Carnatic Ragas

Ragas form the bedrock of Indian classical music and are the foundation upon which all compositions and creativity are built on. Even a beginner, who is being initiated into classical music starts with raga-based musical phrases. In a typical Carnatic music concert, one would hear a variety of ragas being rendered to create specific moods and ambiences.

Most Carnatic audiences enjoy challenging themselves.  As soon as the first phrase is rendered by the artist, inevitably, the mind races to identify the raga. So,what is a Raga?

A Raga in the simplest form is a melody made up of a specific sequence of notes rendered with certain characteristic ornamentations (gamakas) and intonations. For a student, a Raga can be understood with the help of an experienced Guru. A Guru will first help the student traverse the scale through a fixed sequence of notes in the ascending (Arohana) and descending scale. (Avarohana) The next step is to learn the key phrases of the raga. Equally important are the dos and don’ts of presenting a raga to ensure it stays true to its nature without encroaching into the territory of another raga. Finally, the Guru will help the student solidify their understanding of the raga by teaching masterpieces of diverse composers. Compositions set the foundation for manodharma (improvisation) or creativity which is a very essential element of Indian classical music.

If a raga can be compared to a personality, then  one must spend time getting to know them better, just like a real person.  Some raga personalities are strong, like Shankarabharanam, Kalyani, Todi etc, requiring a longer time to understand whereas others are relatively easier to get acquainted with like Sriranjani, Abhogi etc. 

The beauty of Carnatic ragas is that one need not necessarily be a student or highly knowledgable to be able to identify them. Many rasikas (knowledgable listeners) develop the ability to identify ragas merely by honing their listening instincts over a period of time. Matching patterns from raga phrases to familiar passages from songs or artists helps them develop this valuable skill. 

Acharyanet wants to make it easier for both students and listeners to understand their favourite carnatic ragas better. On this page, you will find a list of Carnatic ragas. Click on them to listen to a comprehensive explanation of the raga scale and key phrases (raga moorchana) by Sangeet Samrat Chitravina N Ravikiran. We have also provided some listening links to understand how different artists have rendered them with varied styles and personalities. 

Fundamental concept of ragas -

Step 1: Layer of a set of notes – Raga (also known as ragam in Carnatic music) is a melody which is created with notes or swaras. These swaras are arranged in ascending and descending order. Ascending order is called Arohana, and the descending order is called Avarohana. For a raga to be complete, there should be at least5 notes in ascending and 5 notes in descending order.

The number of notes in a raga defines the jaati of that raga.

  • When a raga has 5 notes in ascending order and 5 notes in descending order, it is known as the audavaaudavajaati raga. Raga Bhoopalam is an example of the audavaaudavajaati raga. Sa Re Ga Pa Da
  • When a raga has 6 notes in ascending and 6 notes in descending order, it is known as the shaadavashaadavajaati raga.
  • When a raga has 7 notes in ascending and 7 notes in descending order, it is known as the sampoornasampoornajaati raga.

Along with these three diametrically synonymous jaatis, there are some ragas which have mixed jaatis too. For example:

  • 5 notes in ascending order and 7 notes in descending order are known as AudavaSampoornajaati raga
  • 6 notes in ascending order and 5 notes in descending order are known as ShadavaAudavajaati raga

Step 2: Layer of Moorchana–After the set of notes, comes the key phrases known as Moorchana. A raga is a combination of swaras and moorchanas. However, Carnatic music is a very authentic and structured art form. Any ragas cannot be combined with any moorchanas. There are specific rules, and at the same time, there are key combinations of notes that one has to use. These key phrases,along with the combination of notes, give a raga its identity.

The aspect of moorchana in a raga is quite fascinating. You can have 2 ragas with the same set of swaras, but the Moorchana of each raga can be different. And this variation gives flavour to the raga.

For example – Raga Kedaragowla and Raga Surati. Both these ragas have 6 notes in ascending order and 6 notes in a descending order. But the Moorchana is different in the two, and that is their distinguishing factor.

Step 3: Layer of Gamakas–After Moorchanas, comes the layer of Gamakas. Gamakas are the decorations attributed to swaras or the notes. These are often referred to as ‘shaking the note’. This is the subtler aspect of a raga, which attributes it with a tenderness and delicate beauty when performed.

