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Raaga’holic is a word coined by ‘moi’ to describe my passion for ragas both as a listener and a performer. Raagas or melodic entities in Indian classical music are elusive and intangible and thus hard to define. Ascribing certain characteristics to a particular raaga (a tonal scale, a succession and unique arrangement of notes or swaras) creates a specific mood and a certain atmosphere. We can thereby begin to comprehend the complexity, technicalities and also the simplistic beauty of a raaga that is found only in the realm of Indian classical music.

An exclusive permutation and combination of notes may offset a certain emotion such as love, longing, sensuality, devotion, exhilaration, ebullience, etc. When musicians sing or play their instruments, they throw around names of popular ragas like Yaman, Bhupali, Bageshree, Durga, Malkauns, Purya Dhanashree, Basant, Darbari Kanada, Todi, Bhairav, Bhairavi and so on and so forth. What do these raagas mean to the lay listener?

For musicians, raaga is their framework within which to compose, develop and nurture their compositions, their bandishes, their songs and their renditions. A raaga is their creative outlet, their equivalent of an artist’s canvas to splash paint on, a vessel for their thoughts, ideas and a portal to reach and impact the sensory perception of the audience.

The ‘observer’ (listener) gulps this music down, is moved by it and feels that it is imbued with an intensity of feeling. Anything that anybody sings or plays in every kind of music around the world, if melodious, can be identified as a definite raaga or a combination of raagas or at least placed within the ballpark of an Indian raaga.

Raaga is in all flowing music and good music is always tied to the concept of raaga. I recently decided to revisit some melodies from my music collection. It definitely is a heady feeling to be on a steady diet of raagas for life. Good music never lets you down. It doesn’t matter if you are listening, singing, playing, composing or just thinking it.

I tuned into Pandit Ajoy Chakraborty’s morning melody raaga Bairagi. This melody instantaneously evokes a deep and reflective mood while completely immersing the listener. This raaga is named for Shiva, the ultimate ascetic, mystic and wanderer. He is the abandoner of worldly pleasures and ties. Pandit Chakraborty’s slow-paced composition (vilambit khyal) ‘Mere Man Mein Baso Raam’ meaning make my mind your home Lord Rama and fast-paced composition (dhrut khyal) ‘Sur Sur Sadhan’ are haunting indeed. I then proceeded to listen to the same raaga by Veena Sahasrabuddhe. Her forceful fast-paced bandish ‘Dhamaru baje Dima Dima’ conveying Lord Shiva’s cosmic dance and destructive death-knell is truly divine. Pandit Jasraj’s rendition of Bairagi is more relaxed and ornamental yet highly meditative. I especially fell in love with the dhrut khyal ‘Ab Na Mohe Samajhao’ (It is futile to convince me now) with its tonal meanderings and devotional ardor.

I then sat down to riyaz (practice) in Bairagi and concluded by singing the somber Kabir bhajan ‘Jhini Jhini Bini Chadariya.’

I moved on to a more romantic melody Bageshree, a midnight raaga. Bageshree, an evergreen melody, is full of aesthetic attractiveness that captivates even the most uninitiated listener. As I enjoyed the classic Kishori Amonkar interpretation in compositions ‘Jiya Na Jala’ (vilambit) and ‘Aaj Sahiyo Na Ja’ (dhrut), the true beauty and splendor of Bageshree began to unfold. Ashwini Bhide’s shringara rasa (essence of love) filled rendition of ‘Yeri Mai Sajan’ (medium paced), ‘Jagra Karat’ (fast paced) compositions are truly pleasing examples of this popular raaga. Bageshree’s lilting quality lends itself to lighter compositions and film music as well. I always relish the old Hindi film song ‘Na Bole Na Bole’ from the movie “Azaad” rendered by the inimitable Lata Mangeshkar. The other favorite Bageshree-based film composition is ‘Jaag Dard E Ishq’ from the movie “Anarkali” sung by Lata and Hemant Kumar.

