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Making friends with ragas – Let’s start with Yaman (Part I)

Making friends with ragas – Let’s start with Yaman – Part I

What does it mean when you say that a song or piece of music is in a particular raga, and how do you recognize the raga in a song? We will try to answer this question taking the example of raga Yaman, and hear a couple of classical compositions and film songs based on Yaman. For a simple explanation of the concept of raga, do read my earlier post “Classical Music - A Bit of basic Stuff”. For a more detailed explanation of the concept and structure of ragas, view the RagaQuest videos under the Raga chapter, specifically Swar to Raga, Chalan of a Raga, and Vaadi/Samvaadi.

Most of us recognize a raga from its “tune” rather than by identifying the swaras (notes) in the song and comparing them with what the textbooks say about the aroha-avaroha or the vaadi-samvaadi or the chalan of the raga. There is no simple “trick” to it, it is a process of going from the known to the unknown – you know that one song belongs to a given raga, and you start recognizing the raga when you hear other songs that sound similar. If you have a harmonium or keyboard you can check out the notes of the song and compare it with the aaroha/avaroha of the raga you think it is. That way you get more and more familiar with the tune of the raga. It is very much like the way you begin to recognize people even from a distance when you meet them often.

So try it, and with practice, you will become better and better. And above all, it is fun!

Note: The key for the notations used everywhere is included at the end of this piece.

Each raga has certain defining musical phrases that are characteristic of that raga. That is essentially what the chalan (चलन) of the raga tells you, something that you are taught as a beginner to ICM studying vocal or instrumental music. When you listen to a raga performed by different artist or to songs in that raga, you begin to identify the raga from its defining musical phrases.

We take raga Yaman in this post because it is one of the most popular ragas as film songs go, and is usually one of the first ragas you learn as a beginner if you are a student of Indian Classical Music. It uses all seven notes (it is a Sampoorna raga) and has a straightforward chalan and is one of the easiest to learn as a student of music. Because of this it is mistakenly thought of by some to be a “simple” raga that anyone can sing or play. In fact it has been performed by every great stalwart of ICM without exception, including Amir Khan, Bhimsen Joshi, Jasraj, Kishori Amonkar – you name the artist, and I will show you their Yaman. Just search for Yaman on YouTube links and you will find enough music, both Classical and film songs to last you a lifetime!

Just to get the theory out of the way, raga Yaman uses all seven notes of the saptak, and all the notes are shuddha, except for Ma, which is Teevra (Ma) So the swara used in Yaman are Sa, Re, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha, Ni. It belongs to the Kalyan thaat. Its vaadi swara (most “important” note) is Ga and samvaadi (second most “important” note) is Ni. In ascending and descending order, it goes as follows: Ṇi Re Ga Ma Dha Ni Sa͘, and Sa͘ Ni Dha Pa Ma Ga Re Sa (Yaman Aaroha-Avaroha). Note that Kalyan is also the name of a raga (though it is very rarely, if ever performed in concerts) whose aroha and avaroha are: Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni Sa͘, and Sa͘ Ni Dha Pa Ma Ga Re Sa. (Kalyan Aroha-Avaroha) So instead of Ṇi Re Ga of Yaman, Kalyan goes Sa Re Ga. Yaman and Kalyan sound very similar, and most film songs in raga Yaman are actually in Kalyan as they make frequent use of the phrase Sa Re Ga rather than Ṇi Re Ga. To confuse matters further, there is a variant of Yaman called Yaman Kalyan which uses the shuddha ma in addition to teevra Ma. Again most film songs in raga Yaman make liberal use of the shuddha ma as well.

Every raga has a set of defining melodic phrases, (the chalan) which is like its signature. The characteristic phrases of Yaman are illustrated with a brief Aalaap in raga Yaman sung by Shruti Athavale. Shruti is a young student of Vidushi Padmatai Talwalkar, and has been learning from her for nearly seven years and is still a devoted student of Padmatai.

