16 Sep A Modern Introduction to Music – 17
By Anjum Altaf
In the last installment we introduced the classification scheme in which the ragas of Hindustani classical music are grouped into ten parent families called thaats. Little is to be gained by my describing these thaats and listing the ragas that belong to each; this information is now readily available on scores of websites (one relevant to this topic is here). I prefer to share my own explorations of this schema in the hope that some readers would come up with insights that have eluded me thus far.
Personally, and this is surely a function of my ignorance, I haven’t found the schema to be of much use (because of its many exceptions) asides from the help it provides in identifying closely related ragas. For example, I know that Darbari, Adana and Jaunpuri are aesthetically similar because they have all been grouped under Asavari thaat. Still, I have remained fascinated with what I feel might be hidden secrets of the scheme.
In order to explore these, I will revert to the simplification I mentioned in the last installment, i.e., to eliminate the category of shudh swaras and to transform all swaras to komal and tivra equivalents. We know that the five natural swaras with their auxiliary swaras are as follows:
r R g G M m d D n N
Based on our simplification (dropping the shudh category), we should label [r g M d n] as the komal swaras and [R G m D N] as the tivra swaras. For a visual display, however, I want all the komal swaras to be represented by small case letters and all the tivra swaras to be represented by upper case letters. In order to achieve this objective I need to make (for this discussion only) one exception to the accepted written notation – in the case of Ma we will let m represent the komal equivalent and M represent the tivra equivalent.
There is one last notational detail before we move to the exploration of the thaat schema. Since Sa and Pa are common to all thaats and are invariant, we do not need them to identify thaats – their presence is assumed.
Now I am going to identify the 10 seven-note thaats by means of the five notes that have variants and mark them on what I have called the Circle of Thaats.
Our starting point is Kalyan Thaat in the 12 o’clock position with all tivra swaras – RGMDN and our concluding point is Bhairavi Thaat, its mirror image, in the 6 o’clock position with all komal swaras – rgmdn.
Moving anti-clockwise from Kalyan, we change tivra swars to komal swaras, in turn, to get the following three thaats before we arrive at Bhairavi thaat where all swaras become komal.
Marwa [rGMDN]; Poorvi [rGMdN]; Todi [rgMdN].
Moving clockwise from Kalyan, we change tivra swaras to komal swaras, in turn, to get the following four thaats (ignore Bhairav thaat for the moment) before we again get to Bhairavi thaat where all swaras become komal.
Bilawal [RGmDN]; Khamaj [RGmDn]; Kafi [RgmDn]; Asavari [Rgmdn].
Now note the following:
- In the anti-clockwise direction, Ma and Ni remain tivra in all three thaats. The variation comes from transformations in Re, Ga and Dha.
- In the clockwise direction, Re remains tivra and Ma remains komal in all four thaats. The variation comes from transformations in Ga, Dha and Ni.
- When we get to an exploration of ragas we will find that Re and Dha go together a lot, as do Ga and Ni. In each pair one note belongs to the lower half of the saptak and one to the upper half.
- We might also find this presentation useful when we discuss the relationship of ragas to the time of day. The combination of komal and tivra swaras will be important determinants of the rasa of a raga and hence of the appropriate time for its performance.
- Bhairav thaat [rGmdN] is an outlier in this schema – it does not really fall neatly on either side between Kalyan and Bhairavi thaats.
- Eight thaats pair up in four pairs that are mirror images of each other (the swara that is tivra in one is komal in the other): Kalyan [RGMDN] and Bhairavi [rgmdn]; Marwa [rGMDN] and Asavari [Rgmdn]; Poorvi [rGMdN] and Kafi [RgmDn]; Todi [rgMdN] and Khamaj [RGmDn].
- Bilawal [RGmDn] and Bhairav [rGmDN] are orphans; they are unpaired thaats.
I keep toying with this (surely naïve) thought that becomes a scientist but perhaps not a musician that this schema is unsymmetrical and there must be a way to restore symmetry to it. We could either add two new thaats, [rgMdn] and [RgMDn], to create pairs for Bilawal and Bhairav and to get to 12, a number much more amenable to symmetrical divisions. Or we could drop the existing Bhairav and create a new thaat [rGMdN].
The existing thaat classification has many ambiguities. For example raga Charukeshi [SRGmPdn] cannot be placed unambiguously in any thaat. One has to listen to its movements before assigning it to one family or another. In the last installment we employed the same logic of aesthetics to assign Bhupali and Deshkar (ragas with the same swaras) to different thaats. Given these ambiguities, I keep wondering if the classification can be subject to rationalization by someone who knows both the mathematics of sets and the theory of music.
Perhaps this is idle speculation but I find it an entertaining way to spend time and stay out of trouble.