My raaga journey will continue.

Lavanya Dinesh is an accomplished performer and teacher of Hindustani classical vocal music and resides in Tampa. Lavanya regularly performs at musical venues both in India and the United States. She has three album releases to her credit. The artist has worked as a music critic and feature writer for The Times of India and Deccan Herald. She can be reached at


Jyothi Venkatachalam

New age guru Deepak Chopra says "you create the body you live in." We are constantly reincarnating a new body in ourselves. Indian belief is that the Sharira (the body) is a link between the earth and the cosmos. To help this beautiful body remain healthy, the traditional knowledge of India has identified dance and music as the best tool or rather a tool beyond compare.

Like everything in the universe, our body is made of energy that is constantly vibrating. Every part of the body every cell has a sound. Wherever there's movement, there's vibration, there's sound. Everything we listen or speak leaves a residue in the mind. Listening to the Vedic chanting of the names of gods opens us to a higher awareness and we get a clearer perception of ourselves and the world.

During my recent visit to India, I attended a few conferences on Indian dance, and dance in the global world. Along with other issues, the topic of healing through art and music was discussed at length in one of the sessions.

Classical music is very closely related to meditation where the mind focuses on a single thought or note (as in music) for a long time. The great legendary singer Pandit Jasraj has been able to control his blood pressure with music. Music, he strongly believes, has the power to control headaches, depression and even diabetes.

Dance is a science by itself. The body postures, the angles, the mudras, the adavus, the expressions and the stories make this beautiful art a great healer.

Dance therapy has been recognized as a distinct therapeutic discipline since the 1940s and is now being further modernized to benefit people of all groups. In Bharat Natyam, the adavus or basic steps are so beautifully crafted that every single movement of every joint of the body is explored.

Dance therapy strengthens the body and mind. The body is primarily the tool with which the dancer works. The intellect contemplates, the body expresses. The body has to be perfectly trained in order that the mind can use it.

Dance has not only been used by the healthy and the wealthy but a few eminent dancers are, I would say, have become god to worship god. They have started schools and workshops for people with disabilities. Apoorva Dance Theater, founded in Bangalore by Tripura Kashyap, is one such theater, where she has chosen to work with the visually impaired. She teaches them the different movements such as backward, forward sideways, circle, etc. For the hearing impaired, this school has strengthened communication skills through hand gestures.

Anjika Manipuri dance troupe specializes in helping children with cerebral palsy, with a team of skilled dancers, drummers and martial arts experts.

Syed Sallauddin Pasha, an exponent of Bharat Natyam, has dedicated his life to teaching children with special needs through his institute called Asian Therapeutic Theatre project.

In 2000, Pasha presented Therapeutic Theatre Project (TTP) "Women of India" from 6000 B.C. to 2000 A.D. with 100 hearing-impaired children. This TTP left the audience enthralled as well as puzzled - enthralled by the sheer beauty and grace of their dance; puzzled because the performers were children who couldn't hear the music, yet were in perfect harmony and excelling in bringing out the deepest emotion.

Shree Ramana Maharishi Academy for the blind is another institute that has done outstanding contribution in this field. The school strongly believes that though Indian classical dancing is an imperturbation of different mythological stories and although it requires a lot of body movements, a group of dancers are able to tell stories without having vision.

From India to Chicago, a group of young dancers who are blind and visually impaired traveled the world performing various traditional dances despite the fact that they have never seen them. Steps are choreographed by a teacher who also is blind, using the touch-and-feel method. Then, slowly, through that method they grasp the movements within themselves, and through their inner vision and perseverance and hard work, they learn the dance.

This dance school strongly believes that it is important to show that these children can perform, and they are not disabled but have wonderful skill sets and balance.

Dance is such an intimate and personal expression that the one who sees often becomes one with the one who seeks. Art at its greatest liberates the spirit of man.