When the three elements of swaras, moorchanas and gamkas unite and form a combination, the unique combination is called a raga.

Classification of ragas

The simplest way to classify ragas is by the number of swaras it has.

1. Melakarta ragas/parent ragas–a raga which incorporates all the 7 swaras in a systematic sequence order is called a melakarta raga. There are no jumps or zigzagsin the swaras.

Examples of melakarta ragas include – Shankarabharanam, Kalyani, Natabhairavi, ChalaNattai, Harikambhoji, Kharaharapriya, Mayamalavagowla, Chakravakam etc.

Sa

Ri

Ga

Ma

Pa

Da

Ni

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

2. Janya Ragas –‘Janya’ means that which has taken birth from.Janya ragas are ragas which are derived from Janaka ragas (Parent – Melakarta ragas). They may have less than 7 notes in their scales, or have additional notes in them.
Some examples of Janya Ragas include:

  • AbhogiRaga–This is formed when we remove P and N from the parent raga.

    S

    R

    G

    M

    D

    1

    2

    3

    4

    5

  • MadhyamavatiRaga–This is formed when we remove G and D from the parent raga

    S

    R

    M

    P

    N

    1

    2

    3

    4

    5

3. Vakra Ragas – VakraRagas are also forms of janya ragas, that is, they are derived from the janak-melakarta ragas. However, their characteristic feature is that their swaras are not arranged in the original sequence. They are arranged in a zigzag manner. For e.g. Arohanam and Avrohanam of the Shree Raga is as follows: S R M P N S. S. N P M R G R S.

In Vakraragas, it is not enough only to know which swaras are present in the raga. One must also be able to understand the sequence and structure of the swaras as well as the positioning of the key phrases in the raga.

Some examples of Vakra ragas include:

  • Raga Khamas –

    S

    M

    G

    M

    N

    D

    N

    P

    D

    N

    1

    2

    3

    4

    5

    6

    7

    8

    9

    10

  • Raga AnandhaBhairavi

    S

    G

    R

    G

    M

    P

    D

    P

    1

    2

    3

    4

    5

    6

    7

    8

How to identify ragas in carnatic music?

  1. Whenever you hear a song or a melody or an alapana, begin by trying to recollect if the song melody is similar to any other song that you have previously heard of and see if the raga is familiar.
  2. Secondly, try to recognise the key phrases that are used in the melody. This step commands the need of higher levels of understanding on Carnatic music.
  3. After that, try to identify a raga by the arohanas and avrohanas that it contains. This is possible with advanced knowledge of the arohanas and the avrohanas of various ragas.
  4. Then, try and identify the different Swaras present in the raga.
  5. And lastly, try to recognize gamakas – the subtle decorations attributed to the raga and they way they are rendered, like speed, emphasis, etc.

How many ragas are there in Carnatic Music?

There are 72 Melakartaor parent or janakragas. From these 72 melakartha ragas, there are more than a thousand janya ragas can be formed which contain beautiful musical notations.

Carnatic Ragas List -

Here are the names of carnatic ragas (melakarta ragas)

MELAKARTA RAGA

 1 | kanakAn’gi                       | S R1 G1 M1 P D1 N1 S | S N1 D1 P M1 G1 R1 S

 2 | rathnAn’gi                        | S R1 G1 M1 P D1 N2 S | S N2 D1 P M1 G1 R1 S

 3 | gAnamUrthi                     | S R1 G1 M1 P D1 N3 S | S N3 D1 P M1 G1 R1 S

 4 | vanaspathi                       | S R1 G1 M1 P D2 N2 S | S N2 D2 P M1 G1 R1 S

 5 | mAnavathi                       | S R1 G1 M1 P D2 N3 S | S N3 D2 P M1 G1 R1 S

 6 | thAnarUpi                        | S R1 G1 M1 P D3 N3 S | S N3 D3 P M1 G1 R1 S

 7 | sEnAvathi                        | S R1 G2 M1 P D1 N1 S | S N1 D1 P M1 G2 R1 S

