Ras, Ritu & Raags

Woman playing the flute with autumn leaves around

Music is the most genuine expression of the mind. It is pure. It is honest. Music has always been considered as the pathway to connect to our inner mind, to the universe, to the Supreme Being! To express our innermost feelings, free from any bias and doubt.

Emotions are the manifestations of the state of our minds. And in most cases, we consider people to be true to how they feel. We naturally express or emote what we feel. And that is how expressing through music has always come instinctively to us humans.

A very apt phrase in Sanskrit with reference to Indian Classical Music (ICM) is Ranjayate Iti Raga. It means that raags are meant to capture the minds and hearts of the listener. While the literal translation means entertainment, referring to ICM in such a context demeans it of its true worth. Coming back to the deep connection between emotions and ICM, the only way to touch a person’s heart is by tapping into the emotions that lie nestled in the labyrinth of the mind. Indian music and dance recognize nine emotions or states of the mind, ideally referred to as Ras. Shringar Ras (love), Hasya Ras (laughter), Shaant Ras (tranquility), Adbhut Ras (wonder), Veer Ras (bravery), Bhayanak Ras (fear), Karunya Ras (sorrow), Bhibhitsa Ras (disgust), Raudra Ras (anger). An extension of the Shringar Ras also leads to Bhakti Ras (devotion). While eight of these emotions were written about in the ancient musical treatise Natyashastra around the 4th-5thcentury, it is believed that the emotion of being tranquil, i.e., Shaant Ras, was added only in the 10th century.

Many a time raags have an inherent quality or emotion in them, which facilitates the singer in expressing that particular emotion. For example, the melody of Raag Shivranjani evokes a feeling of sadness. Many film composers have used this raag while composing sad songs — Mere Naine Savan Bhado (Mehbooba), Kahi Deep Jale Kahe Dil (Bees Saal Baad), Jaane Kaha Gaye Woh Din (Joker). However, many singers are also capable of producing that effect on the minds of the audience through their sheer talent even if the raag doesn’t possess a strong emotion. This is where the beautiful amalgamation of poetry and music contribute in the expressiveness of the composition.

Of all the moods, ICM raags do not aim at portraying anger, disgust and fear. However, it particularly favours the Shringar Ras, Bhakti Ras and Shaant Ras. A majority of the compositions in ICM have Radha-Krishna as the central characters. Consequently, colourful and playful scenes of the festival Holi or season of spring are popular topics of ICM compositions.

Festivals and seasons are a very significant aspect of our culture and lives. As I have mentioned in my previous articles, folk songs have always been a medium to connect the common man to music. However, ICM also has its share of compositions on festivals like Holi and Diwali as well as raags meant for each season.

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Ashwini Narayangaonkar-Kamath
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Ashwini Narayangaonkar-Kamath

Ashwini Narayangaonkar-Kamath is the eleventh generation of her family to be dedicated to the ancient art form of Indian classical music. She has performed in India and abroad, has music albums to her credit and successfully runs her classical music academy all over Mumbai.