Hindustani Classical Music Living Legend Dr. Prabha Atre Speaks!

The living legend of Indian Classical (Hindustani) Music and the senior most vocalist of the Kirana Guarana, Padma Vibhushan Dr. Prabha Atre celebrates her 90th birthday on 13th September, 2022. This is indeed a most significant and momentous occasion in the history of Indian classical music as the complete artiste goes tirelessly on serving the cause of music with her lilting compositions, her sweet and melodious presentations, her scholarly discourses, her progressive outlook, her in-depth research and enlightening books and her devoted role as the most ideal beloved Guru for her countless disciples. Dr Prabha Atre holds the world record in releasing 11 books on a single subject which is music and has been instrumental in propagating and popularizing Indian classical vocal music in the West as the late Pt. Ravishankar did with the Sitar. On this occasion the legendary artiste is also initiating a new chapter with the inauguration of the Kirana Gharana Library and Resource Centre in her Gurukul in Pune on the morning of 13th September.


I have had the good fortune of knowing this great personality for over the last thirty years thanks to her adopting my wife Ragini as one of her leading disciples. I had great moments of meeting her in various ways—as a motherly figure in her home or in our home, her precious lessons to my wife and her sternly professional form in public concerts. What fascinated me from the beginning has been her modesty, simplicity and a down-to-earth approach to life. Her exemplary lifestyle is indeed the secret of her boundless energy and astounding success. To mark this great occasion, we reproduce below Dr Prabha Atre’s appeal to the music lovers and a thought-provoking article on music that could very well lead to the much-needed reforms apart from enlightening the music learners as well as music lovers on the modern trends in music. (Courtesy: Bharathi MD, Secretary, Dr. Prabha Atre Foundation. Thanks to the efforts of the Foundation the gems and the evergreen presentations of Dr. Prabha Atre are being made available on a weekly basis on YouTube.)


Dear  Music  Fraternity,



Standing at the doors of 90, I, as a classical singer would like to share my thoughts

about raag-ras and raag-samay concepts in Hindustani classical music. We all know that

tradition is not a stagnant pool. It is a river flowing with time, assimilating new trends and

discarding outdated practices. We have to examine today’s music performance in the

context of present times. I request you all to go through the write-up given below. Don’t

 you think we should make necessary changes to make our music richer based on logical

 and scientific reasoning?


(Prabha Atre) 





Music is considered to be the purest form of art. It does not represent anything in this world.  It has its own language and meaning.  Its abstract nature detaches it from all the ‘known’ in this world. Man has used music consciously or unconsciously to express his feelings. Thus, the abstract in music became concrete and specific for him. The abstract quality of music is best represented in the concept of raag in Indian music where music exists for itself, it remains within itself.   To approach raag in its bare form, therefore, is difficult both for an artist and a lay listener.


The association with some ‘known’ element helps the artist in giving character to the raag and listener to experience its emotional content. Therefore, in the process of creating a raag the artist in spite of having good knowledge of theory and technique looks for some outside help to transform the ‘abstract’ in raag into the ‘concrete’.


The concepts of raag-ras and raag-samay are an attempt to provide ‘concrete’ to the ‘abstract’ in raag. By identifying melodies with gods, seasons, hours of the day, etc., man attributed ras or moods to melodies, which helped him to create his music with distinct character.


Raag-time theory is also an attempt to provide ‘concrete’ to the ‘abstract’ in raag. At one time, man was very close to nature which perhaps explains the relation between a raag and a particular time. Today, man is far away from nature, living in closed walls, in an artificial environment. His life-style and habits have changed considerably. Under these circumstances, can one relate raag with time?


The abstract in music can be experienced best when there is some visual, some past association and some verbal communication to go with it. The time theory provided necessary context, especially to distinguish between melodies having similar features.


The modern theory of enjoying music advocates that the aesthetic emotions are generated mainly through the expressiveness of the voice, treatment of the musical material and tempo. The verbal text, visuals if used effectively, or associations, can also help to produce a specific ras or mood in music. A raag can express different shades of the same mood depending upon whether it is using aalaap, taan, sargam, or bol-phrases. Tempo, however, plays a vital role in creating moods.


A number of questions arise in the context of raag-ras and raag-time theories:

1. Raags are attributed specific ras. But very often the themes of the bandish i.e., song-text are contradictory to the ras. E.g., raag Bhairavi is supposed to convey Karuna (pathos) ras. The diverse themes of the song-texts in Bhairavi seem to give their meaning to raag, and listeners still enjoy it thoroughly. Raag Bhairavi is sung at any time.

2. Almost every raag, irrespective of time seems to create a lively, happy atmosphere when it enters into a fast tempo.

3. Over the years, some raags have changed considerably retaining their old names. What about their ras and time?

4. What is the time and ras of mishra (mixed) raags — raags evolved out of the combination of two or more raags having different ras?

5. What is the ras and time of a newly created raag?

6. Does an audience — Indian or non-Indian experience the same ras of a raag at a particular time?

7. When the same raag is presented by different artists, or when the same raag is presented by the same artist at different times, does every listener have the same experience?

All these go to prove that the raag-character and the raag-mood are intrinsically related to its own musical material and its treatment. Its characteristic phrases and their flow give it its musical identity and beauty, and generate aesthetic emotions.

These aesthetic emotions are converted into a specific ras or mood independently by the performer or the listener depending on their state of mind.

There are various other things which make one to think about the relevance of raag- time theory.

1. Radio, TV, and recording companies record any raag any time and that does not seem to have any effect on the presentation of the raag. Not only that, radio and TV channels broadcast these recordings at any time, according to their need. It is only in public performances that time is imposed on a raag to manifest its mood.

2. One practices any raag any time, according to his convenience and that does not seem to affect or tarnish the mood of the raag or its character.

3. What about mishra raags? Why should Bhairav-Bahaar and Yamani-Bilaawal be presented in morning only? Bahaar and Yaman are night raags.   Why shouldn’t these raags be rendered at night also?

4.  When one listens to film songs, naatya sangeet (theatre songs) of Maharashtra, or devotional songs based on a pure raag, the raag-time principle does not even remotely cross one’s mind. On the contrary one seems to enjoy any raag any time.

5.   Carnatic music is considered more tradition bound; yet it does not follow the time theory strictly. However, Hindustani music with all its flexibility still advocates the time theory!

If time theory is to be strictly followed, then there is a danger of losing raags which fall outside the concert timings. Isn’t that a great loss to Indian music?

All these queries need to be addressed scientifically, logically.


At present, raag-ras and raag-samay concepts are mentioned more due to the conditioning of tradition than to be followed strictly. These concepts have been deeply embedded in our psyche due to age old traditions. They have lost their relevance, context with the passage of time, but they are still followed blindly. Don’t they need to be tested scientifically? It is tradition alone which provides new pathways. If tradition starts hampering the progress and growth, then it needs to be redefined in the changed context. In such circumstances, it does not get broken or mutilated, but gets rejuvenated to provide new directions.


What should matter is not the time of presentation, but the quality, the effectiveness of presentation – the raag-roop evolves well and irrespective of time and ras the presentation should to be effective and should give aanandaanubhooti/bliss to both the artiste and listener.



                                                                                         --- By Dr Prabha Atre




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