Thursday, February 18, 2021

The Ragascape of Hindustani Music: A Composite View (Concluded)


In this concluding part of the Ragascape studies, I attempt to integrate the results of the three Ragascape studies reported earlier, into a composite perspective on the phenomenon being explored.


In the first study, we identified 97 Raga-s prescribed for study at under-graduate and graduate levels by students at the major universities granting degrees in music. For this set of 97 Raga-s, we computed “Audience Engagement Indicators”, drawing on YouTube viewership data irrespective of artist profile.


In the second study, we audited YouTube archives to identify the Raga-s that have been performed at eight of the major music festivals of Hindustani music over the last 15/20 years, and to rank them in order of frequency of occurrence. This study did not restrict itself either to the Raga-s considered, or to any specific profile of the musicians performing them.


The approach to the third study was guided by the results of the first study. The first study had found that, contemporary musicians achieve a much higher “Audience Engagement Indicator” on YouTube than earlier generations of musicians. Responding to this trigger, the third study identified 20 leading contemporary vocalists and 20 leading contemporary instrumentalists, and used YouTube archives to enumerate how many of the 40 selected musicians have performed which Raga-s, irrespective of context.


These three studies gave us three different rankings of Raga-s, each obtained from a different perspective on the Ragascape phenomenon. The task before us now is to integrate the three different perspectives into a composite measure of each Raga’s presence on the Ragascape of Hindustani music.


Integration of perspectives


The three studies gave us three rankings, each from a different perspectives. It was found that 81 of the original 97 “candidate” Raga-s appeared in each of the three lists, though the rank of each Raga in terms of importance could differ. Computing a composite measure was, therefore, possible only for these 81 Raga-s.


In order to integrate the three rankings, they needed to be brought to a common mathematical platform. The simplest method for doing was to re-calibrate each of three measures/ rankings with the highest as Base=100. The three indices so derived were averaged in order to derive the ‘Composite Index”. The three individual indices for 81 Raga-s, along with their “Composite Index” rating are shown in Tables 1A and 1B. The Coefficient of Correlation between the three component indices within themselves, and with the Composite Index are given in Table 1C.


The correlation patterns suggest that (1) the individual indices are reasonably confirmatory of each other, and yet distinct in terms of reflecting the different approaches to viewing the Ragascape phenomenon and (2) the Composite Index is equally reflective of each component index considered separately.


Patterns in the Composite Index


The purpose of computing the Composite Index is to prioritize/ rank Raga-s in terms of their dominance on the Ragascape, and identify that group of Raga-s whose presence contributes disproportionately to shaping the musical culture. For this purpose, the distribution of the Composite Index was considered through the Mean, Median, Standard Deviation measures, and also the contribution of each Raga to the Aggregate Composite Index. The analysis is presented in Tables 2A, 2B, and 2C.


After considering the three different approaches, it was found that the median value of the composite index gave us the sharpest differentiation between the Raga-s that dominated the Ragascape, and those that trailed the list of 81 Raga-s. A total of 42 Raga-s are found to have index values equal to, or higher than, the median value. These 42 Raga-s may be considered to constitute the core of the Ragascape, and as reflecting the contemporary musical culture. The analysis of these 42 Raga-s provides some insights into the melodic canvas of contemporary Raga music. The various ways of looking at this phenomenon are considered in Tables 3A, 3B, and 3C.


At this stage, it must be clarified that the bifurcation of the 81 candidate Raga-s was not guided by any desire to confirm, or even approximate, Bhatkhande’s listing of 51 “Prasiddha” Raga-s. It was guided entirely by the mathematical logic of the composite index as given in Tables 3A, 3B, and 3C. The “cut-off” point had to be placed at a point below which there was a sharp drop in the average composite index.


