Anu-Rag School of Music


Dr. Raghu Pandurangi: Assistance: Amoolya Raghu Pandurangi

Saa Vidya Yaa Vimuktaye (That is THE Knowledge which Clears you from Ignorance to salvation)

The two pillars of Indian Classical Music comprises of Hindustani (North Indian) and Carnatic (South Indian Music). The two forms are developed independently in parallel, although several concepts are being borrowed from each other to embellish themselves. Indian classical Music can be traced back to Vedic period (1500-800 BC) authenticated by “Samaveda chant” which resembles Raga “Bairagi” (Revathi in Carnatic Music).  The divinity and devotion is inherently built into the Indian classical music which is often called “Nada Brahma”.

Many of us  believe that “ Sur is Sur and Taal is Taal”, no matter what you Call.  However,  the rendering style is so different that for an amateur listener, it is hard to appreciate the commonality between Hindustani and Carnatic Music. One may require decades of listening, learning from authentic Gurus and broad analytical mindedness to look for the commonality and strengths of each forms of Indian Classical Music. A seasoned listener group is what is required for St Louis.

Perhaps, a user friendly approach to understand and appreciate Classical Hindustani Music would be to start with known popular classical based film music. The rationale behind this approach is to circumvent the routine question imposed by a listener on himself that he does not understand the Music, still willing to explore film music through the lyric and association with characters behind the tune. It is imminent that he feels the “Bhava” of the tune while synergizing it with characters played by actors in the movie. Slowly, when he listens to another song based on similar Raga which evokes the same emotion, then wonders what is behind this tune which constantly evokes a similar feeling.  Learning starts from there.


“Ranjayathi Iti Ragaha’: The one which colors your mind is Raga. Technically, a Raga is a combination of specific notes (5-7) in ascending and descending order.  There are 12 defined notes in Hindustani Classical Music, 7 are considered basic notes and 5 are considered interspersed half notes. There are 3 octaves: Mandra Sapthak (Low Octave), Madhya Saptahk (Middle Octave) and Tara Saptak (High Octave), in general used by vocalists to demonstrate the beauty of  raga. Technically, one can go from the lowest note to highest note in 3 octaves. In general, singers touch the highest and lowest notes and come back to their range to which they are comfortable. It is to be noted that human ear, although can detect the highest and lowest notes by vocalists (~ 1400 Hz – ~166 Hz), listeners also do not feel comfortable at those notes for a long time.

A successful vocalist will demonstrate the beauty of any Raga in terms of:

  1. Hitting only the correct and permitted notes (Swaras) of the specific Raga and not mixing with any notes other than the fixed notes (in contrast to film music). Note that singer can fix his or her basic pitch (Sa) anywhere in the middle octave and can touch other notes in the Raga relative to the fixed Sa.  This is unique to Indian classical music unlike in western Music.  Rendering Raga can be either in Swaras or Aakar or through lyrics.
  2. Severe permutations and combinations of notes of Raga without affecting the “Bhava” generated by the characteristics of Raga (A grey area which requires decades of listening).
  3. Vocalist need to demonstrate the Raga in 3 tempos: Slow (Vilambith Laya), Medium (Madhya Laya) and Fast (Druth). Some people can go one step further” “ Ati Vilambith” (slowest tempo). Again, human ears enjoy late Vilambith to early Druth, although one gets tuned to all “tempos” becoming a seasonal listener over a period of time. For most people, vilambith could be nightmarish where Hindustani Music is considered to be abstract, but acknowledges that it is the most difficult part of singing.
  4. Emphasis of a specific most important note of Raga (Vadi), second important specific note (Samvadi).
  5. Vocalist will demonstrate specific set of notes with in the full Raga considered to be characteristic, immediately recognizable and attributable to Raga (Chalan).
  6. Next comes the decoration part for which sky is the limit and makes it almost irreproducible each time one renders it which means, one can be creative all the time. Decoration or embellishment of Raga is the distinct character of Indian Classical Music compared to Western Music. It is pertinent here that we should not expect harmony, counterpoint and chord prevalent in Western Music.  Indian classical Music solely based on melody and rhythm. Amongst many, vocalist brings decoration through a) microtones between two notes, b) oscillation around one note (A sway, but not a vibrato, Andolan) and sliding from one note to another, a special variety of glissando which connect one note to the other (Gamaka). All embellishments can be in “swaras” or in “Akaar”.
  7. The integral part of “ragalapana” is percussion with a specific rhythmic cycle. The most important a percussionist need to show is a strong start beat number 1 (called Sum). Although several taals are developed most popular ones are with 16 beats (Teen Taal), 12 beats (Ek Taal), 8 Beats (Kehrawa), 7 beats (Roopak) and 6 beats (Dadra). All even numbered taals can be subdivided into 2 equal segments; first beat is called “Sum” and the beat after second segment is “Kal” or “Kali”.  It is most important for Hindustani percussionist to keep Sum and Kali clear in each cycle since both singer and percussionist have to come back on Sum with highest precision possible. Artist will have a complete freedom of improvisation as long as he or she sticks to Raga notations and taal cycle. Percussionist also plays slow, medium and fast tempo in accordance with vocalist and in general, percussion is expected to keep Theka, a kind of regular beats with not much emeleshments during singing, while he or she will have specific time to show his skills almost like a solo.
  8. Ultimately, the unique aura of a raga is its spiritual quality and manner of expression which can only be felt and not easy to learn from any book.


