Classical music is an acquired taste in all cultures and related to the region that it is from. The reason why it is acquired taste is because it did not develop from the local and masses of people. Although the flavour of Indian classical music is related to the region that it is has emanated from, the aesthetics and principles of North Indian and South Indian classical music are formed from thousands of years of history, philosophy and from trial and error.
This form of music is thus separate from folk or pop music and over the years it has been defined, structured and one is required to strictly adhered to the tenets formed as a result of this development.
The North Indian tradition has been particularly developed in the Mughal Era, refining and defining and a performance of raag for that matter, will not be correct without truly knowing the tenets.
Surbandhan thus emphasises on the appreciation of history philosophy and culture associated with that music which becomes very important to fully benefit from it.
Raag is the backbone of Indian classical music. Carnatic music (South Indian music) calls it Raagum. In the western world it is even referred to as Raaga. Raag literally means the dye. It refers to a colour of an emotion and the melody that is used to express that feeling or emotion. A raag has a set of notes arranged in ascending and descending order which must contain a minimum 5 notes each way. This will make it an audav audav jwati raag. Jwati means then, the number of notes make up that particular melody.
So, we have established that a raag, in order to be pure (in pure classical) will only use the notes that are prescribed and may have to omit some notes and will have to follow a chalan.
An integral part of identifying a raag is its’ ‘chalan’ which means the combination or phrases used within the rules of the raag. This is what makes Indian classical music totally different than any other form of music. Only specified notes can be sung, in a specific order and treated in special ways, in order to invoke the emotion of the raag successfully. So, together the chalan and specific ornamentation of the raag also distinguishes one raag from the other.
For example, let’s take raag Yaman, one of the longest standing raags and its notes consists of the sampurna sampurna jwati notes (all 7 notes). That is, S R G M P D N S with a variant of M (tivra M). Sung in a straight way, however, it still would not sound like Yaman. Now, sung N R G M P- R-S, which follows a strict order and sung with ornamentation that is appropriate for this raag (more on ornamentation below). In this example an important rule is that when you get to P it is not acceptable to go on to D N S. It would be sung as such, N R G M D N S, S N D P M G R S or S N D P- R G R N R S.
Alankar (ornamentation) becomes very important in distinguishing raags. These are the use of meend (glide from note to note) or gamak (vibrating on same notes) or using kanswar (touching slightly on other micro notes while singing a main note). The order and chalan is crucial in differentiating raags as some raags do have otherwise, same notes in a similar or same order. The way the notes are approached and treated and the identification of the vadi, samvadi, anuvadi, vivadi, varjit notes will assist to determine the raag. In the above example then when you get to P you will come down to R with a meend and the rest of the phrase, GR NRS will also be also sung with Meend which gives it the sound, emotion or colour of raag Yaman.