The Sanskrit word "Raga" originally meant "mood" or "emotion". In Indian Classical music, a mood is created not just by a certain combination of ascending and descending scales, but also by the way they are used, i.e. which notes are dominant, which are used to end a phrase, and which sequences of notes are typically used. Such tangible qualities combine to create the intangible mood of a raga -- something which is best experienced rather than described. Like the appreciation of great literature, true appreciation of a raga in all its dimensions demands familiarity with the musical language and culture being expressed. Yet, even casual listeners are fascinated by the artistry as a maestro improvises a beautiful story of mood and color during a performance. Ultimately, it is the capacity to feel the music which truly matters, for both listeners and performers. Despite the technical complexities, this music is profoundly spiritual in nature, regardless of the religion of the musicians or audience.

Indian Classical Music of both the North (Hindustani) and the South (Carnatic) is based on a tradition reaching back perhaps 3,000 years. The essence of our music is the art of improvisation, using the fundamental interplay between swara (notes) and tala (rhythm). The infinite variety of ragas and the unbelievable complexities of Indian rhythm patterns, together with an amazing assortment of vocal techniques and instruments of all classes, has produced a genre of music which has engaged brilliant musicians and demanding listeners for centuries. The surface is only being scratched, as the music continuously evolves, both taking from and giving to other musical cultures while maintaining its own vigorous and distinctive identity. No wonder that some of the best musicians from other genres such as Jazz (John Coltrane, John Mclaughlin) and Western Classical (Yehudi Menuhin) have interacted intensely with Indian musicians such as Ravi Shankar (pictured), Zakir Hussain (pictured below), L.Shankar and others to produce brilliant fusion music which transcends boundaries, as well as the abilities of most musicians!

Check out the following links for more detailed information, and listen to "Raga" to hear the music!


Image of Godess Saraswati courtesy Arif Chawalwala