Music is general and Indian classical and popular music in particular.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Khayal genre of Hindustani Shastriya Sangeet (Classical music) basic theory

Like most other art forms, it is very difficult to give an all encompassing definition of Hindustani Shastriya Sangeet also known as (North) Indian classical music. The south Indian classical music is known as Carnatic Shastriya Sangeet. I am not going to delve into the histroy of the classical music. Rather I will try to write about the musical style and grammar associated with this genre.

Now some basic theory about the Hindustani classical. If you are aware about this, you can skip this section.

Musical Scale in Hindustani classical

The smallest interval of tuning system in the hindustani classical is the Sruti. There are 22 srutis per saptak (octave). However in practice Hindustani classical mainly uses 12 swaras (notes) grouped in every Saptak (octave). Seven of these are known as Shuddha (pure) and five of them are called as Vikrit (sharp/flat) making a total of 12 notes per saptak.
Those familiar with western music will immediately recognise this as being similar to the solfège.

The seven shuddha (pure) notes are:

  • Sa Shadja

  • Re Rishabh

  • Ga Gandhar

  • Ma Madhyam

  • Pa Pancham

  • Dha Dhaivat

  • Ni Nishad

The vikrit notes are

  • Komal Re (flat)

  • Komal Ga (flat)

  • Tivra Ma (sharp)

  • Komal Dha (flat)

  • Komal Ni (flat)

Thus in total, we have the following 12 notes per saptak.

  • Sa Shadja

  • Komal Re (flat)

  • Re Rishabh

  • Komal Ga (flat)

  • Ga Gandhar

  • Ma Madhyam

  • Tivra Ma (sharp)

  • Pa Pancham

  • Komal Dha (flat)

  • Dha Dhaivat

  • Komal Ni (flat)

  • Ni Nishad

It is important to note that unlike western music, Hindustani music is not based on equal tempered scale.In simple terms, it means that the pitch(frequency) of the first note Sa is not fixed (hence the rest of the notes also), nor is the difference between the notes completely fixed. However, now with the percolation of western instruments like Piano and harmonium people tend to use fixed scales more often. This point is of great importance to the all the classical vocalists because depending on your natural vocal range you can choose to sing the classical compositions in different scales. This is perfectly acceptable in Hindustani. But the same cannot be said of the popular music which are composed in western fixed scale.

Indian classical music is normally played in 3 registers, Mandhra saptak, Madhyam Saptak and Taar Saptak, lowest to highest.

  • Notes of Mandhra saptak have a dot symbol placed below them.

  • Taar spatak notes have a dot above them.

  • Komal swaras have a small horizontal line placed below them

  • Tivra swaras have a small vertical line placed above them.


Thaat is the basic method of classification of various raags which was created by Pt. Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande. It is akin to the musical mode that is used in western music. Pt. Bhatkhande created this system based on the mela system used in the Carnatic music.

There are ten generally accepted thaats, these are:

  • Bilawal: S R G m P D N S'

  • Khamaj: S R G m P D n S'

  • Kafi: S R g m P D n S'

  • Asavari: S R g m P d n S'

  • Bhairavi: S r g m P d n S'

  • Bhairav: S r G m P d N S'

  • Kalyan: S R G M P D N S'

  • Marwa: S r G M P D N S'

  • Poorvi: S r G M P d N S'

  • Todi: S r g M P d N S'


Taal is the word used to denote the rhythmic pattern used in the any composition. For example, Teen Taal refers to the 16 beat cycle used commonly in Hindustani music.


A raag (raag) is a set of five or more swaras that are combined according to certain rules to create a melody of aesthetic value. Every raag has a vadi,samvadi and varjit swara.

Vadi swara is the most prominent note of a raag. It is often said that the vadi swara is the note used maximum number of times in a raag. However, this is not entirely true nor is there any strict rule for the same.

Samvadi swara is next in prominence and is in harmony with the vadi.

Varjit swaras are the notes that must NEVER be used in a raag. However, varjit swaras can sometimes be used in a raag by clever manipulations. This requires practice and strong understanding of the raag.

Aaroha refers to the ascending order of the notes in a raag.
Avaroha refers to the descending order of the notes in a raag.

