Rag-s are known to musicians through traditional compositions in genres such as dhrupad, khayal, tarana, thumri etc. Of these, dhrupad, khayal and thumri denote both, the composition and the genre as a whole.
Dhrupad is the oldest of today’s vocal music genres. It was the dominant tradition since at least the mid-16th century. All the Indo-Persian sources of that time point to the court of Raja Mansingh Tomar of Gwalior (1486- 1511) as the place where dhrupad originated. Dhrupad also has been prevalent in the Vaishnava temple tradition (also known as Haveli or Pushtimargiya tradition).
The word dhrupad is derived from dhruv (fixed) and pad (song). It refers to a specific type of vocal composition that is mostly set to a rhythmic cycle of 12 beats called Chautal. Compositions may also be set to Sultal (10 beats), Jhaptal (10 beats, when the composition may be called Sadra) or Rupak tal (7 beats).
The lyrics is mostly in medieval languages of the Hindi family like Braj bhasha (the western literary dialect of Hindi spoken around the region of Mathura), Avadhi (the eastern dialect of Hindi spoken around the region of Avadhi) or mix of both these. Song texts cover a wide range of themes, from religious and philosophical matters to love, nature and music itself. The poetry follows a rather strict metrical structure and the words are important for their literary contents. Hence, a clear enunciation of the words and their syntax assume special significance.
Often the composer is anonymous, and even when songs are ascribed to a well-known composer-musicians such as Tansen or Swami Haridas, the authenticity of the song sometimes remains doubtful.
Structurally, dhrupad compositions are supposed to have four tuk-s (parts) of four lines each: sthayi, antara, sanchari, abhog. Composition in Dhamar tal (14 beats) could have only two stanzas of two or four lines each.
The essence of dhrupad is the elaborate rag exposition in the form of alap, followed by a composition.
A dhrupad performance begins with an extensive alap which slowly delineates the rag; while making use of minimum ornaments such as mind, gamak and sunth. Alap is sung without the rhythmic accompaniment and uses meaningless syllables such as ta, na, ri, nom etc. The alap has distinct movements, viz. vilambit alap (also known as nom-tom), jod and jhala. Throughout the alap, many features can be noticed which suggest a possible influence of instrumental music upon vocal music and vice versa.
After alap, entire composition is presented. The rhythmic accompaniment is provided by pakhavaj but the melodic support that was once provided by bin (a fretless stick-zither) has nowadays disappeared.
After the full composition is rendered, the song text is repeated in double, treble and quadruple tempi. Then in changing tempi, slow improvisations are presented repeating the words and regrouping the words to show novel interpretations (layakari). Convention does not permit usage of tan in dhrupad performance. Both, the singer and the pakhavaj player simultaneously indulge in improvisations and every time come together on the sam (first beat of the rhythmic cycle), at which point the singer repeats the first line of the composition (or a small part thereof). As the performance progresses, rhythmic patterns become increasingly complex, culminating in a spectacular interplay between the singer and the percussionist.
Depending upon the use of embellishments and the tempi, broadly four stylistic peculiarities (bani-s) have been identified: Gauhar, Dagar, Nauhar and Khandar. However, nowadays this distinction is fading away.
2. Khayal /Khyal
Khayal means idea or imagination in Arabic, and symbolizes greater freedom for elaboration, perhaps, in contrast to the rigour associated with dhrupad, which was a dominant genre at the time khayal took its roots. Supposedly evolved by Niyamat Khan (also known as Sadarang) of the court of Mohamad Shah (Delhi, 1719- 1748), at present it is the most prevalent genre of Hindustani vocal music. Sadarang’s compositions are the oldest in the repertory and even today, many of Sadarang’s compositions are popular amongst musicians.
Interestingly, the genre of khayal has had tremendous influence on the stylistic development of North Indian instrumental music, especially the string instruments like sitar, sarod, sarangi, santoor and even flute.
