Raaga Primer: The Thaats

tanpuraAjay Parasuraman

The last post introduced you to the quite fascinating Katapayadi Sankhya of classification of Carnatic Melakartha Raagas. I had mentioned that in Hindustani, the equivalent of Melakarthas are Thaats.

One of the most influential musicologists in the Hindustani field of music was a person called Vishnu Bhatkhande. According to him, each one of the numerous traditional raagas in Hindustani are based on or are variants of ten ‘basic’ thaats. That is, if any raaga is chosen at random, it is surely based on one of these ten thaats. The ten thaats are Bilawal, Kalyan, Khamaj, Bhairav, Poorvi, Marwa, Kafi, Asavari, Bhairavi and Todi. However, Bhatkhande’s classification isn’t an error-free, infallible method of classification. It, although, helps in understanding a huge reservoir of raagas better. Please note that the ten thaats are also raagas.

There are certain rules for these Thaats.

  1. A Thaat must have seven notes out of the twelve notes [Seven Shuddha, Four komal (Re, Ga, Dha , Ni), one teevra (Ma) ], placed in an ascending order. Both the forms of the notes can be used.
  2. Thaat has only an Aarohan.
  3. Thaats are not sung but the raags produced from the Thaats are sung.
  4. Thaats are named after the popular raag of that Thaat.

The 10 basic thaats acording to the Bhatkhande System are as follows:

1. Bilawal :Bilawal is the most basic of all the ten thaats. All the swars in the thaat are shuddha or all swars in the natural scale. Bilawal as a raag is not rendered these days however a small variation of the raag called Alahaiya Bilawal is very common. This is a morning raag and its pictorial descriptions create a rich, sensuous ambience in consonance with its performance.

Raags in Bilawal Thaat : Deskar, Haunsdhwani etc.

2. Khamaj : The next thaat is Khamaj which can be obtained by replacing the Shuddha Nishad of Bilawal by Komal Nishad. The raags of this thaat are full of Shringar Ras (romantic) hence this raag is mostly rendered in the form of light classical thumris, tappas, horis, kajris etc. Its pictorial descriptions in the existing texts are sensuous and even today, the raag Khamaj is considered to be a ‘flirtatious’ raag. There is another theory which assumes that in the past, Khamaj scale found its way into Ch’in music of the late medieval China.

Raags in Khamaj Thaat : Rageshree, Jhinjhoti, Des, Tilak Kamod, Jaijaiwanti, Khambavati etc

3. Kaafi : Kafi thaat makes use of the Komal Gandhar and Komal Nishad. So basically it adds Komal Gandhar to the Khamaj Thaat. raag Kafi is one of the oldest raags and its intervals are described as basic scale of the Natyashastra. Thus in ancient and medieval times, Kafi was considered as natural scale. Kafi is a late evening raag and said to convey the mood of spring time.

Raags in Kafi Thaat : Dhanashree, Dhani, Bhimpalasi, Pilu, Megh Malhar, Bageshree etc.

4. Asavari : Add Komal Dhaivat to Kafi thaat and you get Asavari Thaat. Raag Asaveri is full of tyag, the mood of renunciation and sacrifice as well as pathos. It is best suited for late morning. However important evening/night raags like Darbari and Adana also use notes of asavari thaat with different styles, stress points and ornamentations.

Raags in Asavari Thaat : Asavari, Desi, Darbari, Adana, Jaunpuri etc.

5. Bharavi : Bhairavi makes use of all the komal swars, Rishabh, Gandhar, Dhaivat, Nishad. When singing compositions in Bhairavi raag, the singers however take liberty to use all the 12 swars. Bhairavi raag is names after the shakti or feminine aspect of the cosmic life force, which is personified as a consort to Lord Shiva. Bhairavi is a powerful raag filled with devotion and compassion. Bhairavi is actually performed early in the morning in a peaceful, serious and ocassionally sad mood. Traditionally it is rendered as the last item of a program, for its unique fullness of sentiments as well as its wide scope of the tonal combinations. Pictorially, Bhairavi is represented in female form, as the wife of Bhairav.

Raags in Bhairavi Thaat : Malkauns, Bilaskhani Todi, Bhupali Todi, Kaunsi Kanada etc.

6. Bhairav : Bhairav thaat raags make use of Komal Rishabh and Komal Dhaivat. Bhairav is one of the names of Lord Shiva especially in his powerful form as a naked ascetic with matted locks and body smeared with ashes. The raag too has some of these masculine and scetic attributes in its form and compositions. The raag itself is extremely vast and allows a huge number of note combinations and a great range of emotional qualities from valor to peace. You can see a lot of variations on raag Bhairav including (but not restricted to) Ahir Bhairav, Alam Bhairav, Anand Bhairav, Bairagi Bhairav, Beehad Bhairav, Bhavmat Bhairav, Devata Bhairav, Gauri Bhairav, Nat Bhairav, Shivmat Bhairav. This raag is usually performed in a devotional mood in the early morning hours. The vibrations of the notes in Bhairav is said to clear one’s whole mind. The pictorial depictions of raag Bhairav in the ancient texts are austere as well as awe-inspiring.