Remember that this is one of the million ways in which an alaap in Yaman can be performed. Shruti would not remember how she performed the alaap this time and she may do it quiet differently the next time without violating any of he rules of raga Yaman! And her guru would suggest some aesthetic improvements in this alaap every time she sang it. This is essentially why Hindustani Cassical Music is considered to be so great! The sargam of her alaap is as follows:

(Re)Ṇi Ḍha, Ḍha Ṇi (Re)Ṇi Ḍha Sa... Ṇi Re Sa... Ṇi Re Ga... Ga Re Ma Ga... Re Ga Ma Ga Re Sa... Re Ga Ma Ga Ma Re Sa... Ni Re Ga Ma Pa... Pa Ma Ga... Ga Ma Pa͜Re Sa... Ga Ma Ni Dha Pa.. Ga Ma Dha Ni Dha Ma Ga... Ma Ma Ga Ma Re Ga Ma Pa͜Re Sa... Ni Re Ga Ma Dha Ni Dha.. Ma Dha Ni Re͘ Ni Dha Sa͘.. Sa͘ Ni Re͘ Ni Dha Pa.. Ma Dha Ni Sa͘ Ni Dha Pa... Ga Ma Dha Pa Ma Ga.. Re Re Ga Ma Pa Re Ga Re Ni Re Sa..

But as I said earlier, you recognize a raga from its “tune” not from its grammar. You eventually become so familiar with the raga that it becomes a “dhun”.

That is about as much theory as we will go into here!

When I began listening to Indian Classical Music in my school days, I heard Pt. Bhimsen Joshi sing “Shyam Bajaye Aaj Muraliya” in one of his concerts in Pune and I was so taken by it that it has stuck in my mind ever since. For me, that IS raga Yaman, and when I hear any other piece of music or a song in Yaman, I relate it to Bhimsen-ji’s Yaman that I had heard in my younger days. And so it goes with almost all the ragas that I can now recognize when I hear them. So listen to a few minutes of Bhimsen-ji’s Yaman, followed by a few popular songs in Yaman. Again, we have Shruti Athavale showing us the Sargam of the songs:

Here is a short clip from Bhimsen-ji’s Drut (Chhota) Khayal “Shyam Bajaye Aaj Muraliya”

The mukhda of this bandish is: “Shyam bajaye aaj muraliya, wo Apane adhar agun ko”

And here is Shruti showing us the notation of the Mukhda. Bhimsen-ji has sung the mukhda in almost a dozen different ways (I have discussed this in my next blog post “Is classiclal music superior to film music?”, so watch out for this post. Shruti has sung it in the simplest way, as the “basic” bandish has been composed, along with its sargam.

Ga Re Nị Re Sa, Nị Dḥa Nị Re Ga Re Ga… Ga Re Nị Re Sa, Nị Dḥa Nị Re Ga Re Ga…

Pa Ma Re Ga Ma Pa, Ni Dha Pa Ma Ga Re Sa… Pa͜Re Ga Ma Pa, Ni Dha Pa Ma Ga Re Sa…

Ga Re Nị Re Sa, Nị Dḥa Nị Re Ga Re Ga… Ga Re Nị Re Sa, Nị Dḥa Nị Re Ga Re Ga…

Next listen to this traditional bandish in raga Yaman ”Sakhi aeri aali piya bin” sung by Lata Mangeshkar in the film Raag Rang (1952) with music by the great music director Roshan.

And here is Shruti with the notation of the mukhda:

Its Mukhda is: “Sakhi yeri aali piya bin”

Ga Ma Ni Pa͜Re Sa, Ga Re Ga… Ga Ma Ni Pa͜Re Sa, Ga Re Ga…

Ga Ma Ga Ma Ga Pa Ma Dha Pa, Ni Dha Pa Ma Ga Re Sa… Ga Ma Ga Pa Ma Dha Pa, Ni Dha Pa Ma Ga Re Sa

Let us digest this much and come back to Identifying ragas with Yaman as our example in the next post…


Wherever we look at the notation of a piece of music, we will use the following conventions:

1. A swara in upper case (e.g. Re) denotes a shuddha (शुद्ध) swara, and a swara in lower case (e.g. re) denotes a komal (कोमल) swara. “ma” means shuddha ma and Ma means teevra Ma.

2. A dot below a swara (e.g. Nị) means that it is in the lower octave (Mandra Saptak). A dot above a swara (e.g. Sa͘) means that it is in the higher octave (Taar saptak).

3. A double breve ( ͜ ) between 2 swaras denotes a glide (मींड) between the two swaras. A Ϩ indicates a sustain on the note. A swara in brackets () means that it is touched (कण स्वर) before or after the main note.


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Vrajasundara Das
Vrajasundara Das
24 ago 2023

Thank you, prabhu. Pranam.

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