Structurally, khayal has two parts, sthayi and antara. Sthayi covers the first half of the melodic range, even going down in the lower octave, while the antara mainly explores the upper part of the gamut. There are exceptions but largely such a structure is supposed to cover the raga-frame completely. The total number of lines may vary from four to six. The most important part of khayal is mukhda (lit. face), to which vocalist must return after a complete cycle of improvisation. The words used in khayal are known as bol. A khayal (composition) may be set to any of the common tal-s, the popular being Ektal (12 beats), Jhumra (14 beats), Jhaptal (10 beats) and Tintal (16 beats).
Most khayal-s are composed in local languages such as Braj bhasha, Avadhi, Punjabi and Marwadi. Since the words are relatively less significant, the text of khayal is rather short and has a loose poetic metre. As compared to dhrupad, the compositions of khayal use rather secular themes; often coloured with romantic elements. The thematic content could range from description of nature to the divine love songs of Krishna.
Khayal, as a genre, is characterized by the presentation of a structured composition as described above, along with melodic elaborations, the details of which will depend on several factors such as the school (gharana) in which the artiste has trained, nature of the rag, capability of the artiste, time available for exploration etc.
Rag exploration in khayal tradition essentially follows the following basic principles:
A. The melodic development is begins with the tonic Sa and expands progressively encompassing all the tonal material, finally coming back to Sa.
B. The recital commences with the lowest speed and concludes at the highest.
Usually, a full-length systematic unfoldment (badhat, vistar) generally follows the following schema.
a. A very brief section with few melodic phrases (auchar) to introduce the rag.
Presentation of the slow composition (either in parts or full) to establish the range and mood of the rag. The relative tempo of rendition differs in different gharana-s. A single beat can take up to six seconds. Such extremely slow tempo in which every single beat is sub-divided into four or eight sub-beats, is a relatively recent development. At the beginning of the 20th century the slowest tempo was approximately one beat to two seconds. In older schools such as Gwalior, Jaipur, Agra; the tempo of the slow composition is not too low, about two seconds per beat.
b. Alap is the first and foremost stage in the rag unfoldment schema which is presented on the frame of the composition. It is a free-flow of melodic phrases, built around various melodic centers of the rag. There is no discernible metre as such in the melodic elaborations of alap, but it is governed by the tempo and duration (number of beats) of the tala cycle, in which the composition is set. After completion of each melodic idea, musician must return to the mukhda of the composition. Usually the vowel sound ‘aa’ (akar) is used to articulate alap.
c. Bol alap is the next phase, which combines alap and enunciation of words (bol) of the composition. Here the melodic designs are woven with meaningful words, resulting in motifs of special tonal quality. Whilst the akar in alap facilitates a clear expression of musical notes, bol alap creates a distinct aural effect.
d. Layakari is the section where rhythmic patterns are introduced in to otherwise melody-dominated rendition. With accent on bols, all the three facets of music, viz. svara (note), tala (rhythm) and sahitya (lyrics) converge to offer a multi-layered expression.
e. Bol tan is akin to bol alap except that the tempo is much faster in bol tan, which gradually culminates in to climatic phase of tan-s.
f. Tan refers to melodic runs in fast tempo. The tonal pattern can range across three octaves. There is a possibility for creating variety of tan-s on the basis of its content as well as the manner of rendition. Musical effect is heightened due to the accent on speed.
Khayal presented in slow tempo generally includes all the above features and is known as ‘bada khayal’ (lit. big khayal). This is mostly followed by another shorter composition rendered in a faster tempo, known as ‘chhota khayal’ (lit. small khayal). This composition may not be set in the same tal as the first piece but temporally it takes off from where the earlier slow composition has left off.
It can be set to any tal that affords rendition in a faster tempo. Because of the increased tempo, there is more scope for bol tan-s and tan-s.
The tempo at which the bada and chhota khayal compositions are to be presented, is quite arbitrary, and not very strictly specified. The initial tempo as well as the extent to which it can be increased within a given composition, is a subjective issue depending upon the gharana, and the capability of the artiste. Within a given raga performance, while acceleration of speed is definitely desirable, its retardation is viewed as a fault.