Raags in Bhairav Thaat : Ramkali, Gunkari, Meghranjani, Jogiya, Bhairav and its variations, etc.

7. Kalyan : Kalyan thaat consists of a important group of evening raags. Characterized by the teevra Madhyam, this thaat literally means good luck. It is considered to be a blessing-seeking and soothing raag. As a result, it is performed in the evening at the beginning of a concert. This raag creates a feeling of the unfolding of an evening. This thaat is huge and consists of many variations on the basic kalyan thaat including raags (but not restricted to) like Shuddha Kalyan, Shyam Kalyan, Yaman Kalyan, Anandi Kalyan, Khem Kalyan (Haunsdhwani + Yaman), Savani Kalyan etc.

Raags in Kalyan Thaat : Yaman, Bhupali, Hindol, Kedar, Kamod etc.

8.  Marwa : Marwa thaat is obtained by adding a komal Rishabh to Kalyan thaat. The mood of the Marwa family raags is strongly and easily recognizable. The Shadja remains in the form of a shadow till the very end, where it almost comes as a surprise. komal Rishabh and shuddha Dhaivat are ver important. The overall mood of this raag is of sunset where the night approaches much faster than in northern latitudes. The onrushing darkness awakens in many observers, a feeling of anxiety and solemn expectation.

Raags in Marwa Thaat : Marwa, Puriya, Bhatiyaar, Bibhas, Sohoni etc.

9. Poorvi : Poorvi thaat adds a komal Dhaivat to Marwa thaat. These thaat raags usually feature komal Rishabh, shuddha Gandhar and Shuddha Nishad along with teevra Madhyam, the note which distinguishes evening from the morning raags (dawn and sunset). The thaat raag Poorvi is deeply serious quite and mysterious in character and is performed at the time of sunset. Pictorial depictions in early texts, often mention the poise, grace and charm of Poorvi.

Raags in Poorvi Thaat : Puriya Dhanashree, Gauri, Shree, Paraj, Basant etc.

10. Todi : Todi is the king of all thaats. Todi pictures nearly always show a petite, beautiful woman, holding veena, with a deer around her, standing in a lovely, lush green forest. Todi represents the mood of delighted adoration with a gentle, loving sentiment and its traditionally performed in the late morning.

Raags in Todi Thaat : Miyan Ki Todi, Gujari Todi, Madhuvanti, Multani

A thaat is a musical scale with the seven notes presented in their order of ascent (arohan). For instance, Asaveri is presented, and notated, as Sa Re Ga (flat or komal) Ma Pa Dha (flat) Ni (flat) in ascent, or arohan. This is, however, only the skeletal musical structure of the raga Asaveri ; the raga Asaveri, in reality, and in exposition, is a very different thing. It goes straight from Re to Ma, and comes down to touch Ga, as it ascends; having touched Ni later, it returns to Pa, and, touching the upper Sa, returns to Dha and Pa again and again. Arohan and avarohan are, thus, inextricably and inseparably intermingled in the structure of this raga. The raga, then, is not a musical scale in the Western sense; it is a characteristic arrangement or progression of notes whose full potential and complexity can  be realized only in exposition, and not upon the printed page. A condensed version of this characteristic arrangement of notes, peculiar to each raga, may be called the pakad, by which a listener hears the phrase Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Ga, none of these notes being flat or sharp.  Repeated in a recital, they will know that they are listening to the raga Gaud Sarang. Two ragas may have identical notes and yet be very different ragas; for example, two ragas mentioned earlier, Shree and Puriya Dhanashri, have exactly the same notes, but are unmistakably different in structure and temperament. The first can be identified by its continual exploration of the relationship of the note Re to the note Paa; while the repetition of the phrase Ma Re Ga Re Ma Ga, a phrase that would be inadmissible in the first raga, is an enduring feature of the latter. Certain arrangements of notes, then, are opposite to particular ragas and taboo to all others. A simple and abstract knowledge, thus of the notes of a raga or the thaat on which it is based, is hardly enough to ensure a true familiarity or engagement with the raga, although it may serve as a convenient starting point. Thaat familiarity can only come from a constant exposure to, and critical engagement, with raga’s exposition.

I haven’t, as of yet, decided on the topic for next post. So, suggestions are welcome! But, I assure you, it won’t bore you! 🙂

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Vikramaditya Bagri says:

Excellent article. I loved the descriptions and the links you have provided. 🙂 Keep you the good work.

Ajay Parasuraman says:

bahut bahut shukriya 🙂

rahul natthani says:

bahut badhiya information hai is page par. jaise ki pura raagmala hi yaha utar aaya hai. bahut bahut badhai is kaam ke liye aapko.

Ajay Parasuraman says:

You’re welcome, Sonal!

Sonal says:

Wow, enjoyed each and every You Tube link. Just takes you in another world. Thanks.