Hindustani Classical Music

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In Hindustani music, there are ten main forms or styles of singing and compositions: ‘Dhrupad’, ‘Dhamar’, ‘Hori’, ‘Khayal’, ‘Tappa’, ‘Chaturang’, ‘Ragasagar’, ‘Tarana’, ‘Sargam’ and ‘Thumri’. Ghazals are also very popular as the ‘light classical’ form of music.



Dhrupad is the oldest and perhaps the grandest form of the Hindustani vocal music, which is believed to have originated from earlier forms like the ‘Prabandha’ and the ‘Dhruvapada’. Dhrupad reached its zenith of glory during the reign of the Mughal Emperor Akbar, who engaged masters like Baba Gopal Das, Swami Haridas, Tansen and Baiju Bawra to perform it. Towards the beginning of the 13th century A.D., Dhrupad consolidated itself as a classical form of music. It was adapted for court performance during the reign of Raja Man Singh Tomar (1486-1517 A.D.) of Gwalior. Dhrupad has been in decline since the 18th century.

Dhrupad is essentially a poetic form incorporated into an extended presentation style marked by precise and orderly elaboration of a raga. The exposition preceding the composed verses is called ‘alap’, and is usually the longest portion of the performance. Dhrupad compositions have four parts or stanzas. A Dhrupad recital typically consists of one or two male vocalists accompanied by the Tanpura and Pankhawaj. Sarangadeva’s ‘Sangeeta Ratnakara’ (12th century A.D.) contains a detailed description of five major styles or ‘geetis’, of classical music (‘Shastriya Sangeet’) – ‘Shuddha’, ‘Bhinna’, ‘Vesara’, ‘Gaura’ and ‘Sadharani’. Of these the only one surviving in its original form today is the ‘Sadharani geeti’ which is the Dhrupad sung by the Dagars.

There are four forms of Dhrupad singing: ‘Dagar Bani’, ‘Khandaar Bani’, ‘Nauhar Bani’ and ‘Gauhar Bani’. The Dagar Bani, which is the leading school today, has survived changing musical patterns and presents this art form in all its originality. Renowned exponents of the Dhrupad style include the Dagar brothers, Pandit Ram Chatur Mullick, Bhavani Shankar Majumdar, Phalguni Mitra, Siyaram Tiwari, Abhay Narayan Mallick, Gundecha Brothers, Uday Bhawalkar, Ashish Sankrityayan and others.



Khayal literally means ‘a stray thought’ or ‘an imagination’. This is the most prominent genre of Hindustani vocal music depicting a romantic style of singing. It originated as a popular form of music in the 18th century A.D. by the blending of the Hindu and Persian traditions. The origin of Khayal is a matter of debate, while some trace its origins to ‘Sadarang’ Nyamat Khan, a ‘beenkaar’ in the Mughal court of Muhammad Shah ‘Rangila’, others attribute its invention to Hussein Shah Sharqi. The most important features of a Khayal are ‘Tans’ or the running glides over notes and ‘Bol-tans’ which distinguish it from Dhrupad. A Khayal is also composed in a particular raga and tala and has a brief text, which contains rhyme, alliteration and play on words. The tanpura, tabla, sarangi, harmonium and violin accompany khayal performances.

There are six main ‘gharanas’ in Khayal: ‘Delhi’, ‘Patiala’, ‘Agra’, ‘Gwalior’, ‘Kirana’ and ‘Atrauli-Jaipur’. The ‘Gwalior Gharana’ is the oldest and is also considered as the mother of all other ‘gharanas’. The ‘Agra Gharana’ was founded by Haji Sujan Khan, the ‘Jaipur-Atroli Gharana’ by Ustad Allaudin Khan and the Kirana Gharana by Ustad Abdul Wahid Khan and Ustad Abdul Karim Khan.

