Category Archives: Influence of carnatic music on moods

Moods of Carnatic ragas

Brief Introduction to Carnatic Raga Structure

The first classification of Carnatic ragas into MeLakarta system dates back to 17th century, pioneered by Sri Venkatamakhi. The classification was made, considering 16 shades or variants of saptaswaras (unlike the 12 variants of Hindustani system) and hence as much as 72 distinct melakarta or Janaka/parent ragas were formed. Each parent/ Janaka raga has a number of Janya ragas or derivative ragas. It is estimated that there are as much as 75000 or even more different and distinct ragas in Carnatic system.

Ragas mapped to Chakras of the Human Body

What astounds me is the intelligence that classified the ragas into 12 chakras, 6 ragas attributed to each chakra, thus making a total of 72. It’s not a sheer coincidence that a human body has a total of 12 chakras (7 active and 5 latent) and that each chakra of human body could be mapped to each chakra of the raga system. Moreover Indian scriptures say that there are 72,000 nadis in a human body that end in the navel, comparable to nerve endings on a physical plane. Chakras are supposed to be those energy centers where the three main nadis/nerve cells cross over. The nerve cells or neurons are the basic messengers that carry signals between brain and other nook and corners of the human body. Thus any sound, vibration, feeling or emotion that a sound creates, also gets transmitted via these nerve cells. Hence the number of ragas coined so far as 75,000 is a real close approximation to the nadi number of 72,000.

Moods/Emotions of Carnatic Ragas

The question is how does the effect of a sound or music create different moods? The ragas are so composed that the notes or Swaras are arranged in a particular fashion. For ex: in a melakarta raga, all seven notes appear in order both in the ascent and descent as well. Whereas, in the janya ragas, it may so happen that one or more Swaras may be either excluded or appear in zigzag form or it might borrow an alien Swara too. Thus we have a complex combination of Swaras which in turn produces different vibrations. When vibrations differ, the corresponding mood/emotion differs too.

Emotions or moods are the interpretation of physical changes in our body, in response to an external stimuli, as per James-Lange theory of emotion. The Carnatic ragas are such external stimuli and hence interpreted as responsible for mood changes in an individual. A combination of Swaras in a particular fashion induces an emotion in an individual. It may be a peaceful, joyous, sad/intense, blissful or many such experiences, depending on how the combo of Swaras go.

According to Bharata’s natya shastra, there are nine predominant moods or emotions, namely:

  • Sringaara: Related to love, eros
  • Hasya: Humorous/comic
  • Bheebhatsa: disgust
  • Raudra: Fury or anger
  • KaruNa: Compassion or sympathy
  • Veera: Heroic
  • Bhayaanaka: Terrible/horrifying
  • Adbhuta: Wonderment/ amazing
  • Shanta : Peace

The emotions that emanate from these basic moods are numerous. The following chart depicts a few of them.

list of emotions

The ragas with their distinct combo of Swaras can stimulate one or more of the above mentioned moods.

Ex: raga Kamavardhini, as the name suggests is basically a sensuous raga, kama meaning love, vardhini meaning increase or upliftment. The effect of a raga does not cease to a single emotion as in the case of kamavardhini too. It is also sung to evoke devotion. The tempo, phrases used, pitch, lyrics and the instrument through which the raga is played are a few parameters that contribute significantly, to the effect, the raga produces. A few more examples that I would like to quote are:

  • Kharaharapriya: 22nd melakarta raga. This raga evokes bhakti rasa as well as karuna rasa.
  • Hamsadhvani and mohana, janya in 29th melakarta, evokes Veera rasa and creates a happy mood.
  • Vakra (zig zag) or varjya (omited notes) ragas like kamaach, kambhoji, hindola, vasanta etc., are called rakti raagas for the raga shines basically due to their popular intricate phrases and has a potential to evoke mixed positive emotions.
  • Certain ragas like saavEri, in which the jeeva swara(‘G3’) triggers a deep emotion of connecting with the higher universal plane and possess the potential to take one to ‘Samadhi’ stithi (transcendental state)

Having mentioned all the above, I would like to conclude with a note that the capability of enjoying a raga is highly subjective. Or in other words, it plays a placebo effect on the performer as well as the listeners.


  • Image reference: Google images
  • James- Lange theory of emotion, Wikipedia



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