The system of Indian music known as Raga Sangeet can be traced back nearly two thousand years to its origin in the Vedic hymns of the Hindu temples, the fundamental source of all Indian music. The roots of Indian classical music are religious. To us, music can be a spiritual discipline on the path to self-realisation, for we follow the traditional teaching that sound is God - Nada Brahma.

  The tradition of Indian classical music is an oral one. It is taught directly by the guru to the disciple, rather than by the notation method used in the West. The very heart of Indian music is the raga: the melodic form upon which the musician improvises. This framework is established by tradition and inspired by the creative spirits of master musicians. Indian classical music is principally based on melody and rhythm, i.e. RAGA and TALA.


   There is a saying in Sanskrit - "Ranjayathi iti Ragah" - which means, "that which colours the mind is a raga." For a raga to truly colour the mind of the listener, its effect must be created not only through the notes and the embellishments, but also by the presentation of the specific emotion or mood characteristic of each raga. Thus through rich melodies in our music, every human emotion, every subtle feeling in man and nature can be musically expressed and experienced.

   The performing arts in India - music, dance,drama, and poetry - are based on the concept of Nava Rasa , or the "nine sentiments." Literally, rasa means "juice" or "extract" but it can be explained further as "emotion" or "sentiment." The acknowledged order of these sentiments is as follows: Shringara (romantic and erotic): Hasya (humorous): Karuna (pathetic): Raudra (anger): Veera (heroic): Bhayanaka (fearful): Vibhatsa (disgustful): Adbhuta (amazement): Shanta (peaceful).

   Each raga is principally dominated by one of these nine rasas, although the performer can also bring out other emotions in a less prominent way. The more closely the notes of a raga conform to the expression of one single idea or emotion, the more overwhelming the effect of the raga.

   In addition to being associated with a particular mood, each raga is also closely connected to a particular time of day or a season of the year. The cycle of day and night, as well as the cycle of the seasons, is analogous to the cycle of life itself. Each part of the day - such as the time before dawn, noon, late afternoon, early evening, late night - is associated with a definite sentiment. The explanation of the time associated with each raga may be found in the nature of the notes that comprise it, or in historical anecdotes concerning the raga.

   Although there are 72 "melas" or parent scales upon which ragas are based, Indian music scholars have estimated that, with all their permutations and combinations, there exist over 6,000 ragas ! But a raga is not merely a matter of the ascending - descending structure. It must have its "chalan "- or certain note patterns characteristic of the raga; its principle important note (vadi); the second important note (samavadi); and its main feature known as "jan" (life) or "mukhda" (face), the cluster of a few notes by which a raga is immediately recognised.


    Next to be considered are the "talas" or "rhythmic cycles" of a raga. There is unique intricacy and rhythmic sophistication in Indian music. There are talas ranging from a 3 beat cycle to 108 beats within a cycle! The most popular talas are those which have 5,6,7,8,10,12,14, and 16 beats to a cycle. There are also other cycles such as 9,11,13,15,17, and 19 beats, etc.

   The division in a tala, and the stress on the first beat (called Sum), are the most important rhythmic factors. While there are talas having the same number of beats,they differ because the division and accents are not the same.

   In vocal music, a drummer will accompany a singer either in slow(Vilambit), medium(Madhyam), or fast(Drut) tempo(Laya) in whatever tala the singer chooses. He will do the same when he accompanies an instrumentalist in the gat section of a composition. Like ragas, talas also have their own characteristics. Some of the older traditional talas , such as "Chautal" (12 beats) and "Dhamar" (14 beats) are played on a two-faced drum known as pakhawaj. This accompaniment is used in the old traditional "Dhrupad-Dhamar" form of singing and in instrumental performances on the veena, surbahar, etc. Today, vocal and instrumental music is mostly accompanied by the tabla, a two-piece drum.