Raga Desi - Importance of Shruti Bheda

Posted on 15 November, 20226 min read

What is Shruti Bheda?

All around the world, there are many different types of tuning systems or ways to divide a musical octave. The most prevalent one is the 12 tone equally tempered tuning system.

During the course of its evolution, Indian music has adopted several tuning systems which we have covered in detail at 1, 2, 3 and 4. These tuning systems are based on the three most important musical intervals of Pancham (perfect fifth), Madhyam (perfect fourth) and Antara Gandhar (major third).

Over the years, Indian Ragas have become very sophisticated structures with fine intonations and subtle details distinguishing one Raga from another superficially similar but actually different Raga. Each Raga has an underlying scale called a Mela which defines the tuning system for that Raga.

The concept of Shruti refers to the distinct microtones of what may nominally be called the same note. In Indian music scriptures, Shruti has been defined as that sound which is heard instantly on exciting a note - the purest pitch of the note before any harmonics are heard and before any ornamentation is applied.

The term Bheda is simply division into parts. Thus, Shruti Bheda is the division of a note into smaller parts (i.e., microtones). Why is this important? It is because the aptly chosen position of a note in the scale, alters its character, its consonant intervals within the scale and therefore it has a fundamental impact on the musical patterns which may be aesthetically suggested.

E.g., Raga Jaunpuri, and Raga Desi both have the same scale:

Sa Re ga ma Pa dha ni

To give a small example, the position of dha in Jaunpuri forms a major third interval with Sa. Therefore, dha Sa becomes an important phrase.

However, in Desi, position of dha is flatter losing the Antara Gandhara interval with Sa. In fact, the note pairs ga and dha (its fifth) are vivadi swaras being too “close” respectively to Re and Pa. Hence, dha is employed as an andolita swara, and the more common pattern is Pa ni Sa avoiding dha. You can read more about these terms here.

Listen to both Raga Jaunpuri and Raga Desi, and see if you can hear the similarities and the differences.

Program Notes

Raga Desi belongs to the family of Asavari Ragas. In this presentation of Raga Desi on Chandraveena, I explore the Raga in Alap, Jod and Jhala, followed by a Composition in Dhamar (14 beats). This Raga has some similarity to Raga Jaunpuri, and certain phrases bear some resemblance to Raga Sriragam as performed in Carnatic music.

This performance is accompanied by a very unique drone (Tanpura) accompaniment track. This drone track is synthesized from a project called PureTones, and developed by Sadharani Music Works. It has been microtonally adjusted to precisely suit the scale of the Raga. Note how the Drone along with its harmonics merge into the notes and phrases of the Raga. If it sounds interesting to you, be sure to check out PureTones. It is freely available for your use.

In this presentation of Raga Desi on Chandraveena, I am privileged to be accompanied by Shri Sanjay Agle on Pakhawaj for the Pallavi session.

Shri Sanjay Agle is a master Pakhawaj player coming from a family and tradition of Pakhawaj players. His grandfather Ambadas Agle was a legendary pakhawaj player in the royal court of Indore. Sanjay Agle learnt from his father Kalidas Agle, and another renowned pakhawaj player Swami Pagaldas. I also had the pleasure of sitting down and chatting with him about his instrument and his craft. You can check out the interview by following the link.

Alap in Raga Desi

Raga Alapana is an improvisation and a systematic presentation of a Raga. This part has no rhythmic accompaniment. Usually, it has three parts - Alap, Jod and Jhala. This format is also known as Ragam and Tanam.

Here are some notes about the Raga and the Tala.

Raga - Desi

Scale - Sa Re ga ma Pa dha ni

Family - Asavari

Melakarta - Natabhairavi (Sa Re ga ma Pa dha ni)

Prahar - 2nd (equivalent to 9 AM - 12 PM)

Pallavi (composition) in Raga Desi set to Dhamar

Pallavi also known as Bandish, Gat, Kriti or composition is a melodic line (or lines) bound by a Tala or rhythmic cycle. In some cases, lyrics are set to a melody in the chosen Raga and Tala, whereas in other cases it is just a melodic line with no lyrical or literary meaning, called Swarajati or Gat. Many instrumental compositions use the latter format, to make the most of “playing” with the rhythm.

Reading the scale

In Indian Classical Music, the seven notes in an octave are called Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni and then Sa comes again. Notes with a capitalised first letter are called Tivra (or sharp) notes. E.g., Re above. Notes written fully in lower case are called Komal (or flat) notes. E.g., ma and ni above. Sa and Pa are always written with a capitalized first letter.


In Indian Classical Music, Ragas are classified into Prahars (time periods of a day or night) which are said to represent the most appropriate time to perform the Raga.

About the Tala

Dhamar has 14 beats split as 5 + 5 + 4 denoted by solfas or syllables representing various rhythmic patterns. The basic solfas of Dhamar are given below.

Tala - Dhamar

Beats - 14 (5+5+4)

Solfas - Dha Dhi Ta Dhi Ta | Dha Ghe Ghe Ti Ta | Ti Ta Ta NaNa | In some styles the first solfa Dha (which is an open resonating sound) is replaced by Kat (a flat closed sound).



Chandraveena - S Balachander

Pakhawaj - Sanjay Agle


Sadharani Music Works - https://www.sadharani.com

Purchase CD quality audio of the performance from https://chandraveena.bandcamp.com/album/raga-desi.

Raga Jaunpuri is available at https://chandraveena.bandcamp.com/album/raga-jaunpuri.

My conversation with Shri Sanjay Agle is available at https://youtu.be/ruZXeiy4BXo.

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