From the Sanskrit word Ranga for color, a raga is a collection of pitches used in classical Indian music that form something like musical scales (like pentatonic and diatonic) as well as modes (like minor and major). Ragas can have elemental, temporal, and gender associations, take on different structures when ascending or descending the scale, and will sometimes skip or repeat notes within the octave. Some notes of a raga can also be given greater or lesser significance or punctuation, and the raga can indicate a specific time signature or mood. This makes ragas much more intricate than the average western scale. The Carnatic tradition arranges ragas into the melakarta, or basic raga, system of seventy-two ragas. From these seventy-two basic ragas are formed a large number of secondary ragas.

Ragas are required to:

  • Contain at least five notes of an octave in both ascending and descending forms.
  • Contain the tonic or reference (base note).
  • Use at least one of three specific notes (relative to the base) that serve as a reference for the upper tetrachord.
  • Not use both a note and its altered version (similar to flats and sharps) consecutively.

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