Demonstration of What to  Look for in Hindustani Concert. Example: Raga “Darbari”

The major embellishment of this Raga is the oscillation around “Komal Gandhar” and “Komal Dhivath”. Look for those spots along with how low singer goes in Madhya Saptak and how high in Taara Sapathak with distinct notes, at first, followed by sliding of notes (e.g. from Ga to Sa)  in a smooth fashion. The main sphere of activity in this raga is in the lower and middle octaves. For technical aspects, look for skipping notes, yet able to hit the correct notes in slow and fast tempo. For aesthetic sense, look for whether singer brings in feeling behind the meaning of the song curtailing technical aspects. The best way to enjoy the Music is to keep Taal in mind and look for “Sam” (first beat with emphasis) and “Kaal” ( an open sound next beat after half the cycle, e.g. 9th beat in Teen Taal of 16 beat pattern) and when singers goes through several cycles and when he comes back at the end to hit the “Sam” correctly, getting a sigh of relief will be constant emotional companion for most listeners. Microtones on either sides of a note are the hall mark of Indian Classical Music. This is where each singer can bring innovation to his liking  which makes it so different for the same Raga by the same vocalist at different times. Once again, for a beginner listener, a film song or instrumental may help to navigate him or her to inner aspects of classical music. It takes a great time, devotion and passion to become “Sangeetha Rasika” to mean connoisseur, someone to appreciate the finer nuances of the music.

Interesting Observations:

  • The male singer range can be anywhere from 80 Hz to 700 Hz, while female singers can have the range from 140-1400 Hz.
  • The same Raga can sound different from different singers, different from the same singer at different times. This depends on the mood of singer, perception and mental participation of audience, atmosphere and environments.  The concept of “ Mano Dharma” allows singers to use the subtle variations and imagination to either expand or curtail Raga depending upon mood and environment. 
  • In Hindustani Music, vocalists do not show or put tala unlike in Carnatic Music, still, they will stick to the correct rhythmic cycle by following percussionist sounds (Sum and Kal, Close and open sounds respectively on Tabla).
  • Although, percussionist has an opportunity to show his talent solo, there is no specific session dedicated to him in Hindustani Music unlike in Carnatic Music where “ Taniyavarathana” concentrates 100 % on percussionist.
  • Amazingly, certain Ragas cannot be played on certain instruments. For example, Raga Darbari is very difficult t play on Santoor, a stringed instrument where the most important “ Andolan” effect of Komal Gandhar is difficult to bring into play.
  • Unlike the standard well defined 12 notes in both Hindustani and Western Classical Music, Carnatic Music has 16 notes (Venkatamukhi) theory, not easy to demonstrate using key instruments.
  • There are 10 Thats (parental scales, also called Janaka Ragas)  in Hindustani Music compared to 72 Melakarthas in Carnatic Music from which all other Ragas are generated (Janya Ragas).
  • Unlike the 12-note scale in Western music, the base frequency of the scale is not fixed, and intertonal gaps (temperament) may also vary; however, with the gradual replacement of the Sarangi ( a continuous instrument like violin) by the harmonium, an equal tempered scale is increasingly use


Author: Dr. Raghu Pandurangi is a professional scientist, an ardent learner of Hindustani Music and Tabla. He got his initial training in Tabla under Lakshman Sa Nakod from Dharwad and short lessons from several Gurus. He is raised by both Hindustani and Carnatic Music oriented parents. He is also taking vocal lessons in Hindustani Music under the guidance of his wife Guru Sandhya Anu Pandurangi.  He loves to understand and discuss technical aspects of Indian Classical Music with his God-given sister Veena Varuni.  Currently, he is the Founder, President of Sci-Engi-Medco Solutions Inc and Amplexi-LLC developing plant based cancer therapy, specifically for triple negative breast cancer.  He is also co-founder of Anu-Rag School of Music which serves the community through teaching and promoting Hindustani Music.