A raga (literally "colour, hue" but also "beauty, melody"; also spelled raag, rag, ragam) is one of the melodic modes used in Indian classical music.

It is a series of five or more musical notes upon which a melody is made. In the Indian musical tradition, rāgas are associated with different times of the day, or with seasons. Indian classical music is always set in a rāga. Non-classical music such as popular Indian film songs and ghazals sometimes use rāgas in their compositions.

The term raga was defined by Joep Bor of the Rotterdam Conservatory of Music as "tonal framework for composition and improvisation."Nazir Jairazbhoy, chairman of UCLA's department of ethnomusicology, characterized ragas as separated by scale, line of ascent and descent, transilience, emphasized notes and register, and intonation and ornaments.


The Sanskrit noun rāga is derived from the verbal root rañj "to colour, to dye". It is used in the literal sense of "the act of dyeing", and also "colour, hue, tint", especially "red colour" in the Sanskrit epics. A figurative sense "passion, love, desire, delight" is also found in the Mahabharata. The specialized sense of "loveliness, beauty", especially of voice or song, emerges in Classical Sanskrit, used by Kalidasa and in the Pancatantra.

The term first occurs in a technical context in the Brihaddeshi (dated ca. 5th to 8th century), where it is described as "a combination of tones which, with beautiful illuminating graces, pleases the people in general".

Rāginī is a term for the "feminine" counterpart or "wife" to a rāga. The rāga-rāgini scheme from about the 14th century aligned 6 'male' rāgas with 6 'wives'.

Ragas and their Seasons:

Many Hindustani (North Indian) rāgas are prescribed for the particular time of a day or a season. When performed at the suggested time, the rāga has its maximum effect. For example, many of the Malhar group of rāgas, which are ascribed the magical power to bring rain, are performed during the monsoon. However, these prescriptions are not strictly followed, especially since modern concerts are generally held in the evening. There has also been a growing tendency over the last century for North Indian musicians to adopt South Indian rāgas, which do not come with any particular time associated with them. The result of these various influences is that there is increasing flexibility as to when rāgas may be performed.


Although notes are an important part of rāga practice, they alone do not make the rāga. A rāga is more than a scale, and many rāgas share the same scale. The underlying scale may have five, six or seven tones made up of swaras. Rāgas that have five swaras are called audava (औडव) rāgas; those with six, shaadava (षाडव); and with seven, sampurna (संपूर्ण, Sanskrit for 'complete'). Those rāgas that do not follow the strict ascending or descending order of swaras are called vakra (वक्र) ('crooked') rāgas.

The mood of the rāga and the way the notes are approached and used are more important than the notes it uses. For example, Darbari Kanada and Jaunpuri share the same notes but are entirely different in their renderings. Similarly, although Bilaskhani Todi is classified under the Bhairavi thaat because of the notes it uses, it is actually closer to Todi than to Bhairavi.

Northern and southern differences:

The two streams of Indian classical music, Carnatic music and Hindustani music, have independent sets of rāgas. There is some overlap, but more "false friendship" (where rāga names overlap, but rāga form does not). In north India, the rāgas have been categorised into ten thaats or parent scales (by Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande, 1860-1936); South India uses an older, more systematic classification scheme called the melakarta classification, with 72 parent (melakarta) rāgas. Overall there is a greater identification of rāga with scale in the south than in the north, where such an identification is impossible. Rāgas in north Indian music system follow the 'law of consonances' established by Bharata in his Natyashastra, which does not tolerate deviation even at the shruti level.

As rāgas were transmitted orally from teacher to student, some rāgas can vary greatly across regions, traditions and styles. There have been efforts to codify and standardise rāga performance in theory from their first mention in Matanga's Brihaddeshi (c. tenth century).

Carnatic rāga:

In Carnatic music, rāgas are classified as Janaka rāgas and Janya rāgas. Janaka rāgas are the rāgas from which the Janya rāgas are created. Janaka rāgas are grouped together using a scheme called Katapayadi sutra and are organised as Melakarta rāgas. A Melakarta rāga is one which has all seven notes in both the ārōhanam (ascending scale) and avarōhanam (descending scale). Some Melakarta rāgas are Harikambhoji, Kalyani, Kharaharapriya, Mayamalavagowla, Sankarabharanam and Todi.

Janya rāgas are derived from the Janaka rāgas using a combination of the swarams (usually a subset of swarams) from the parent rāga. Some janya rāgas are Abheri, Abhogi, Bhairavi, Hindolam and Kambhoji. See the full List of Janya Ragas for more.

Each rāga has a definite collection and orders of swaras (the basic notes). In Carnatic music, there are 7 basic notes of which there are 12 varieties. The seven basic swarams of Carnatic music are: Sa, Ri, Ga, Ma, Pa, Da, Ni.

Related rāgas:

Even though Janya rāgas are subsets of Janaka rāgas in notation and representation, the differences between the child ragas are clear due to the differences like

  • some notes that figure more in a particular rāga compared to another, while other notes used sparingly
  • some notes may be sung with gamaka, stress, elongation, etc., in one rāga compared to other
  • specific phrases used and other phrases to be avoided in a rāga (so as to avoid deviation into another rāga's domain)
  • the scales of some ragas may contain at least one swara that does not figure in their janaka ragas. Such ragas are termed as bhashanga ragas. Ragas such as Bhairavi, Kambhoji, Bilahari, Devagandhari, and Neelambari fall under this category.
The effect of the rāgas are different from each other, even if they notationally use same swarams (or subset of swarams between each other) due to above subjective differences related to bhava and rasa (mood caused in the listener). The artists have to ensure the same when elaborating on a rāga, as has been followed and expected on each rāga, without digressing into the phrases of another related rāga.


The rāga-rāgini scheme is a classification scheme used from the 14th century to the 19th century. It usually consists of 6 'male' rāgas each with 6 'wives' (rāginis) and a number of sons (putras) and even 'daughters-in-law'. As it did not agree with various other schemes, and the 'related' rāgas had very little or no similarity, the rāga-rāgini scheme is no longer very popular.

Rāgas and rāginis were often pictured as Hindu gods, Rajput princes and aristocratic women in an eternal cycle of love, longing and fulfilment.