Raga Families & Compound Ragas

Raga families ( raagang) are created when new ragas are derived from existing ragas. Take an existing raga and leave out one note from its scale, and you have a new raga. Add a new note, and you have a different raga. You can also leave out or add notes selectively, say just in the ascending scale of the raga or only in specific note patterns. The melody profiles or chalan (video: “what is chalan?”) of ragas in the same family are often similar.

Take Raag Malkauns, for instance. It uses the notes Sa ga ma dha ni (1, ♭3, 4, ♭6, ♭7). If you substitute Ni for ni, you get Raag Chandrakauns (Sa ga ma dha Ni; 1, ♭3, 4, ♭6, 7). If you take Malkauns and add two notes to it, Re and Pa, you get Raag Sampoorna Malkauns (Sa Re ga ma Pa dha ni; 1, 2, ♭3, 4, 5, ♭6, ♭7). All three ragas belong to the Kauns family and use similar patterning of notes. Meanwhile, Raag Darbari Kanada uses the same set of notes as Sampoorna Malkauns (Sa Re ga ma Pa dha ni; 1, 2, ♭3, 4, 5, ♭6, ♭7), but its melody profile is different because it has a different origin. It belongs to the Kanada family. Let’s take a look at the progression from one raga to another to see how this works in practice.

Raag Malkauns (Kauns ang)

Malkauns is an ancient raga and a very important one in both Hindustani (North Indian) and Carnatic (South Indian) classical music. It is vast and profound, best performed in the lower pitch ranges at an extremely contemplative pace in the small hours of the morning, just after midnight.

Click to hear the scale of Raag Malkauns
Rajan & Sajan Mishra (vocal)
Raag Malkauns

Raag Chandrakauns (Kauns ang)

Despite using so many minor notes, there is no darkness in Malkauns because of the even spacing of its notes. But replace the ni (♭7) with Ni (7), and you immediately add an element of tension and darkness to the scale. Chandrakauns is a new raga, created from Malkauns. Similar to Malkauns, it is performed after midnight.

Click to hear the scale of Raag Chandrakauns
Hariprasad Chaurasia (flute)
Raag Chandrakauns

Raag Sampoorna Malkauns (Kauns ang)

Sampoorna Malkauns, to me, is a more feminine version of Malkauns. This is also a relatively new raga, and a rare one as well. It is mostly performed by artists of the Jaipur-Atrauli gharana (school). Once again, the time prescribed for this raga is after midnight.

Click to hear the scale of Raag Sampoorna Malkauns
Apoorva Gokhale & Pallavi Joshi (vocal)
Raag Sampoorna Malkauns

Raag Darbari Kanada (Kanada ang)

Darbari Kanada uses all the same notes as Sampoorna Malkauns but sounds very different. Darbari is considered among the most difficult ragas in Hindustani music because of its use of difficult microtones and heavy ornamentation. If Malkauns is profound, Darbari Kanada is stately. The first part of its name comes from the word darbar (the king’s court), and the second part, Kanada, indicates that it belongs to the Kanada family. Grand and majestic, this raga is best sung in a heavy bass voice during the late evening hours, and sometimes deep into the night.

Click to hear the scale of Raag Darbari Kanada
Jasraj (vocal)
Raag Darbari Kanada

Compound Ragas

What if we were to interweave the melodies of the Kauns and Kanada families above? We would get a compound raga. Compound ragas are a fascinating group of ragas created by combining two existing ragas. The challenge here is to make sure that the final product is pleasing rather than disconcerting. There are two ways in which ragas can be combined. One way involves simply interweaving the melodies of two ragas so that each raga retains its identity.

Raag Kaunsi Kanada (Kauns + Kanada ang)

This late-night raga is a delightful combination of ragas Sampoorna Malkauns and Darbari Kanada. It gives you glimpses now of the Kauns family, now of the Kanada family, keeping you constantly surprised.

Click to hear the scale of Raag Kaunsi Kanada
Debasmita Bhattacharya (sarod)
Raag Kaunsi Kanada

Another way of creating a compound raga is by using the notes of one raga and the melody profile of a different raga family, as in the case of Megh, which uses the notes of Madmaad Sarang but the note patterning and ornamentation of the Malhar group of rain ragas as demonstrated below by Sawani Shende.

Sawani Shende (vocal)
Demonstrates the difference between
Madmaad Sarang and Megh

“Malhar” means “cleanser of impurities” (indicating the rains) and all ragas that contain the word Malhar in their names are rain ragas. Imagine four months of relentlessly rising mercury, searing heat, dry dust storms during the day and suffocating airless nights. And then suddenly one day, black clouds gather in the horizon, the thunder rumbles and temperatures drop like lead as a cool wind swirls in dried leaves and twigs ahead of the first monsoon storm. The fragrance that rises as the first raindrops touch the scorched earth is indescribable, peacocks start to dance. That is when the Malhar ragas are sung.

The Malhar ragas can depict the joy and relief of the first rains, but on a dramatically contrasting note, they can also depict restless longing in separation and unnamed fears. Ornamentation is used to great effect in these ragas to suggest clouds gathering, the wind blowing, thunder rumbling, and lightning cracking.

Raag Megh (Malhar ang)

Let’s first listen to the gorgeous Raag Megh (meaning “clouds”), less popular than its cousin Miya Malhar, perhaps, but gentler and more easily melodious.

Click to hear the scale of Raag Megh
Rattan Mohan Sharma (vocal)
Raag Megh

Raag Miya Malhar (Malhar ang)

And now for a glimpse into Miya Malhar, the most famous of the Malhar ragas. The popularity of Miya Malhar is due to its prolific use in lighter genres including movie songs, where it is accordingly treated more lightly. In mainstream classical music, however, it is considered an extremely difficult raga to master because of the use of difficult microtones and heavy oscillations. The circuitous (vakra) nature of its phrasing also makes it quite a challenge to improvise extensively in this raga, though obviously not for the inimitable Bhimsen Joshi.

Click to hear the scale of Raag Miya Malhar
Bhimsen Joshi (vocal)
Raag Miya Malhar

N M Khare, a desciple of Vishnu Digambar Paluskar (1872–1931), identified a total of 30 raagangs under which to classify most ragas.

To explore other important ragas in Hindustani classical music, check out raga classification by scale (thaat) and structure (jati), and a few more difficult ragas.

This essay is a part of a series of essays on Indian classical music. Below are the other essays in this series.

Chapter 1. An overview of Indian classical music

Chapter 2. Notes in an octave in Indian classical music

Chapter 3. What is a raga?

Chapter 4. Rhythm (taal) in Indian classical music

Chapter 5. Ornamentation in Indian classical music

Chapter 6. Notating Indian classical music

Chapter 7. Indian classical music compositions

Chapter 8. Improvisation in Indian classical music

Chapter 9. Understanding a raga performance

Chapter 10. Tips & resources for students of Indian classical music

You can also visit the following links to enjoy real performances by renowned artists in some of the other beautiful ragas in Indian classical music while learning about raga structure, raga scales, and the time and moods associated with different ragas.

Ragas classified by structure (jaati)

Ragas classified by scale (thaat)

A few difficult ragas

Originally published at https://raag-hindustani.com.

Pandit Jasraj by Suyash.dwivedi [CC BY-SA 4.0]

I study, write about, and make audiovisual content to explain Indian classical music. My website: https://raag-hindustani.com