The Thaat System

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According to Vishnu Narayan Bhaatkhande (1860-1936), one of the most influential musicologists in the field of North Indian classical music in the twentieth century, each one of the several traditional Raags is based on, or is a variation of, ten basic thaats, or musical scales or frameworks.

Rules for these Thaats:

  1. A thaat must have seven notes out of the twelve notes [7shuddh, 4 komal (Re, Ga, Dha, Ni), 1 teevra (Ma)], placed in an ascending order [Aarohi].
  2. Both the forms of the notes can be used.
  3. Thaats are not sung but the Raags produced from the Thaats are sung.
  4. Thaats are named after the most popular Raag of that Thaat.

Circle of Thaats [Image Link]

Here is an excellent resource: A Modern Introduction to Music – 17 and some excerpts from it:

  1. There are two ways to pick the svar corresponding to Re (R or r). There are also two ways to pick the svar corresponding to Ga (G or g). Now you can convince yourself that there are 2 x 2 = 4 ways to choose the svars corresponding to the combinations of Re and Ga, i.e., RG, Rg, rG, rg.
  2. By extending this logic we would find that because there are at least svars with two choices each, the total number of combinations we can derive is 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 = 32.
  3. What Pandit Bhaatkande did was to reduce this exhaustive set of 32 to a more limited set of 10 parent families that in his judgment included the majority of the popular ragas in the Hindustani tradition.
  4. These are the famous 10 thaats of Hindustani classical music and while there is a continuing discussion of the limitations of this scheme, no satisfactory replacement has yet been proposed.
  5. Each thaat represents a parent family in which the included ragas share a family resemblance.
  6. In the circle of thaats above, our starting point = Kalyan Thaat [12 o’clock position with all tivra swaras – RGMDN [the normal variants are being called teevra because their softer versions are komal!] and concluding point = Bhairavi Thaat [its mirror image, 6 o’clock position with all komal swaras – rgmdn].
  7. Moving anti-clockwise from Kalyan, we change tivra swars to komal swaras, in turn, to get the following three thaats before we arrive at Bhairavi thaat where all svars become komal.
    • Marwa [rGMDN];
    • Poorvi [rGMdN];
    • Todi [rgMdN].
  8. Moving clockwise from Kalyan, we change tivra svars to komal svars, in turn, to get the following four thaats (ignore Bhairav thaat for the moment) before we again get to Bhairavi thaat where all svars become komal.
    • Bilawal [RGmDN];
    • Khamaj [RGmDn];
    • Kafi [RgmDn];
    • Asavari [Rgmdn].
  9. Now note the following:
    • In the anti-clockwise direction, Ma and Ni remain tivra in all three thaats. The variation comes from transformations in Re, Ga and Dha.
    • In the clockwise direction, Re remains tivra and Ma remains komal in all four thaats. The variation comes from transformations in Ga, Dha and Ni.
  10. Bhairav thaat [rGmdN] is an outlier in this schema – it does not really fall neatly on either side between Kalyan and Bhairavi thaats.
  11. Eight thaats pair up in four mirror images of each other (the svar that is tivra in one is komal in the other):
    • Kalyan [RGMDN] and Bhairavi [rgmdn];
    • Marwa [rGMDN] and Asavari [Rgmdn];
    • Poorvi [rGMdN] and Kafi [RgmDn];
    • Todi [rgMdN] and Khamaj [RGmDn].
  12. Bilawal [RGmDn] and Bhairav [rGmDN] are orphans; they are unpaired thaats.
  13. This schema is unsymmetrical and there must be a way to restore symmetry to it. 
    • We could either add two new thaats, [rgMdn] and [RgMDn], to create pairs for Bilawal and Bhairav and get to 12, a number much more amenable to symmetrical divisions.
    • Or we could drop the existing Bhairav and create a new thaat [rGMdN].

