Asa is a very old raga, once popular in the Punjab but seldom heard in concerts today. In the Ragmala this is a ragini of raga Megha. However, today it is assigned to the Bilaval thata. Asa is a devotional raga for the cold season and is performed in the early morning just before sunrise. However, it is also known as a twilight melody with a calm mystical mood. Asa was used by Guru Nanak, Guru Afigad, Guru Amar Das, Guru Ram Das, Guru Arjan and Guru Tegh Bahadur.
Asa raga literally means the melody of hope. As the Gurus emphasised the singing of God’s praises before dawn, this raga is conducive to kirtan before day-break. It is a soothing and pleasing raga, appropriate for the singing of the Asa-di-var, the morning-prayer of the Sikhs. Guru Ramdas’s Chhants ser the tone of this blissful composition:
“My eyes are damp with the nectar of the Lord;
My soul is filled with His love” .
Aroh : Sa Re Ma Pa Dha Sa
Avroh : Sa Ni Dha Pa Ma Ga Re Sa
Vadi : Ma
Samvadi : Sa
Asa is a crooked (vakra) raga in that approaches to certain notes have to be made from a set position. Its variants as given in the Holy Book are Kafi and Asavari, both of which have many features in common with Asa. This raga may have originated in Maharashtra about the time of the major Muslim invasions. Its pleasing sound made it suitable bhajans by the Hindu devotees.
In Indian Musical system ragas are divided into two main categories: the Northern system and the Southern system. Raga Asa belongs to the Northern system and is very popular in Punjab, it evokes calm mystical mood and lends itself very well to rendering devotional songs and hymns. According to one school of thought, in fact, Guru Nanak Dev is the author of this raga. The notes of this raga are:
Arohi (ascending scale) – sa re ma pa dha ni pa dha sa (omitted note is -ga)
Avrohi (descending scale) – sa ni dha pa ma ga re ga sa
The vadi (most popular) note is ‘ma’ and samvadi (second most popular) note is ‘sa’
This raga is recommended to be sung at the fourth part of the night i.e., from 3 a.m – 6 a.m.. The season of its recitation is winter (hement) i.e., during November and December. In the Sikh tradition this raga is also sung in the evening.
This raga is listed in the Ragamala as a consort (ragini) of Raga Megh, but in Guru Granth Sahib it is employed as a full fledged raga.
This raga has been linked with other sub-ragas in Guru Granth Sahib as under:
Raga Asawari –
Asawari is an independent raga, but its links with raga Asa is found only in Sikh School of music. It has note ‘dha’ as most popular note and note ‘ga’ as the second most popular note.
In Avrohi, notes ga, dha and ni are soft (komal) rest of the notes are sharp (tever)
This raga has been linked with ragas Asa, Tilang, Suhi and Maru in Guru Granth Sahib. Some school of music classify it as a complete raga while other call it a ragini (consort of a pure raga). Muslim Sufi saints sing most of their qwalis and thurnris in this raga. In its notes, ‘ga’ and ‘ni’ are soft notes while others are sharp notes. The recommended time of its singing is the fourth part of the day.
In this raga ( and also in raga Kanra) many shabads titled as ‘Partal’ have been composed. In these shabads the ‘tal’ is frequently changed/ repeated.
A title ‘Sudhang’ has also been used in this raga, which means ‘pure scales’. It is not the name of any raga or sub-raga.
In Guru Granth Sahib hymns composed in this raga are on pages 347-488 (142 pages).
The composers of bath (hymns) in this raga are:
Guru Arjan Dev
Guru Tegh Bahadur
The sequence of the structure of compositions in this raga are:
Shabads Sodar – a long shabad of one pada (Guru Nanak), Sopurkh five – ‘ – ‘Guru Ramdas).
Shabads 2-6 padas
Shabads – Ashtpadis
Specialist compositions titled ‘Patti’
Shabads – Chhants Var
Shabads of various padas
Count of the use of Mangals:
Complete Mool Mantar 3, pages 347 (start of the raga), 462 (start of Asa di Var)475 (start of Bhagat bani)
lk-ongkar Satgur Prasadh = 59
Placement and count of rahau verse/s:
First shabad titled ‘Solar’ has no rahau verse,
All other shabads and ashtpadis (pages 348 – 431 have rahau verses in them, placed mostly after the first padas, but also placed in the beginning of the shabad aswell (page 365);
In specialist compositions both ‘Pattis’ of Guru Nanak and Guru Amardas have one rahau verse each placed after the first padas
All shabads of the Bhagats have one rahau verse in them placed after the first padas of the shabads.