Perspective Music

How to identify a raga with ease?

Raga is the soul of Carnatic music but it is possible for a listener to enjoy listening without knowing the subtleties of raga or rhythm. In fact, this may be true of many listeners in any concert. This appreciation is based partly on the sounds one hears and likes and, partly on the understanding that something very skilful is taking place.

Identifying a raga is a holistic process — to internalise its swarupa, have a mental model of it and then compare it with what the musician sings. This can be done only by an experienced listener, who has heard a raga several times and is familiar with several kritis in it. It is not possible for every listener to undergo a formal course in Carnatic music .

Is there a short-cut for acquiring adequate knowledge about ragas, which would enable an average listener to identify them? This was what the well-known musicologist Dr. Jayalakshmi was explaining in her lecture ‘Raga identification for rasikas’ at the TAG auditorium on December 2. ‘Rasikas’ here refers to people who have had a reasonable spell of listening experience and are familiar at least with a few kritis and ragas and not to total strangers to Carnatic music or those who have just started listening to it.

The first tip is to consider whether the alapana reminds one of any song along with its raga that one is familiar with. An alapana which reminds you of ‘Alai payudhe’ is probably Kanada.

An alapana which reminds you of ‘Yaro ivar yaro’ is probably Bhairavi.Tamil film songs of the early 1940s and Fifties could be used for this purpose. A friend of mine recognises Charukesi by comparing it with ‘Manmadha leelai’ sung by MKT.

The second tip is to recognise phrases characteristic of a raga . This needs a higher level of musical knowledge . In the case of rakthi ragas, which have recurrent typical phrases, this tip may be easy to follow.

The third tip is to recognise a raga by its arohana and avarohana. This requires not only a knowledge of the arohana and avarohana of several ragas but also swara gnanam to decipher the arohana and avarohana from an alapana. This is not always easy as in an alapana some swaras may be skipped in some phrases.

Recognising swaras

The fourth tip is to recognise the swara varieties occurring in the raga. This again needs swara gnana. Vivadi ragas are difficult to identify based on phrases unless they cover the entire scale, as the non-vivadi portions of the scale could be common to other ragas.

The next tip is to identify a raga by the gamakas peculiar to it, especially the special way they are rendered like speed, emphasis, etc. compared to other ragas which may have a similar phrase. Anthara gandharam in Snkarabharanam is rendered plain whereas in Kalyani it is rendered with a shake.

The phrase ‘ri ga ma pa’ is rendered slowly in Sahana but fast in Purnachandrika. Of all the tips, this tip calls for the highest level of musical knowledge and almost enters the rarified field of raga lakshana.

This approach will be useful to fastidious but not neophyte listeners.

The above tips are easily applicable when the alapana consists of slow or medium-paced phrases. But if the alapana is fast-paced and briga-laden, or, like Balamurali, the musician deliberately masked the identity of the raga in the initial stages, these may be difficult to apply unless the listener is quite experienced.

Some people think that knowing more about ragas and rhythm would convert a positive-minded, enjoyment-oriented listener into a fault-finding critic and lessen one’s overall enjoyment. From personal experience, I can say that this is not true. While knowledge may equip one to find a fault if there is one, it does not in any way lessen, much less prevent, enjoyment.

The writer is a retired IAS officer

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Printable version | Nov 27, 2021 2:31:36 PM |

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