 8 | HanumathOdi                  | S R1 G2 M1 P D1 N2 S | S N2 D1 P M1 G2 R1 S

 9 | DhEnukA                         | S R1 G2 M1 P D1 N3 S | S N3 D1 P M1 G2 R1 S

10 | nAtakapriya                    | S R1 G2 M1 P D2 N2 S | S N2 D2 P M1 G2 R1 S

11 | kOkilapriya                      | S R1 G2 M1 P D2 N3 S | S N3 D2 P M1 G2 R1 S

12 | rUpavathi                        | S R1 G2 M1 P D3 N3 S | S N3 D3 P M1 G2 R1 S

13 | gAyakapriya                    | S R1 G3 M1 P D1 N1 S | S N1 D1 P M1 G3 R1 S

14 | vakulAbharaNam            | S R1 G3 M1 P D1 N2 S | S N2 D1 P M1 G3 R1 S

15 | mAyAmALavagowLA      | S R1 G3 M1 P D1 N3 S | S N3 D1 P M1 G3 R1 S

16 | chakravAkam                  | S R1 G3 M1 P D2 N2 S | S N2 D2 P M1 G3 R1 S

17 | sUryakAntam                  | S R1 G3 M1 P D2 N3 S | S N3 D2 P M1 G3 R1 S

18 | HAtakAmbari                  | S R1 G3 M1 P D3 N3 S | S N3 D3 P M1 G3 R1 S

19 | Jan’kAradhvani               | S R2 G2 M1 P D1 N1 S | S N1 D1 P M1 G2 R2 S

20 | naTabhairavi                   | S R2 G2 M1 P D1 N2 S | S N2 D1 P M1 G2 R2 S

21 | kIravANi                          | S R2 G2 M1 P D1 N3 S | S N3 D1 P M1 G2 R2 S

22 | KaraHarapriya                | S R2 G2 M1 P D2 N2 S | S N2 D2 P M1 G2 R2 S

23 | gowrimanOHari              | S R2 G2 M1 P D2 N3 S | S N3 D2 P M1 G2 R2 S

24 | varuNapriya                    | S R2 G2 M1 P D3 N3 S | S N3 D3 P M1 G2 R2 S

25 | mAraranjani                    | S R2 G3 M1 P D1 N1 S | S N1 D1 P M1 G3 R2 S

26 | chArukeshi                     | S R2 G3 M1 P D1 N2 S | S N2 D1 P M1 G3 R2 S

27 | sarasAn’gi                       | S R2 G3 M1 P D1 N3 S | S N3 D1 P M1 G3 R2 S

28 | HarikAmbhOji                 | S R2 G3 M1 P D2 N2 S | S N2 D2 P M1 G3 R2 S

29 | DhIrashan’karAbharaNam       | S R2 G3 M1 P D2 N3 S | S N3 D2 P M1 G3 R2 S

30 | nAgAnandhini                 | S R2 G3 M1 P D3 N3 S | S N3 D3 P M1 G3 R2 S

31 | yAgapriya                        | S R3 G3 M1 P D1 N1 S | S N1 D1 P M1 G3 R3 S

32 | rAgavarDhani                  | S R3 G3 M1 P D1 N2 S | S N2 D1 P M1 G3 R3 S

33 | gAn’geyabhushani          | S R3 G3 M1 P D1 N3 S | S N3 D1 P M1 G3 R3 S

34 | vAgaDhIsvari                  | S R3 G3 M1 P D2 N2 S | S N2 D2 P M1 G3 R3 S

35 | shUlini                             | S R3 G3 M1 P D2 N3 S | S N3 D2 P M1 G3 R3 S

36 | chalanAta                        | S R3 G3 M1 P D3 N3 S | S N3 D3 P M1 G3 R3 S

37 | sAlagam                          | S R1 G1 M2 P D1 N1 S | S N1 D1 P M2 G1 R1 S

38 | jalArnavam                      | S R1 G1 M2 P D1 N2 S | S N2 D1 P M2 G1 R1 S

39 | JAlavarALi                       | S R1 G1 M2 P D1 N3 S | S N3 D1 P M2 G1 R1 S

40 | navanItham                     | S R1 G1 M2 P D2 N2 S | S N2 D2 P M2 G1 R1 S

