Dhrupad: (Hindi: ध्रुपद) , a vocal genre in Hindustani classical music is said to be the oldest still in use in that musical tradition. Its name is derived from the words “dhruva” (fixed) and “pada” (words). The term may denote both the verse form of the poetry and the style in which it is sung.

This form appeared in the fifteenth century as a development from the prabandha, which it replaced. The musical background of dhrupad is traceable back to the Vedas  themselves. Swami Haridas  , the guru of Tansen, was a well known dhrupad singer.

. The 18th Century saw the beginning of the decline of dhrupad singing. A newer genre, khayal, gained popularity at dhrupad’s expense, placing fewer constraints on the singers and allowing displays of virtuosity rare in dhrupad. Also, new instruments were being developed – the sitar and the sarod – that were not suited to the slow tempo and low register favoured by dhrupad so that dhrupad instrumental also began to lose ground. Only a few families carried on the tradition. Dhrupad as we know it today is performed by a solo singer or a small number of singers in unison to the beat of the pakhavaj or mridang rather than the tabla. Dhrupad styles have long elaborate  alaaps- their slow and deliberate melodic development gradually bringing an accelerating rhythmic pulse. In most styles of dhrupad singing it can easily last an hour, broadly subdivided into the alap proper (unmetered), the jor (with steady rhythm) and the jhala (accelerating strumming) or nomtom, when syllables are sung at a very rapid pace.

Alongside concert performance the practice of singing dhrupad in temples continues, though only a small number of recordings have been made.


A dhrupad set to the 14-beat time signature dhamar tal is called a dhamar. It is seen as a light musical form, and associated with the Holi (hori) Spring Festival of colours. Dhamar theka has 14 matra in length divided in 4 vibhag (3 Tali, 1 Khali), Pattern 5-2-3-4 

Khyal (or Khayal, Hindi:  ख़्याल) is the modern genre of classical singing in North India. Its name comes from an Arabic word meaning “imagination”. Khayal is a more recent and innovative style of singing than dhrupad , has a more free and flexible form, and  provides greater scope for improvisation.

Khyal bases itself on a repertoire of short songs (two to eight lines); a khyal song is called a bandish.  Every singer generally renders the same bandish differently, with only the text and the raga remaining the same. Khyal bandishes are typically composed in a variant of Urdu/ Hindi and sometimes in Persian, Marathi and Punjabi and these compositions cover diverse topics, such as romantic or divine love, praise of kings or gods, the seasons, dawn and dusk, and the pranks of Krishna.

 The bandish is divided into two parts — the sthayi  and the antara. Khayal performances typically use Ektaal, Jhoomra, Jhaptaal, Tilwada, Teentaal, Rupak, and Adachautaal.

A typical khyal performance uses two songs — the bada khyal  in slow tempo (vilambit laya), comprises of most of the performance, while the chhota khyal (small khyal), in fast tempo (drut  laya), is used as a finale and is usually in the same raga but a different taal.

Tarana (Hindi: तराना) is a type of composition in Hindustani classical vocal music in which certain words and syllables (e.g. “odani”, “todani”, “tadeem” and “yalali”) based on Persian and Arabic words are used in a medium-paced (madhyalaya) or fast (drut laya) rendition. It was invented by Amir Khusro and is similar to the Qalbana form of Sufi poetry.

In modern times, the tarana is most commonly associated with Ustad Amir Khan, who did research on its origins and the syllables used, and helped popularize it.

The structure consists of a main melody, usually short, repeated many times, with variation and elaboration at the performer’s discretion. There is a second contrasting melody, usually with higher notes, which is introduced once, and goes back to the main melody

Thumri (Hindi: ठुमरी, ) is a common genre of semi-classical music.

The text is romantic or devotional in nature, and usually revolves around a girl’s love for Krishna. The lyrics are usually in Uttar Pradesh dialects of Hindi called Poorbi and Brij Bhasha.  Thumri is characterized by its sensuality, and by a greater flexibility with the raga

Thumri arose in popularity during the 19th century in the Lucknow court of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah. At that time it used to be a song sung by courtesans accompanied by dance. That was the bandish ki thumri or bol bant ki thumri. When this style of thumri went out of vogue, a new style became more popular, which is known as bol banao, sung in Varanasi. Common ragas used in thumri are kaafi, pilu, khamaj, bhairavi.

Famous singers of thumri are Gauhar Jaan, Begum Akhtar,  Noor Jehan and  Prabha Atre. Some khyal  singers took an interest in thumri and sang it their own way, as in the case of Abdul Karim Khan, Nazakat-Salamat Ali Khan, Barkat Ali Khan, Bade Ghulam Ali, and Prabha Atre.

Tappa is a form of Indian semi classical music.  Its specialty is its rolling pace based on fast, subtle and knotty construction. Its tunes are melodious, sweet and depict the emotional outbursts of a lover. Tappa originated from the folk songs of the camel riders of Punjab and developed as a form of classical music by Mian Gulam Nabi Shori or Shori Mian, a court singer of Asaf ud Daulah, Nawab of Oudh.

In Bengal, Ramnidhi Gupta composed Bengali tappas and they are called as Nidhu Babu’s Tappa. Tappa gayaki took new shape and over decades became puratani, a semi-classical form of Bengali songs.

Chaiti  : Indian classical music is mostly based on the seasons of the year and even fine tuned to the hour of the day. Chaiti is sung in the month of Chait  that falls in March or April as per the Hindu calendar. The Chaiti is a musical form derived from folk songs and its theme mostly revolves around romanticism and mood of love. The Chaiti songs, likeKajri, have a place in semi classical form also. Most of the songs have wordings like Ho Rama or Are Rama. The lyrics are normally in the Purabi dialect, spoken in eastern Uttar Pradesh and parts of Bihar.

Kajari (Hindi: कजरी), derived from the Hindi word Kajra, or Kohl, is a genre of semi classical singing, popular in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar It is often used to describe the longing of a maiden for her lover as the black monsoon cloud come hanging in the summer skies, and the style is notably sung during the rainy season..

It comes in the series of season songs, like Chaiti, Hori and Sawani, and is traditionally sung in the villages and towns of Uttar Pradesh: round Benaras, Mirzapur, Mathura Allahabad and the Bhojpur regions of Bihar.

Some noted exponents of Kajari are Pandit Channulal Mishra, Siddheshwari Devi, Girija Devi.

Bhajan is any type of Indian devotional song. It has no fixed form: it may be as simple as a mantra or kirtan or as sophisticated as the dhrupad with music based on classical ragas or talas.  It is normally lyrical, expressing love for the Divine.  The name, a cognate of bhakti meaning religious devotion, suggests its importance to the bhakti movement that spread from the south of India throughout the entire subcontinent in the Moghul era.

Anecdotes and episodes from scriptures, the teachings of saints and descriptions of gods have all been the subject of bhajans.Nanak, Meera, Kabir, Surdas, Tulsidas are notable composers of bhajans.

Inputs from:

Manjula Roye

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