This model of a slow khayal that is mainly devoted to alap, followed by a fast composition in which the feature of tan assumes significance, is the most common but many other possibilities also exist. Thus, in the Jaipur school, artists may present only a medium tempo composition. In Agra school, a dhrupad-like alap may be sung first, followed by a medium or fast khayal. In Shyam Chaurasi school of Pakistan, a slow, medium and fast khayal compositions are sung in sequence. Moreover, the order of alap-layakari-tan is not quite rigid. Depending upon the mood of the rag and the style of the performer, some variations are possible in this pattern
A special type of composition that is often included in the repertoire of khayal singers is tarana, which is a Persian word for any song. Tradition credits Amir Khusrau (1253-1325) for having combined Farsi rubai (a poetic form of aphoristic couplets) with the prevailing forms employing meaningless sound-clusters to shape tarana (Ranade [Keywords and Concepts] 1990: 30).
Tarana is essentially a composition made of sound syllables of string instruments and rhythm, which are linguistically often meaningless. The common sound clusters used in a tarana are: dir dir, tan, nan, yalali, dani, tom, derena and so on. The special characteristic feature of tarana is the section including highly rhythmic improvisations using such syllables. In a very fast speed, it sounds much like the jhala section of dhrupad or similar form played on string instruments such as sitar and sarod. Sometimes tarana also includes a line or two of Persian text. The composition is generally presented in a medium or fast tempo, and structurally has two parts, sthayi and antara. Tarana compositions can be in any rag and in any tal, although Tintal and Ektal seem to be commonly used tal-s for tarana.
The elaboration of tarana composition shows two distinct styles. One followed by the Kirana tradition and the other by the Gwalior and Rampur- Sahaswan tradition. In the Kirana style, the tarana composition is treated almost like a chhota khayal. Whereas in the other style, it is treated as a climactic piece of the raga presentation. Therefore, all the elements such as fast tempo, super-fast tan-s, renditions of bol-s in a tongue-twisting manner etc. are aimed at creating a heightening effect of crescendo. An effective rendering of tarana demands a special skill for verbalization through proper training and practice.
Thumri (lit. thumkana – to walk with the dancing gait) is a semi-classical form of Hindustani music. Although Wajid Ali Shah of Lucknow (1822-1997) is credited for having evolved and popularised it, historical evidence points to its existence since 400 A.D. (Ranade [Keywords and Concepts] 1990: 32).
Thumri is closely associated with Kathak dance and evocative love poetry. Thematic content of thumri is, expression of love in myriad manifestations ranging from devotion, romance, separation, longing, jealousy and union, to erotic mood.
Traditionally, thumri-s are set in special rag-s like Pilu, Kafi, Bhairavi, Khamaj, Tilang etc. which are amenable to assimilate melodic digressions in the form of extraneous notes/ phrases. Slow compositions of thumri are set to tal-s such as Dipchandi (14 beats), Rupak (7 beats), Addha (16 beats), Punjabi (16 beats) etc; while the fast thumri-s can be in Dadra (6 beats) or Keherva (8 beats). Commonly, a fast thumri is referred to as dadra, irrespective of tal in which it is set. Thumri could also be set to other tal-s, especially Tintal (16 beats).
Although the composition itself (sthayi and antara) may be very brief, the words play a prominent role. The subtle shades of mood are evoked by means of improvisation of words in loose melodic and rhythmic movements which are known as bol banao and bol bant respectively. A type of parlando (pukar, lit. call) is often used with great emotive effect. Thumri uses much ornamentation, both in the form of vocal inflections that resemble emotional speech and in the form of complex murki-s, which sets it apart from other genres.
Thumri-s are of different types depending upon the basic orientation displayed in favour of dance, abhinaya (interpretation and depiction though gestures and facial expressions) and music. The slow thumri-s make use of bol banao while another type of thumri, called bandish ki thumri, is set to faster tempo and uses the feature of bol bant. Such thumri has a greater word density as compared to the slow thumri. Each beat carries one syllable of the text, creating rhythmic reinforcement and giving impression of a tempo, faster than what it is. In the 19th century, many such compositions were adopted as Razakhani gat-s by the sitar and sarod players.
The concluding section of slow thumri offers scope for the tabla player to create rhythmic patterns in double tempo. This sprightly section called laggi is a feature unique to this genre.