On a memorable experience I had playing the raga Kirwani

by Dr. Soubhik Chakraborty
Department of Applied Mathematics
BIT Mesra, Ranchi-835215, India

Abstract: The note gives my memorable experience, which throws some open questions, of playing raga Kirwani in the dark.

Key words: raga; darkness; neuro-science.


I am a statistician by profession and a music analyst by choice (1) (2). Coming from a musical family, the instrument I play is the harmonium (North Indian Classical) both as a solo performer and an accompanist. I had a very successful presentation of the analysis of my harmonium recordings using the Rubato software in a recent international conference on speech and music held in India (3) which is possibly the first use of this software in North Indian ragas. A raga may be defined as a melodic structure with fixed notes and a set of rules characterizing a certain mood conveyed by performance (4). Further information on ragas can be found in (5).

This short account is about a memorable experience I had while playing the raga Kirwani in the evening when the power suddenly went off. As I am quite comfortable with my instrument, so I could continue uninterrupted in the darkness. Suddenly I had a peculiar feeling:

the Kirwani notes were "cutting the darkness"!

It was a memorable feeling that is difficult to be expressed in words...and I just do not find a better description than what is given in the quote above...something like cutting an ice blockage and making our way through, the raga notes were cutting the darkness and making their way through too. I have had an interesting correspondence with Dr. Takako Fujioka(6) (7), who works on the interface of neuro-science and music, regarding this and am planning to write a full paper based on questionnaires to be filled by listeners from diverse background in similar controlled conditions as per her suggestions.

What I want is a scientific explanation as to why this happened. All I can tell, at this stage, is - Kirwani is a raga whose underlying mood is sadness. It has been introduced to the North Indian Classical music from the South Indian counterpart. I was playing the notes in straight transition and not in the form of a "glide" and evening is the right time for the raga rendition. In addition to this information, my own statistical analysis of this raga, which I recorded next day in my laptop exclusively for research purpose, is available in (4) itself. Some say the correct name of the raga is Keeravani meaning song (vani) of a parrot (Keera). It uses the notes Sa (let us take this tonic at C), Sudh Re (D), Komal Ga (E- flat), Sudh Ma (F), Pa (G), Komal Dha (A-flat) and Sudh Ni (B).


I end this note placing three questions that baffle me:

(1) if this is purely a brain's response to music, how do we logically interpret it, i.e. the "cutting the darkness" feeling?

(2) Will the brain react again similarly to another raga with similar properties?

By similar properties, I obviously mean the following:

(a) mood: sadness
(b) appropriate rendition time: evening (or night at most)
(c) mode of rendition: straight use of notes and minimum use of glide

(3) Can this be true for another person or is this a purely subjective piece of opinion? If it can be true, should the other person necessarily be of musical background?


1 S. Chakraborty, Review of the book Music: a mathematical offering (Ist ed.) by D. Benson, Cambridge Univ. Press, New York, N. Y. 2006, published in Computing Reviews, Nov 14, 2008 (
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2 S. Chakraborty, Review of the book Music and Probability by D. Temperley, The MIT Press, 2007, published in Computing Reviews, Mar 04, 2009 (
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3 S. Chakraborty, S. S. Solanki, S. Roy, S. S. Tripathi and G. Mazzola, A Statistical Comparison of Performance Two Ragas (Dhuns) that Use the Same Notes, Proceedings to the International Symposium on Frontiers of Research in Speech and Music (FRSM2008), held at Sir C. V. Raman Centre for Physics and Music, Jadavpur University, Kolkata on Feb 20-21, 2008, p. 167-171
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4 S. Chakraborty, S. S. Solanki, S. Roy, S. Chauhan, S. S. Tripathy and K. Mahto, A Statistical Approach to Modeling Indian Classical Music Performance: arXiv:0809.3214v1 [cs.SD] [stat.AP]. (2008) (a revised version v2 has been uploaded online in the Cornell archive)
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5 N. A. Jairazbhoy, The Rags of North India: Their Structure and Evolution, London; Faber and Faber, 1971
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6 S. Chakraborty, private communication to T. Fujioka (Rotman Research Institute, Baycrest, Canada), Oct 07, 2008
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7 T. Fujioka, private communication to S. Chakraborty, Oct 08, 2008
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