Analysis by broad categories (Table 3A)


The rating of Raga-s on the Composite Index by broad categories is dominated by three categories -- Thumree Raga-s, followed by late morning/ Pre-sunset Raga-s, Carnatic Raga-s, and late evening Raga-s. The domineering presence of Thumree Raga-s (Bhairavi/ Khamaj/ Kafi/ Piloo etc.) suggests a musical culture tilting categorically towards the romanticist genres and relatively undemanding music – undemanding from the listener’s perspective. The significant presence of late morning/ pre-sunset Raga-s, and late evening Raga-s reflects the preponderance of concert events during these hours of the day/ night. The poor presence of early morning and sunset period Raga-s confirms this phenomenon.


The low rating of seasonal Raga-s is to be expected, since they are performed only during the appropriate seasons. But, the strong presence of Carnatic Raga-s is interesting.  Hansadhwani ranks at no.9 and Kirwani at no. 21, on the composite index, and a substantial number of leading contemporary musicians do perform them. This is a good reflection of the success of Hindustani music in imparting to a few Carnatic Raga-s a mature melodic personality during the post-independence era.


Analysis by melodic structure (Table 3B)


Amongst the various classifications of Raga-s in the Hindustani tradition, an important classification is based on the number of swara-s deployed by a Raga in the Aroha (ascending melodic motion) and the number deployed in the Avaroha (descending melodic motion). This dimension is important because it defines the improvisational potential of a Raga, and its melodic complexity. Any Raga can be either Audav (pentatonic) or Shadava (hexatonic) or Sampoorna (heptatonic) in one of the two directions or in both directions.  This facet of Raga grammar has a substantial bearing on its melodic character.


The two categories dominating the top-42 list are interesting in this respect. Both are identical in ascending and descending melodic motions. The relatively low-rated categories exhibit an asymmetry between ascents and descents.


The leading category, on composite index rating, are the Sampoorna-Sampoorna melodic entities. Being heptatonic in both directions, these Raga-s have vast potential for improvisation. Though these Raga-s are perhaps more demanding in terms of melodic ideation than other categories, their grammar is less demanding than Raga-s, which are asymmetrical in their directional patterns.


The second largest score on the Composite Index is enjoyed by the Audava-Audava category – pentatonic in the ascent and pentatonic in the descent. Featuring only 5 swara-s (the minimum required for a Raga), these Raga-s represent, by definition, the simplest melodic structure for musicians to handle and for audiences to comprehend.


Analysis by tone-material typologies (Table 3C)


Modern (20th century) music theory classifies Raga-s into different typologies based on the swara-s deployed in the conception of each Raga. A macro-level classification, propounded by Bhatkhande, was the system of 10 “Thaat-s”, which is controversial. Around the same time, there also emerged a micro-level classification, which is associated with the convention that each Raga is ideally performed during a specific period of the day or night. The “time-theory” is controversial. But, the micro-level classification has a psycho-acoustic logic that justifies independent attention.


Treating it as a psycho-acoustic classification that respects the tonal character of Hindustani music, I have enlarged the number of categories to be a more comprehensive coverage of the psycho-acoustic typologies encountered.


It must be pointed out that these are not necessarily mutually exclusive or even collectively exhaustive categories. Some Raga-s may belong to more than one category, and some others may belong to none of the categories and may be classified as “Others” in Table 3C.


(a)  Raga-s deploying Komal (flat) Re (2nd) and Komal (flat) Dh (6th): The two swara-s are in first-fifth correspondence, with a pitch ratio of 1:1.5.


(b)  Raga-s deploying Shuddha (natural) Re (2nd) and Shuddha Dh (6th):  The two swara-s are in first-fifth correspondence, with a pitch ratio of 1:1.5.


(c)   Raga-s deploying Komal (flat) Ga (3rd) and Komal (flat) Ni (7th): The two swara-s are in first-fifth correspondence, with a pitch ratio of 1:1.5.


(d)  Raga-s deploying Shuddha (natural) Ga (3rd) and Shuddha (natural) Ni: The two swara-s are in first-fifth correspondence, with a pitch ratio of 1:1.5.