To clarify the concepts stated above lets take an example of raag Yaman.

Raag : Yaman
Thaat : Kalyan
Vadi : Ga
Samvadi : Ni
Varjit : Shuddha Ma

| .
Aaroha : S R G M P D N S

. |
Aaroha : S N D P M G R S

Note : The dot "." above a note denotes the Taar spatak. The line "|" above the note denotes a tivra (sharp) note.

The rules for creating the ragas are summarised below.

  • The raag belongs to a scale in a "thaat" or "mela".

  • There should be at least 5 swaras (notes) in a raag.

  • A raag has both ascending and descending (aroha and avaroha) order of notes.

  • A raag must have the tonic note. In other words it must have "Sa".

  • A raag must have at least one note from Pa and Ma

  • A raga should have both "vadi" and "samvadi" notes.

  • A raga should be aesthetically pleasing.

  • The tivra and komal swaras, should not come in succession in a raag.

There are a few ragas, which are exception to the 2nd rule; yet, they are quite popular and well accepted as classical ragas.

Like all art forms, rules and strict logic cannot be applied to raags. Raags are not strictly bound by these rules only. There may be raags with the same notes and their ascending or descending order; yet, they will sound distinctly different from one another. This happens because different raags have different styles, mood, vadi, samvadi associated with them.

In classical music performance, these rules are followed strictly. In semi classical, light, devotional and other forms of Indian music, even if the tune of a song is composed in a raga, the rules are not strictly followed.

There are hundreds of ragas and each is categorised under one of the thaats explained before. Each raag is thought to create a specific mood and supposed to be sung in a specific time of the day. Some raags like Malhar and Vasant are considered appropriate for a specific season rainy and spring respectively.
Some raags and their corresponding thaats are as below:

Kafi Thaat : Dhanashree, Dhani, Bhimpalasi, Pilu, Shahana, Megh Malhar, Shuddha Sarang, Bageshwari etc.
Kalyan Thaat : Yaman, Bhupali, Hindol, Kedar, Kamod, etc.

Simply speaking Jaati of a raag refers to the number of swaras contained in it's aarohan and avrohan.
The raag jaatis are as follows :

  • Samporna-Sampoorna : 7 in aarohan - 7 notes in avarohan. example Yaman

  • Sampoorna-Shadav : 7 in aarohan - 6 notes in avarohan

  • Sampoorna-Auduv : 7 in aarohan - 5 notes in avarohan

  • Shadav-Sampoorna : 6 in aarohan - 7 notes in avarohan

  • Shadav-Shadav : 6 in aarohan - 6 notes in avarohan

  • Shadav-Auduv : 6 in aarohan - 5 notes in avarohan

  • Auduv-Sampoorna : 5 in aarohan - 7 notes in avarohan. Ex, Baagesree

  • Auduv-Shadav : 5 in aarohan - 6 notes in avarohan

  • Auduv-Auduv : 5 in aarohan - 5 notes in avarohan, example Bhupali

This completes our discussion of basic theory of Hindustani classical music. By no means is this discussion complete or encyclopedic. However, for a serious student of music this provides a small platform to start the journey of musical ocean.

Hari Om Tat Sat


Shabdranga said...

Just superb! I like the way you have described Hindustani classical music completely yet in a wonderfully simple way. Great.

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Sunflower said...

Simply great! I found it to be very helpful.

Make it rich by adding links to many popular bandish & lyrics as your next project.

Pinaki said...

It is very good systematic information for the persons who are not into the classical music but are keen listeners. It gives them technical knowledge and idea of swar, taal etc.

Pinaki Ranjan Sarkar

Amit Kushwaha said...

awesome Explaination.... please try to put more knowledge base here.. thanks for sharing this

Anonymous said...

Very Much Thankfull to you.

Anonymous said...

Beautifully and clearly written.


Great Really A Information That Pretty Knowledgeable.

Chiran Gyawali said...

I want to learn indian sastriya sangeet.

Pratham S said...


its urgent
thanking you

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Anonymous said...

Kindly study the shastra's before posting this kind of information!! You're completely wrong! What you're describing is basically khyal - hindustani classical music (post Iranian and mogul influences).
The grammar of Sashtriya sangeet is very different!

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