the raga's structure


You can simply listen to all kinds of music. The Hindustani music is no exception either. If you go to a concert with an open enough heart you can experience wonderful things.

We have been listening to European music ever since we were born. As a consequence its structure and attributes are deeply rooted in us. However the Indian Classical Music has been evolving in a totally different direction. That is why it is useful to know what happens during a raga recital. While a raga is being performed sometimes it is worthwhile simply letting ourselves go and listen (alap) and other times staying conscious (count) and thus follow the tala (in gat). In this way we can really understand the fineries the musicians utilize. In India people who love music naturally make these distinctions as they were brought up within that cultural environment. But for non-Indians this is something to be acquired consciously. I'm going to show the whole structure of a raga below, which can hardly ever be heard on the stage. The raga is played according to my tradition, the Imdad Khani Gharana, because this is the tradition that I know best.

The sound samples are from Raga Yaman.


Sa Re... I use the English transcript of the Indian notation system. You should be able to follow the Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni Sa notation system.
c chikari, contra strings of the sitar, by the help of which the musical space can be filled, the chikari is also used to create the characteristic rhythm in thok-jhala and the closing jhala of the gat

legend to illustrate the tala:

X (sam)     O (khali)     - stresses
1 2 3 4 5 6 - beat counting

The raga has two main parts, in which there are further subparts (in bold) and other components (not in bold):



gat vilambit gat
tabla solo
madhya gat
drut gat
jhala closing phrase




also known as: vilambit, vilambit-alap

The first part of the elaboration of the raga called alap.

The alap is an invocation without rhythm, during which the soloist brings all the notes and the mood(s) of the raga to life. The alap contains all the main phrases of the raga. First there is a descending part from Sa (the first note of the middle octave) to lower Sa introducing one particular note by playing a phrase of some length. These phrases invocate the particular note by omission first and accentuating it eventually. The introduction of lower octave is followed by those of the middle and higher octaves. Having reached the highest note of the instrument (or human voice) there is an abrupt descending to the origo, the Sa of the middle octave. Between the octaves a closing pattern can be heard, which is called: mohra.




Mohra is a pattern closing the different parts of the alap, so can be heard between alap and jor, as well as jor and thok-jhala, joining not only one part to another, but also subparts of the alap. One of its functions is to punctuate the beginning of a new subpart, mainly a new octave.

pattern: Sa cc Sa cc Sa c Sa c Ni Ni Sa Re Sa



The function of jor (literally means 'join') is very similar to that of alap, namely to introduce the notes of the raga in their musical context. Unlike the alap, which has no rhythm, the jor has a rhythmic pulsation (not the tala) kept alive by the additional usage of chikari, the contra strings of the instrument.




also known as: jhala, ulta-jhala

Thok means hammer. This name was given to this part of the raga, because as the hand holding the mizrab (plectrum) hits the baj, the main melody string, it's like the hammer hitting the anvil. The name ulta-jhala, so called 'reverse'-jhala, refers to the fact that the main rhythm patterns of the ulta-jhala are exactly the reversed patterns of the jhala, which closes the gat.

The thok-jhala always has a 16-beat pulsation. 'XXX' can be either the repetition of the same note or a melodic pattern, but without breaking the basic pulsation.

some basic rhythm-patterns:





vilambit gat
slow composition

also known as: Masidkhani gat

The gat (composition) is always played according to a tala, a particular rhythmic cycle, the speed of which is gradually increasing. The flow of the tala must be unbroken during the whole gat.

The composition usually has three lines. The improvisation, the flow of music starts and ends on these while elaborating the gat. These lines are known as:

sthay first line, the main line of the composition
The tablasolo is accompanied with the same melody. Usually this is the very tune that characterizes the raga or the main attribute of the raga.
manjha the second line of the composition, mainly in the lower octave
antara the third line of the composition, mainly in the higher octave

The sthay in the vilambit, also known as the slow composition, is typically not started from the sam (the first beat). The version below is one of the most common starts in vilambit gat, starting from the 12th beat, so the 16 beats (tintala) are divided into the 5-3-5-3 beat-patterns.

X 2 0 3
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16
      GR S N,D, N, R
vilambit sthay
vilambit sthay, manjha, antara

The vilambit composition (e.g. in a 16 beat rhythmic cycle) can be started from the 7th, 9th or even 15th beat, or practically any other beat. Despite all this freedom, once you can follow the stressful beats of the tala, you can easily identify the rhythm of the composition even in the case of rare or unfamiliar talas.

