The wonderful thing about Ragas in the Indian Classical music system is that they are unique, and each one of them have something that is typically only associated with them, that which is irreplaceable. It is easy to fool an average listener in a little game of "Identify the raga" in a post-dinner Carnatic music party, and chuckle as he identifies a Sri raga as a Madhyamavati or a Pharas as a Mayamalavagowla..but how many of us self-confessed aficionados of this great system really have a fool-proof method of unambiguously identifying, each time, every time, the raga correctly? I doubt very many of us do, and this includes the smug critic or the know-it-all mama-mami duo next door.
Lets face it - there are many factors that go into identifying a raga - the musical intelligence of the person who is playing or singing in the specimen recording, the level of sophistication of the music system, the extent of deafness of the listener or the lack of it, peer pressure, the presence of an intrusive well-meaning relative who eggs you on to make the wrong choice, and the like. If any of these factors are compromised, the result will be incorrect in most cases. Let's take the case of an innocent music lover, goaded into one of these matches, misidentifying a Mohanakalyani as a Bilahari. The poor devil didn't get the chance to tune into the prati-madhyama, or worse still the delicate fibrils of his inner ear couldn't sense the prati-madhyama frequency..or maybe it was the yelp of that dog? or the noisy two year old?
Anyway, let not be too harsh on ourselves if we fail to identify a raga correctly. It will surprise you, the number of frustrated rasikas who mail me saying they are unable to identify ragas correctly even after twenty thirty odd years of listening (and who did you listen to that long, that has made you so despondent my friend, I am often tempted to ask..). There's only one thing I tell them - it doesn't matter!!!
Do you care what ingredients in what proportion go into that favourite chutney of yours your mum used to make all those years ago? You just sat back, enjoyed it, and licked your fingers didn't you?
Do the same with music, my loved ones...do not try to analyse, music is like love, too much analysis kills it.
I am there to help with the analysis bit, so don't worry your pretty little heads with it.
Go on out there, listen to more great stuff, enjoy the strains that drift through the air, and give those weary grey cells a rest, RELAX.
Of course, go on and have some fun with the parlour tricks, too much raga never killed anyone..
- Charulatha Mani Carnatic vocalist and Playback singer
- I am a singer-researcher with expertise in Karnatik Music and Early Opera. I discuss intercultural music-making contexts. My work is available at www.charulathamani.com and at www.youtube.com/isaipayanam