Jyothi Venkatachalam, director of Abhyasa School Of Dance, Club Tampa Palms, offers classes in Bharat Natyam, traditional folk dances, Indian percussion instruments (Mridangam, Dholak, Ghatam, Kanjira, Morsingh and Konakol). She can be reached at (813) 977-9039 or (813) 404-7899 or via e-mail at


Lavanya Dinesh

Subtlety, sophistication, melody and sensitive interpretation are the essence of Pandit Jasraj's classic classical vocalism. Pandit Jasraj is one of the most well-known names in the realm of Indian classical vocal music. The maestro has received the highest accolades and honors possible for a musician from numerous institutions, including the Padmavibhushan from the government of India. He has been decorated with the title of 'Sangeet Martand' denoting a Colossus of music. Nevertheless, the engine that drives this almost octogenarian is the adulation of audiences the world over.

I have had the good fortune of learning music from this maestro, observing his riyaz and creative processes, accompanying him in some of his local concerts as well as interviewing him numerous times starting way back in the 1990s for The Times of India when I was just an over-eager high school student. This is one artist who has not slowed down with time. Even at his age, Panditji sticks to a busy performance and teaching schedule and also continues to release albums of studio and live concert recordings, which are ever so popular.

I enjoy listening to this vocalist delineating somber raagas such as Bairagi or Todi in the morning, Gorakh Kalyan or Jaijaiwanti late in the evening. Purya, Darbari, Purya Dhanashree, Marwa - the list of raagas I associate with Pandit Jasraj are many. This doyen of Mewati Gharana (school of music) has created a niche with his performances of 'Haveli Sangeet' or devotional music pioneered by medieval poet-saints of Rajasthan in North-Western India. Bhajans like 'Om Namo Bhagavate' in Bhimpalasi, 'Maata Kaalika' in Adana, 'Niranjani Narayani' and 'Sumiran Kar Le' in raaga Bhairavi are familiar to music lovers.

Pandit Jasraj
A lesser known fact about Pandit Jasraj is that he is in fact a composer par excellence. I have been witness to Panditji's stroke of genius right here in Tampa when he composed a beautiful, fast-paced piece in raaga Shankara - 'He Kanha,' which he then taught to his senior disciple violinist Kala Ramnath. He is both an astute composer and a brilliant poet. This and many other self-composed pieces are included in Pandit Jasraj's 4-disc compilation album entitled 'Golden Voice Golden Years' released by Music Today. The album is a fine introduction to the musician's versatile bandishes (compositions), which are often performed by Jasraj himself, as well as many of his students around the world.

The first volume begins with a beautiful raaga Bhairav (early morning melody) and the bandish Mero Allah Meharban, which many students in Tampa have learned from Panditji himself when his music school was first established here in 1998. Many beautiful melodies like Ramkali, Ahir/Anand Bhairav, Asavari and Nat Bhairav are showcased. The composition Lage Laa in Charukeshi is especially haunting as it describes how Radha has lost her heart and entire being to the immortal beauty that is Lord Krishna.

The second volume encompasses such rare raagas as Triveni, Gauri and Din-ki-purya. It is a rare treat for every music enthusiast but especially for students of music. The two companion books, which are included, have notated versions of the compositions and are useful learning tools indeed.

Volume 3 includes such favorites of mine like Shyam Murari in raaga Purya Dhanashree, Thara Bin in Purya, Tum Bin in Maru Behag, Daras Det Kyon in Jajaiwanti, etc. The final volume contains a delectable Jog, Bageshree, Megh, Darbari and so on. It neatly winds up with two poignant compositions in Bhairavi - Kahoji Tum Kaise and Guru Aagya which I have performed at a few concerts myself. All in all, 'Golden Voice Golden Years' is a rare gem.

Lavanya Dinesh is an accomplished performer and teacher of Hindustani classical vocal music and resides in Tampa.

Dinesh regularly performs at musical venues both in India and the United States. She has three album released to her credit. The artist has worked as a music critic and feature writer for The Times of India and Deccan Herald. She can be reached at

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