41 | pAvani                             | S R1 G1 M2 P D2 N3 S | S N3 D2 P M2 G1 R1 S

42 | raGupriya                        | S R1 G1 M2 P D3 N3 S | S N3 D3 P M2 G1 R1 S

43 | gavAmbodhi                   | S R1 G2 M2 P D1 N1 S | S N1 D1 P M2 G2 R1 S

44 | bhavapriya                      | S R1 G2 M2 P D1 N2 S | S N2 D1 P M2 G2 R1 S

45 | shubhapanthuvarALi     | S R1 G2 M2 P D1 N3 S | S N3 D1 P M2 G2 R1 S

46 | shadhvidhamArgiNi       | S R1 G2 M2 P D2 N2 S | S N2 D2 P M2 G2 R1 S

47 | suvarNAn’gi                    | S R1 G2 M2 P D2 N3 S | S N3 D2 P M2 G2 R1 S

48 | dhivyAmaNi                    | S R1 G2 M2 P D3 N3 S | S N3 D3 P M2 G2 R1 S

49 | dhavalAmbari                 | S R1 G3 M2 P D1 N1 S | S N1 D1 P M2 G3 R1 S

50 | nAmanArAyaNi               | S R1 G3 M2 P D1 N2 S | S N2 D1 P M2 G3 R1 S

51 | kAmavardhini                 | S R1 G3 M2 P D1 N3 S | S N3 D1 P M2 G3 R1 S

52 | rAmapriya                       | S R1 G3 M2 P D2 N2 S | S N2 D2 P M2 G3 R1 S

53 | gamanashrama               | S R1 G3 M2 P D2 N3 S | S N3 D2 P M2 G3 R1 S

54 | vishvAmbhari                 | S R1 G3 M2 P D3 N3 S | S N3 D3 P M2 G3 R1 S

55 | shyAmaLAngi                  | S R2 G2 M2 P D1 N1 S | S N1 D1 P M2 G2 R2 S

56 | shanmuKapriya              | S R2 G2 M2 P D1 N2 S | S N2 D1 P M2 G2 R2 S

57 | simHendramadhyamam            | S R2 G2 M2 P D1 N3 S | S N3 D1 P M2 G2 R2 S

58 | HemAvathi                      | S R2 G2 M2 P D2 N2 S | S N2 D2 P M2 G2 R2 S

59 | DharmAvathi                  | S R2 G2 M2 P D2 N3 S | S N3 D2 P M2 G2 R2 S

60 | nIthimathi                       | S R2 G2 M2 P D3 N3 S | S N3 D3 P M2 G2 R2 S

61 | kAnthAmaNi                   | S R2 G3 M2 P D1 N1 S | S N1 D1 P M2 G3 R2 S

62 | rishabhapriya                 | S R2 G3 M2 P D1 N2 S | S N2 D1 P M2 G3 R2 S

63 | lathAngi                          | S R2 G3 M2 P D1 N3 S | S N3 D1 P M2 G3 R2 S

64 | vAchaspathi                    | S R2 G3 M2 P D2 N2 S | S N2 D2 P M2 G3 R2 S

65 | mEchakalyANi                 | S R2 G3 M2 P D2 N3 S | S N3 D2 P M2 G3 R2 S

66 | chithrAmbari                  | S R2 G3 M2 P D3 N3 S | S N3 D3 P M2 G3 R2 S

67 | sucharithra                     | S R3 G3 M2 P D1 N1 S | S N1 D1 P M2 G3 R3 S

68 | jyothisvarUpiNi              | S R3 G3 M2 P D1 N2 S | S N2 D1 P M2 G3 R3 S

69 | dhAtuvardhani               | S R3 G3 M2 P D1 N3 S | S N3 D1 P M2 G3 R3 S

70 | nAsikabhUshaNi             | S R3 G3 M2 P D2 N2 S | S N2 D2 P M2 G3 R3 S

71 | kosalam                         | S R3 G3 M2 P D2 N3 S | S N3 D2 P M2 G3 R3 S

72 | rasikapriya                      | S R3 G3 M2 P D3 N3 S | S N3 D3 P M2 G3 R3 S

Underrstanding and Learning Carnatic Ragas

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