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Article: Notes on Pentatonic Raagas

By Shankar Anant
  Notes on Pentatonic Ragas

Audav-Audav JAti (Pentatonic) rAga-s

Some notes about the rAga list

·       A rAga is simply not just the swarAs or any combination thereof. A rAga is a medium of aesthetic expression, intuitively created and enjoyed.

·       The ArohaNa and AvarohaNa are not necessarily linear. The movement (Chalan) is often vakra (non-linear, non-sequential) in nature. Hence the title “Swara-s in ArohaNa and avarohaNa

·       The vAdi/samvAdi pair shown is not universally accepted. Great masters from the yesteryear are known to have changed the vAdi and samvAdi to generate different aesthetics with the same swarAs within a rAga. Actually, vAdi/samvAdi etc was not even mentioned until the early-1900’s

·       Since rAga-s are means of aesthetic expression, the list is not intended to be a technical one. Aesthetics rule over written structure/notation.

·       The list shown is not a complete list. Readers are encouraged to send feedback to the if they know of other pentatonic rAga-s.

A quick look at the list will tell how majestic many of these are to avid listeners of classical music. In some musical quarters, there is a suggestion that because these rAga-s have only 5 swara-s, they are somehow “lesser” and not fit for elaborate development. We differ from this opinion and leave such generalizations to the “pundits”. We shall deal with each rAga just by itself. In the annals of classical music, the reader will easily recognize renderings in these rAga-s which are truly major. Classical music is directed to our intuition and was never intended to appeal to the intellect. We will simply continue to enjoy the aesthetic grandeur of these rAga-s.

An interesting concept termed “Griha-Bheda” (modal tone shifting of Shadja) is well documented in Carnatic music. A detailed description can be found here

Below, we shall pictorially demonstrate this concept as applied to pentatonic rAga-s.

In this picture treating Db (first Black key to the left) as the Shadja and using only black keys, we get the S-R-m-P-D-S combination, the notes of rAga DurgA

Shifting to the next black key to the right, treating Eb as the Shadja and again using only black keys, we get the S-g--m-P-n-S combination, the notes of rAga DhAni

Shifting to the next black key to the right, treating Gb as the Shadja, and using only black keys, we get the S-R-G-P-D-S combination, the notes of rAga BhUpAli

Shifting to the next black key to the right, treating Ab as the Shadja, and using only black keys, we get the S-R-m-P-n-S combination, the notes of rAga MaDhyamAd SArang or Megh

Shifting to the next black key to the right, treating Bb as the Shadja, and using only black keys, we get the S-g-m-d-n-S combination, the notes of rAga MAlkauns

Readers are encouraged to experiment with these and other key combinations by playing these on a Harmonium or similar musical instrument.

Pentatonic rAga-s especially lend themselves to musical ornamentation such as Gamak and Meend, with the inherently great distance between swara-s.  Take for example, rAga Gunakali. It is the meend between tAra saptak Shadja to komal Dhaivat and one between maDhyam and komal rishaB which form the signature of the rAga. It is as if these aesthetics act as the spokesperson for the rAga. Many others on the list are defined by the aesthetics rather than the swara-s included or excluded.

Because of the “jumps” inherent to these rAga-s, skipping over swara-s requires good skill but such movements bring great aesthetic appeal. For example, rAga DurgA’s appeal comes mainly from these skips & jumps. Listeners will intuitively recognize these without thinking about the swara-s. With pentatonic rAga-s having fewer swaras, it is easier to remember for the performer, yet don’t be mislead to the conclusion that they are somehow easier to master.

Another great intrigue exemplified by pentatonic rAga-s is the similarity a rAga shares with multiple rAga-s often cutting across boundaries set by Pt. Bhatkande’s thAt system of rAga classification. For example, take rAga BhUpeSwari. In the S-R-G-P region it is very much like rAga BhUpAli (Kalyan thAt). When one moves to the G-P-d-S” region, the identification with rAga viBhAs (Bhairav Thaat) is unmistaken. Likewise, rAga lilAvati is similar to rAga Shivaranjani in one range and rAga BhUpAl Todi in another range of swara-sMusic students and listeners alike will find it interesting to make such intuitive tonal connections while listening to the rAga-s on this list. In future articles we will cover shaDav-shADav and sampUrNa-sampUrNa rAgAs.

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