In the gat the same composition (mostly the shtay) is repeated several times usually to signal the takeover in the solo. The tune that was the main melody transforms into an accompaniment to keep the rhythmic cycle and give space to the tabla player to play its solo.


tabla solo

When the gat begins, from another aspect when the tala starts, the tabla, the accompanying instrument is introduced always with a solo. A similar tabla solo is played between the parts of the gat. During the tabla solo the instrument that played the solo previously (in our case the sitar) goes on to play the first line (shtay) of the current gat (in our case the vilambit gat), thus accompanying the tabla player. The purpose of this shift of roles is to help the tabla player concentrate and keep the rhythm fluent. By keeping up the counting of the beats, during the tabla solo, you can easily follow the otherwise very complicated rhythm. It can also be an extra source of joy to reach sam together with the players, which highlights the cooperation between the musicians and the audience, being so unique of Indian Classical Music. Each tabla solo finishes by reaching the first beat of the tala (sam) usually initiated with a typical phrase of Indian Classical Music, called: tihai

vilambit tabla solo accompanied with sitar



The tihai is one of the most characteristic features of Indian Classical Music. The tihai is like a conclusion at the end of a musical series (e.g. a tabla solo). Tihai means 'three times' because the same phrase is repeated three times, and the last note of the third part typically arrives on sam, which is the first beat of the tala.

tabla solo closing tihai


The chhand is a playful modification of the sthay, which is the first line of the composition. The melody can be started from any beat (in the samples below from 5 and a half beat and 4 and a half beat) but must be finished until it reaches the next sam. Depending on the beat on which the chhand starts, the melody will be compressed accordingly. The chhand can also finish with tihai.

chhand starting from 5 and a half (repeated three times only for better understanding)
chhand starting from 4 and a half ( repeated three times only for better understanding)

Chhand can be played in any (vilambit, madhya, drut) gat!



The layakari means: rhythm(laya)-play(kari). The layakari is a playful modification of the rhythm of the sthay. While the tabla keeps the tala, the layakari is played according to a systematic variation of the rhythm (although it usually starts from sam). Unlike in the chhand, though, where the variation must be finished until it reaches the next sam, in the case of layakari the whole sthay is played either in a compressed or prolonged form until the melody gets back to the sam. For example in the case of a layakari where the speed is three times slower (and starting from sam), the sthay will reach sam only after three rhythmic cycles. Another example is a layakari where the speed is four times slower (and starting from sam), the sthay will reach sam only after four rhythmic cycles.

layakari (three times slower, starting from sam)

Layakari can be played in any (vilambit, madhya, drut) gat!



The tan is a pattern of melody matched to the ascending and descending scales of the raga and to its mood and also suited to the tala. The Tankari is the part of the raga which is purely inspired by the different melody themes of the tans. Depending on how many notes are played within a beat, the different tans are given different names:

number of notes in one beat
ekgun tan
dogun tan
trigun tan
chargun tan

The tankari is a series of tans. This is where improvisation is really essential. A tankari phrase usually is finished with tihai, reaching sam or the first note of the sthay.

tan (atgun - eight notes per beat - tan starts from 5)
tan (starts from sam, ending with tihai)

Tankari can be played in any (vilambit, madhya, drut) gat!


madhya gat
composition at medium speed

The sthay in madhya, which is the first line at medium speed, is usually not started from sam, the first beat of the tala. The following composition starts from the 9th beat, also called khali.

X 2 0 3
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16
    S, RR G R N, R S N,
S D, - N, S - S N,    
madhya sthay
madhya sthay, manjha, sthay


drut gat
fast composition

also known as: Rajakhani gat

X       2       0       3      
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16
                S GG R G - M - D
N D P M G R S N,                
 drut sthay, manjha, antara
drut layakari
drut tankari (dogun tan starts from the 9th beat)



The jhala is the fastest part of the raga. The main characteristic off the jhala is its special way of playing: the 16 beats at a constantly increasing speed are twisted and broken by plucking the chikari strings,. This part mainly consists of improvisation. In the example below the X indicates individual notes or meends, or even - with a special left hand technique - tans (melody-patterns) can be played, while the chikari maintains the pulsation constantly. So in this part the rhythm maintained by the right hand can be detached from the melody played by the left hand.

some basic rhythm-patterns


jhala closing tihai


jhala-closing phrase

The raga is usually closed with a closing phrase, followed by a tihai.

one example for the closing phrase:


The closing tihai of the raga can be any tihai, but both performing musicians should be familiar with it, as they should finish the raga by arriving at the very last sam together.

jhala closing tihai