Eminent Khayal singers include Sawai Gandharva, Faiyaz Khan, Amir Khan, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Kishori Amonkar, Bhimsen Joshi, Pandit Jasraj, Hirabai Barodekar, Feroz Dastur, Gangubai Hangal, Manik Verma, Saraswati Rane, Prabha Atre, C.R.Vyas, Rashid Khan, Shobha Mudgal, Ajoy Chakraborty and others.



Thumri originated in the Eastern part of Uttar Pradesh, mainly in Lucknow and Benares, around the 18th century A.D. and was developed by the famous musician Sadiq Ali Shah. It is believed to have been influenced by ‘hori’, ‘kajri’ and ‘dadra’. Some people consider an older musical presentation called ‘chalika’, described in the ‘Harivansha’ (400 A.D.), to be the precursor of Thumri. Thumri is a romantic and erotic style of singing, where the compositions mostly deal with the subjects of love, separation and devotion. Thumris are composed in lighter ragas having simpler talas and are usually sung in slower tempo. The lyrics are generally written in Braj Bhasha, Khari Boli and Urdu. There are three main ‘gharanas’ of thumri – ‘Benaras’, ‘Lucknow’ and ‘Patiala’.

Qadar Piya, Sanad Piya, Lallan Piya, Kenwar Shyam, Nawab Wajid Ali Shah and Rang Piya are included among the well-known thumri singers of the Lucknow Gharana. Rasoolan Bai, Janaki Bai, Kashi Bai, Badi Moti, Chhoti Moti, Siddheshwari Devi and others are regarded as important exponents of the ‘Purab Ang’ of the Benaras style of thumri. Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, one of the most famous thumri singers, belonged to the Patiala Gharana. Shobha Gurtu is a renowned contemporary thumri singer.




Dadra bears a close resemblance to the Thumri. The texts are as amorous as those of Thumris. The major difference is that ‘dadras’ have more than one ‘antara’ and are in ‘dadra tala’.



These compositions are similar to Dhrupad but are chiefly associated with the festival of Holi. Here the compositions are specifically in praise of Lord Krishna.



The ‘tappa’ is said to have developed in the late 18th century A.D. from folk songs of the camel riders. The credit for its development goes to Shorey Mian or Ghulam Nabi of Multan. Tappas are essentially folklore of love and passion and are written in Punjabi. The compositions are very short and are based on Shringara Rasa. It is rather strange that even though the Tappa lyrics are in Punjabi, Tappa is not sung in Punjab; instead, Varanasi and Gwalior are its strongholds. Bengal has also been greatly influenced by the Tappa style, where Ramnidhi Gupta created a special kind of songs, called ‘Bangla Toppa’, after the same kind of music from Punjab called ‘Shori Mia’s Toppa’. Some of the eminent tappa singers include Krishna Rao, Shankar Pandit, Nidhu Babu, Mian Gammu, Shadi Khan, Nawab Hussain Ali Khan and Girija Devi.



Ragasagar consists of different parts of musical passages in different ragas as one song composition. These compositions have eight to twelve different ragas and the lyrics indicate the change of the ragas.


Tarana is a style consisting of peculiar syllables woven into rhythmical patterns as a song. It is usually sung in faster tempo.


Chaturang denotes a composition of a song in four parts: fast ‘khayal’, ‘tarana’, ‘sargam’ and a “paran” of tabla or pakhawaj.


The ‘ghazal’ is more a poetic form than a musical form. It originated in Iran in the 10th century A.D. It grew out of the Persian ‘qasida’, a poem written in praise of a king or a benefactor. A ghazal never exceeds twelve ‘ashaar’ (singular is ‘sher’) or couplets and on an average, ghazals have about seven ‘ashaar’. The ghazal started developing in India around the 12th century A.D. when the Mughal influences came to India, and Persian gave way to Urdu as the language of poetry and literature. Even though ghazal began with Amir Khusro in northern India, the Deccan became its home in the early stages. It developed and evolved in the courts of Golconda and Bijapur under the patronage of the Muslim rulers. The 18th and 19th centuries are regarded as the ‘golden period of the ghazal’ with Delhi and Lucknow being its main centres.

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