Indian Ragas — A Color Pallet for Musicians

Ankita mathur
3 min readNov 18, 2020


How varied emotions manifest themselves in Indian classical music in form of ragas.

I always thought that things with a strict structure lose its creative beauty. The pattern takes away the element of surprise or the scope to re-invent. Indian classical ragas proved me wrong.

In Sanskrit, the word raga means “to color”. They dye the mind with different emotions and moods. To explore this further, I drew 45 ragas along with their key characteristics. They are grouped according to the primary emotion (Rasa) they evoke and the time of the day when they produce the maximum effect.

Legend for Raga and Rasa
Raga and Rasa

The visual above represents all the key characteristics of each raga — the notes used, the notes omitted, the primary, secondary, and flat notes, etc. However, a lack of clear pattern among ragas evoking a similar emotion shows its dependency on the style of its rendition and improvisation.

Maybe that’s why unlike other classical music forms, Indian classical music performance cannot be entirely written on paper. Maybe that’s why it’s hard to imagine an AI program creating new ragas out from scratch.

The source of information about the mood created by each raga, time/season linked with it, or the color associated with each note (swara) is mentioned in the ancient text of Natya Shastra. Each raga is principally dominated by one rasa, however, few ragas hold the potential of being swayed to contrasting emotions based on the performer’s rendition.

For example, Raga Tilak Kamod can evoke emotions ranging from love (Sringar ras), devotion (Bhakti ras) to sad (Karun ras). Listen to this piece by Ravi Shankar to experience the full range of emotions of this raga.

Few other known observations that emerge from this visual are:

  1. Ragas linked to devotional and sad moods use more flat notes (komal swaras). Whereas ragas with a happier, and joyous nature do not use flat or sharp notes (only shudh swaras).
  2. More than primary and secondary notes, the ornamentation of the raga (notes that are skipped, or shadow notes) is what differentiates and gives the raga its emotional character.

Even though ragas are scientific and precise melodic forms, it is the artist’s style and interpretation of the raga that brings forth the implicit emotions. Ragas are like the color palette which has to be used by the artist to weave their own painting.

P.S: The inspiration to dwell deeper into Indian Ragas came after we started writing our edition “It sounds like music to my ears, or is it just data?”.


  1. Tanarang
  2. Emotional responses to Hindustani raga music: the role of musical structure
  3. On identifying ragas, and how the intoxicating and often frustrating challenge for a lay listener can become an obsession
  4. Ragas and Western Scales
  5. What is a Raga by Anuja Kamat



Ankita mathur

Practicing the art of good story telling with data aka information. Subscribe to my newsletter at