|The Rasa Theory
and the Raaga -Time Cycle:Colors of sound
The Rasa Theory was the first systematized attempt to
explain the cause-effect relationship between an intangible
concept like ‘emotion’ with its tangible factors. It was
expounded by Bharata Muni in his treatise 'Natyashastra'. The
concept of 'rasa' originated and developed in the context of
dramaturgy, since drama is a dynamic art form combining the
audio and visual impact.
The word 'rasa' has three primary associations:
a. Of being the object of perception by the sense of taste,
b. Of being the 'essence' of anything or any being,
c. Of being something dynamic and not static.
To paraphrase the Rasa Theory propounded by Bharata Muni:
“When different emotional states come together, the aesthetic
flavor comes through and makes the experience enjoyable.”
There are many factors that make up the composite texture of
the aesthetic enjoyment of music. However the unique and
simply outstanding characteristic of North Indian Classical
Music is the 'raaga-time' relationship. This theory has not
been postulated as such, but it has stood the most stringent
test, that of time. It is an accepted set of ideas that have
been laid down and adhered to since time immemorial.
The raaga-time cycle starts even before daybreak. Each raaga
is assigned to a particular time of the day and evokes a
certain mood, related to the human mind and its dynamic
relation with nature and its surroundings. Incidentally, in
Sanskrit, raaga also means color.
The 'sandhiprakaash raagas' are those melodies assigned for
the twilight hours around dawn and dusk. The major morning
ragas are essentially somber in mood and devotional in nature.
In our tradition, morning is a time for introspection- one
looks forward to a new day, symbolizing renewed faith in God.
These melodies capture the essence of abject surrender to the
Almighty, entrusting Him with our dreams, hopes, fears and
joys. The pre-dawn raagas have Komal Rishabh-Dhaivat
combination. These raagas have a very dominant Shuddha Madhyam-perceived
as an inky Prussian blue. Wherever there are both forms of the
Madhyam, the Teevra Madhyam noticeably takes a back seat as it
were, e.g.: Bhatiyar, Ramkali.
As the light gets stronger, the raagas become more luminous.
There is a direct relationship between the mood of the raaga
and the intensity of the sun's rays. Komal Rishabh is gently
edged out by the Shuddha Rishabh and raagas like Jaunpuri and
Bilawal enter the scene.
The afternoon raagas can be perceived as leafy green to a
The Saarang family of raagas performed at mid-day reflect the
scorching heat of the sun's rays. The anxious hope for long
awaited showers to drench the parched earth; in fact many
compositions reflect this, and are in tune with nature as she
is seen during this phase of the day.
The late afternoon raagas like Patdeep, Multani, and so on are
restless in nature. They reflect the intense activity in the
day. Teevra Madhyam, which has been faintly but firmly
perfuming the ragas, not unlike a whiff of fragrance carried
by a breeze, now makes its presence felt.
An interesting observation is the role played by the Madhyam
Svara. In the context of the Kaal-Chakra, the Madhyam is
called the 'Adhvadarshak Svara' - the pointer or indicative
note. My guru, the late Ustad Z.M. Dagar explained this
concept with a beautiful example. Bilawal and Yaman, two
raagas with the difference of the Madhyam - and what a
difference it makes! Like milk and curd - an eloquent analogy
Just as in the morning melodies, the Shuddha Madhyam dominates
Teevra Madhyam; when the evening sets in Teevra Madhyam takes
the center stage.
The sun has set - it is time for the evening raagas to soothe
you with their tranquil presence. These melodies are also
introspective in nature. As in normal life, one tends to
recapitulate the day's events, so also in music. It reflects a
retrospective frame of mind - looking inward, reviewing the
day gone past, unlike the morning ragas, which look forward to
a new day.
The same combination of Komal Rishabh and Dhaivat along with
Teevra Madhyam is a peaceful one. A soothing background of
blue-tempered with gray. Raagas like Marwa, Pooriya, Shree
belong to this time phase.
Between sunset and late night, lie the light and lyrical
melodies. Raagas that are romantic in nature, joyful creations
celebrating life, the spirit of living and loving. Raagas like
Khamaj, Jhinjoti, Bihag, belong to this phase.
As the night advances, the raagas become more profound. They
are searching creations, as if in quest of the solutions to
the aura of magic and mystery surrounding the earth. These
raagas have a strong Madhyam, intriguing in its inky darkness.
Raagas like Malkauns, Abhogi-Kanhada, Chandrakauns are
examples in this genre.
Time has turned a full cycle - we come to that phase of the
night, which is full of promise of oncoming dawn. The Shudha
Madhyam in combination with the Teevra Madhyam in raaga Lalit
is like blue tinged with gray, like the sea before sunrise, a
combination of darkness and light. The mood is once again
devotional - one of faith, prayer and hope.
Just as an artist uses colors to paint nature and people, the
musician uses tonal colors to paint the state of the human
mind. All sound intervals are color effects, depending on the
way in which the colors are sculpted.
I have attempted to convey, what of course is a purely
subjective view, of the sound images that our music evokes and
inspires. After all, the whole beauty of this wonderful art
form is that it says so little and conveys so much. A gentle
hint here, a pleasant emotion there and then it is up to the 'rasika'
to imbibe the heady nectar of the melody.
The unfolding of a raaga is like that of a flower blooming - a
thing of infinite beauty and sheer poetry. When the artist and
the listener reach out together for a shared moment of
discovery that is the essence or rasa of music. This shared
experience, which breathes life into our music.
Padmini K. Rao is a senior vocalist of the Kirana Gharana
style of North Indian Classical Music and has trained
extensively under Dhrupad Maestro Ustad Zia Moiuddin Dagar and
Padma Bhushan Dr. Prabha Atre.