(e)  Raga-s deploying Tivra (sharp) Ma (4th): This category has independent psycho-acoustic significance because, it does not find acoustic correspondence (1/4 or 1/5) with any other swara of the standard 12-swara scale of Hindustani music.


(f)    Raga-s deploying both, the Shuddha (natural) Ma (4th) and Tivra (sharp) Ma (4th). This is a rare category in Hindustani music. Because of the “pivotal” character of Ma (4th) in the scale, this category is of special psycho-acoustic significance.


From the analysis of the top-42 Raga-s, it emerges that Raga-s deploying Komal Ga and Ni and those deploying Shuddha Re and Dh dominate the composite index. These two categories happen to occur most typically in Raga-s performed after sunset. This is an expected pattern considering the most frequent timing of stage concerts. This, however, also emphasizes an unintended – and surprising -- reality.


Despite the substantial and growing role of remote media (recordings and online archives) as carriers of Hindustani music, the “Time Theory” bias relevant to “personal” (direct encounter) exposure still appears to significantly shape the Ragascape. This is probably because YouTube content is still, primarily, a byproduct of stage performances and festival events. A diversification may begin to take place once the Hindustani music content starts getting created especially for online transmission under assumptions of time-neutral access by audiences.


This process has gained some traction during the period when Covid-19 suspended concert activity for a long period. Besides YouTube, Facebook also emerged as a significant vehicle for online delivery of Hindustani music to audiences in video format. As the world crawls towards “normalcy”, there is an expectation that, because of its essentially interactive nature, Hindustani music will soon return to the concert platform as the preferred and more influential – though not exclusive -- interface between the musician and the audience.

 However, there is also a contrarian expectation – that the attractive economics and superior convenience of the online alternative will support the movement towards in-house/ studio production and online delivery. Such a drift could also be encouraged by the growing attraction of the international market for concerts as well as online teaching opportunities for Hindustani musicians. The future is impossible to foresee, and its implications for the Hindustani music ecosystem are difficult to envisage.




Based on the results of the three preceding studies, and their integration into a composite view of the Ragascape phenomenon, we do have here an answer to the issue raised by Bhatkhande’s classification postulated a century ago. It appears that there is, indeed, a group of 40/50/60 Raga-s, which constitute the active “core” of the musical culture. Comparing our contemporary list of the dominant Raga-s with Bhatkhande’s century-old list is neither attempted, nor relevant.


Our inference tangentially confirms the observation that most leading musicians of each generation have built their individual careers focusing their energies on a finite set of Raga-s (may be, 15 to 20), which collectively build this core of 40/50/60 Raga-s. But, this numerical inference probably under-estimates the usefulness of this series of studies.


Departing from Bhatkhande’s binary classification of Raga-s into “Prasiddha” and “Aprasiddha”, our study has adopted a calibrated view of the Raga spectrum, which is closer to the perspectives of market research. Each Raga considered here is measured on the dual criteria of availability and acceptance. In a sense, each Raga represents a “market” -- because we have accounted for both, its availability and its acceptance. What we have, as a result, is a “Market Rating Index” similar to the ones consumer product marketers use for determining their marketing strategies. Different marketers use the same Market Rating Index and come up with a marketing mix and market focus uniquely suited for their own distinctive competencies and marketing goals.


This study has attempted to build a Rating Index for 81 Raga-s out of the 97 candidate Raga-s selected originally on the basis of a reasonable criterion of inclusion. The results obtained are, admittedly, a product of the data-source I have chosen to rely upon, and the analytical approach I have chosen to adopt. Any alternative data-source, analyzed differently, can deliver totally different results.  The relative validity of any number of alternative methodologies will, of course, remain impossible to assess because of the amorphous nature of this phenomenon.


Every data-source, or even a multiplicity of data sources, can be questioned for  “representativeness”. Every analytical approach can be questioned for its suitability. None of these limitations will, it is hoped, deny the usefulness of this endeavor to the music community.


© Deepak S. Raja. February 2021.