Shortcomings & Ambiguities of the Thaat System:

  1. Raag Charukeshi [SRGmPdn] cannot be placed unambiguously in any thaat. One has to listen to its movements before assigning it to one family or another.
  2. It cannot really accommodate important raags such as Patdip (S R G M P D N), Ahir bhairav (S R G M P D N) and Madhuvanti (S R G M sharp P D N), and also hard to group raags with both varieties of either Re, Ga, Ma, Dha and Ni.
  3. Many raags belonging to different thaats are historically and musically related (e.g. raag Bilaskhani Todi is classified in Bhairavi thaat & raag Miyan ki Todi in Todi thaat).
  4. Further, hexatonic and pentatonic raags cannot be classified in ten thaats since missing notes make the classification ambiguous.
  5. For these and other reasons, many musicians have challenged Bhaatkhande’s thaat system.
  6. Omkarnath Thakur (1897-1967), one of century’s influential music theoreticians and famous khayal singers, rejected the idea of classifying raags under scale types.
  7. But no musicologist so far been able to come up with a raag classification system accepted as widely popular as Bhaatkhande’s.
  8. Raags with different scales may share a number of characteristic melodic features and motifs & musicians use the term “ang” (part) for them. Well-known examples are the KanaDha ang (G M R), Malhar ang (M \ R, R / P, N \ P), Bhairav ang (M G \ R — S), and Todi ang (R / G- \ R — S). Bilaval, Kalyan and Sarang angs more difficult to define.

The common Raags [a-z] in each of the 10 basic thaats are as follows:

1. Bilaval Thaat:
Notes =
S R G m P D N
[Most basic – all svaras shuddh / in natural scale].

  1. Alhaiya Bilaval
  2. Bihag
  3. Bilaval & its Prakars
  4. Deepak (Bilawal Thaat)
  5. Deskar
  6. Durga (Bilaval)
  7. Gunakali (Bilawal thaat)
  8. Hamir Bilawal
  9. Hamsadhwani
  10. Hemkalyan
  11. Kaushik Dhwani
  12. Lachcha Sakh
  13. Nat Bihag
  14. Nat Bilawal
  15. Pat Manjari (Bilawal)
  16. Shankara
  17. Shuddha Malhar (Bilawal thaat)
  18. Sukhiya

2. Khamaj Thaat:
Notes = S R G m P D n
[Replace N of Bilawal thaat with n]

  1. Bihari
  2. Des
  3. Deepak
  4. Gaud Malhar
  5. Gawati
  6. Gorakh Kalyan
  7. Jaijaiwanti
  8. Jhinjhoti
  9. Jog
  10. Kamboji
  11. Khamaj
  12. Khambavati / Rageshree
  13. Narayani
  14. Sorath
  15. Tilak Kamod
  16. Tilang

3. Kafi Thaat:
Notes = S R g m P D n
[Replace G of Khamaj thaat with g]

  1. Abhogi 
  2. Bageshree
  3. Bahar
  4. Barva
  5. Bhimpalasi
  6. Brindavani Sarang
  7. Chandrakauns
  8. Dhanashree
  9. Dhani
  10. Gara
  11. Gaud
  12. Hamskinkini
  13. Kafi
  14. Malgunji
  15. Miyaan ki Malhar
  16. Megh Malhar
  17. Nayaki Kanhada
  18. Palasi
  19. Patdeep
  20. Pat Manjari (Kafi)
  21. Piloo
  22. Pradeepki
  23. Shahana
  24. Shuddh Sarang
  25. Sindhoora / Saindhavi
  26. Sri Ranjani

4. Asavari Thaat:
Notes = S R g m P d n
[Replace D of Kafi thaat with d]

  1. Adana
  2. Asavari
  3. Jogi Asavari
  4. Darbari Kanhada
  5. Desi
  6. Dev Gandhar
  7. Gopika Basant
  8. Jangula (Asavari ang)
  9. Jaunpuri
  10. Jogiya Asavari
  11. Kaunsi Kanhada
  12. Khat
  13. Komal Desi
  14. Sindhura Asavari
  15. Zeelaf (Asavari Ang)

