Hindustani Music

There are 10 main forms of styles of singing and compositions: Dhrupad, Dhamar, Hori, Khayal, Tappa, Chaturang, Ragasagar, Tarana, Sargam and Thumri. Nowadays Ghazals have become very popular as the ‘light classical’ form of music.


Dhrupad is the oldest and perhaps the grandest form of Hindustani vocal music. 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 is in decline since the 18th century.


Khayal literally means ‘a stray thought’, ‘a lyric’ and  ‘an imagination’.

This is the most prominent genre of Hindustani vocal music depicting a romantic style of singing. Khayal is dependent to a large extent on the imagination of the performer and the improvisations he is able to incorporate. A Khayal is also composed in a particular raga and tala and has a brief text. The Khayal texts range from praise of kings or seasons, description of seasons to the pranks of Lord Krishna, divine love and sorrow of separation.

There are six main gharanas in khayal: Delhi, Patiala, Agra, Gwalior, Kirana and Atrauli-Jaipur. Gwalior Gharana is the oldest and is also considered the mother of all other gharanas.


Thumri originated in the Eastern part of Uttar Pradesh, mainly in Lucknow and Benares, around the 18th century AD

It is believed to have been influenced by hori, kajri and dadra. Thumri is supposed to be a romantic and erotic style of singing and is also called “the lyric of Indian classical music”. The song compositions are mostly of love, separation and devotion. Its most distinct feature is the erotic subject matter picturesquely portraying the various episodes from the lives of Lord Krishna and Radha.

 A Thumri is usually performed as the last item of a Khayal concert. There are three main gharanas of thumri — Benaras, Lucknow and Patiala.


 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. Singers usually sing a dadra after a thumri.


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. This music, sung in the dhamar tala, is chiefly used in festivals like Janmashthami, Ramnavami and Holi. The compositions here describe the spring season. These compositions are mainly based on the love pranks of Radha-Krishna.


The tappa is said to have developed in the late 18th Century AD from the folk songs of camel drivers. Tappa literally means ‘jump’ in Persian.  They are essentially folklore of love and passion and are written in Punjabi.


Ragasagar consists of different parts of musical passages in different ragas as one song composition. These compositions have 8 to 12 different ragas and the lyrics indicate the change of the ragas. The peculiarity of this style depends on how smoothly the musical passages change along with the change of 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 four colours or a composition of a song in four parts: Fast Khayal, Tarana, Sargam and a “Paran” of Tabla or Pakhwaj.


The ghazal is mainly a poetic form than a musical form, but it is more song-like than the thumri. The ghazal is described as the “pride of Urdu poetry”. The ghazal originated in Iran in the 10th Century AD. The ghazal never exceeds 12 shers (couplets) and on an average, ghazals usually have about 7 shers. The ghazal found an opportunity to grow and develop in India around 12th Century AD when the Mughal influences came to India, and Persian gave way to Urdu as the language of poetry and literature. It developed and evolved in the courts of Golconda and Bijapur under the patronage of 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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