Music is an integral part of India’s culture. Raga is the pivotal concept of Indian music, introduced by Matanga Muni in 5th century.
‘||यो सौ ध्वनि विशेशस्तु स्वरवर्ण विभूशित:||
रन्जको जन छित्तानाम् सरागह कथितो बुधै:||’
– Sarangadeva’s Sangita Ratnakara
According to the above sloka, a raga is that which is beautified or decorated by the tonal excellence of swaras and varnas and which decoration gives pleasure to the mind of the listener.
‘|| रन्जयति इति राग:||’ is the etymological definition of raga i.e., that which pleases is raga. It colors the mind.
Bharata in his Natya Sastra (4th Cent. B.C.) says:
The Sangita Ratnakara of Sarngadeva in 13th century A.D. mentions the following Thrayodasa (13) Lakshanas:
“Graha, amsa, taara, mandra, nyaasa, apanyaasa, sanyaasa, vinyasa, bahutva, alpatva, antara maarga, shaadava and audava”
- Graha swara: The note on which the raga is commenced. Starting note of a sangathi or item or raga. There may be one, two or even more graha swaras in a raga.
- Amsa / Jiva Swara: The note which reveals the melodic entity or the swarupa of the raga (soul of the raga). To show the swarupa of the raga in an alapana or sangathi, this note is sung repeatedly, very often. This can be considered the main swara of the raga. There can be one or more hamsa swaras in a raga.
- Mandra swara: The lowest note, beyond which the raga sancharam should not extend. Mandra swara defines the notes that are singable in the Mandra sthayi for a particular raga. The swaras lower than that should not be sung.
- Tara Swara: The highest note to which the raga sacharam can extend to. Tara swaram defines the notes in tara sthayi which are allowed in the raga.
- Nyasa Swara: Ending note of the raga. The note on which the raga is concluded.
- Apanyaasam: A raga alapana is done in different sections or parts or stages. Apanyaasa is the starting note of each section.
- Sanyaasam: It is the ending note of each section in the raga alapana.
- Vinyaasam: In each section of the raga alapana, vinyasa is the notes used to show the raga ‘kalai’ / chhaya or the essence of the raga.
- Bahutvam: The note frequently used in the raga. It has two sub types:
- Alanganam: Singing a swara without leaving it.
- Abyasam: Singing a swara repeatedly. Sancharas revolve around these notes.
10. Alpathvam: The note used sparingly in the raga. Two subtypes are:
- Langanam: The swara is pronounced but the note sung is actually the neighbouring tone. So, though the langana swara appears to be performed the actual sruti/frequency of that swara is rarely performed. It is like creating an illusion of that swara being sung, while the actual swara sounds different.
- Anabhyaasam: The swara is rarely omitted or performed.
- Antara maarga: The swara which does not belong to the raga.
- Shadava: Shadava raga is a raga that constitutes of 6 notes.
- Audava: Audava raga is a raga that constitutes of 5 notes.
The Sangita Sudha (17th Cent. A.D.) of Raghunatha Naik also mentions these 13 Lakshanas:-
Venkatamakhi in his Chaturdandi Prakasika says:-
The last 3 lakshanas i.e., Antara marga, Shadava, Audava were ommitted, as they became separate types of Janya ragas.
Hence some musicologists suggest the first 10 as Raga Dasa Lakshanas.