Jugalbandi | Lehra | Karuna | Murchana | Natyasangeet | Nomtom | Pakad | Rasa | Sandhiprakash | Sawal-jawab | Swara | Tantrakari | Tihai | Tirobhav | Uttarang | Vakra

Feedback & Future •


Submit feedback: Don’t hesitate with ideas, suggestions, corrections, phraseological observations, personal raga reflections, etc


What is Raga? •


Aesthetic intertwinings: Demystifying raga from multiple 


Geometries & Shapes •


Swara structures: Uncovering hidden interrelations via ‘shape analysis’ of raga structure: symmetries, reflections, murchana rotations, & more


Raga Quotes & Tales •


Direct insights: How do performers of the past and present relate to raga? How do they seek to approach music and life?


Structures & Formats •


Performance sequences: How do artists structure a raga? What is the role of each section? Alap, jor, jhalla, gat, & more…


Ragangas: Sonic DNA •


Raga families: t


Gharanas Rundown •


Stylistic lineages: t


Raga Instruments •


Singing sculptures: Quick primers covering (almost) every Hindustani classical instrument, from modern favourites to mythical designs…


Tala Database •


Hindustani rhythms: Unpacking the world of North Indian tala using audio samples, practice loops, explanations, histories, and more


Ragas in Time •


Samay in transition: Unpacking historic shifts around associating ragas with particular times, days, seasons, and festivities…


Lakshanagranthas •


Historical scholarship: Tracing many centuries of raga-focused writing and aesthetic discourse: Rigveda, Natyashastra, Sangitaratnakara, Bhatkhande…


Megalist of Ragas •


250+ ragas: Brief summary info covering (almost) every raga I’ve yet found… 


Hindustani Raga Index

An open-ended project seeking to bring North Indian raga closer to all who approach with open ears. Combines direct input from dozens of leading Hindustani artists with in-depth insights from music history, global theory, performance practice, cognitive science, and much more! [out 2023]

George Howlett is a London-based musician, writer, and teacher (guitars, sitar, tabla, & santoor). Above all I seek to enthuse fellow sonic searchers, interconnecting fresh vibrations with the voices, cultures, and passions behind them. See Homepage for more, and hit me up for Lessons!

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