5. Bhairavi Thaat:
Notes = S r g m P d n
[All komal svaras, r g d n]

  1. Bhairavi
  2. Bhupali Todi
  3. Bilaskhani Todi
  4. Dhanashri (Bhairavi aang)
  5. Komal Rishabh Asavari
  6. Malkauns
  7. Motaki
  8. Shuddha Bhairavi
  9. Sindhu Bhairavi
  10. Uttari Gunkali

6. Bhairav Thaat:
Notes = S r G m P d N
[Komal r and d, bhairavi thaat minus komal g & n!]

  1. Ahir Bhairav
  2. Bairagi
  3. Basant Mukhari
  4. Bhairav
  5. Bibhas or Vibhas [when rendered with d falls under Bhairav]
  6. Devranjani
  7. Gouri (Bhairav Ang)
  8. Gunkali
  9. Jangula
  10. Jogiya
  11. Kalingada
  12. Lalit Pancham
  13. Lalita Gauri (Bhairava ang)
  14. Megh Ranjani
  15. Nat Bhairav
  16. Patmanjiri (Bhairav)
  17. Ramkali
  18. Sourashtra Tank
  19. Zeelaf (Bhairav ang)

7. Kalyan Thaat:
Notes = S R G M P D N
[Replace m of Bilaval thaat with M]

  1. Bhoopali or Bhoop / Bhoop Kalyan
  2. Chandini Kedar
  3. Chandrakant
  4. Chhayanat
  5. Gaud Sarang
  6. Hameer
  7. Hem Kalyan
  8. Kamod
  9. Kedar
  10. Malasri
  11. Nand
  12. Nand Kalyan
  13. Puriya Kalyan
  14. Shuddha Kalyan 
  15. Shyam Kalyan
  16. Yaman
  17. Yaman Kalyan

8. Marwa Thaat:
Notes =
S r G M P D N
[Replace R of Kalyan thaat with r]

  1. Baradi
  2. Bhankar
  3. Bhatiyaar
  4. Bhinna Shadaj
  5. Bibhas or Vibhas
  6. Jait
  7. Lalit [when rendered with D]
  8. Lalita Gauri
  9. Malati Basant
  10. Maligaura
  11. Marva
  12. Pancham
  13. Pooriya
  14. Pooriya Kalyan
  15. Purva
  16. Sajhgiri
  17. Sohini
  18. Vihang (Jaipur)

9. Poorvi Thaat:
Notes =
S r G M P d N
[Replace D of Marwa thaat with d]

  1. Baradi (Poorvi)
  2. Basant
  3. Bibhas
  4. Deepak
  5. Dhaval Shree (Jaipur)
  6. Gauri
  7. Hamsnarayani
  8. Jaitsree
  9. Lalit (Din Ki Poorya)
  10. Lalit [r and d are Komal, M + m, P not used, all other notes are shuddh
  11. Malavi
  12. Manohar
  13. Paraj
  14. Poorvi
  15. Pooriya Dhanashri
  16. Reva
  17. Shree
  18. Shuddh Basant ~ Pancham
  19. Tanki
  20. Triveni

10. Todi Thaat:
Notes =
S r g M P d N
[Replace G of Poorvi thaat with g]

  1. Bilaskhani Todi
  2. Dev Gandhar (Todi Ang)
  3. Gujari / Gurjari / Gujri Todi
  4. Lilavati
  5. Madhuvanti
  6. Todi or Miyaan ki Todi & its Prakaars [Variants]
  7. Multani

More on Indian Classical Music:
The Alchemy of Indian Classical Music

2 thoughts on “The Thaat System

  1. You have done a labour of love in bringing out the intricacies of Hindustani Classical Music in a most readable and tabular form which is easier to understand for an inquisitive layman and will kindle the desire to know more about the rich tradition of our music in them.The blog is most informative and I appreciate the sincere effort done by you in the matter. My best wishes.


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