Khayal music is represented by a number of more or less stylistically different schools called Gharanas. These schools have their basis in the traditional mode of musical training and education. Every Gharana has a few discernible features, which allow us to distinguish between schools and also enable us to identify different approaches to interpretation of the ragas. The main areas where differences arise, relate to the raga repertoire adopted by the Gharana, the manner in which the notes are sung, particularly the relative emphasis given in the Gharana philosophy to swara and laya, the role and importance of the Bandish in the aesthetic viewpoint of the Gharana, the manner in which the raga is presented, and the type of Tans employed.

Gwalior: This is the oldest among all the Khayal Gayaki (vocal) styles. The distinctive feature of this style of singing has been noted as its lucidity and simplicity. This gayaki is also characterized by serious mien and slow singing pace. This Gharana involves presenting familiar and well known ragas such as Alakya Bilawal, Yaman, Bhairav, Sarang, Multani, Sri, Bhoop, Kamod, Hamir, Basant, etc. It also pays great attention to singing Khayals using traditional Bandishes. This Gharana is also noted for its straight and simple Tans, while stressing on the use of Meendh and Gamak in its Dhrupad-style khayals. The best known artistes of this Gharana were Balkrishna BaIchal Karanjikar (1849 - 1927) and his student Vishnu Digambar Paluskar (1872 - 1931), Pandit Omkarnath Thakur (1897 - 1967) and in recent times, Veena Sahasrabuddhe and Malini Rajurkar.

Kirana: This Gharana derives its name from the birthplace of Abdul Kharim Khan (1872 - 1937), Kirana near Kurukshetra. This style of singing was influenced by the distinctive style of playing music on the Bin (Vina), with emphasis on the resonance of notes and maintaining note continuity through Meendh and Gamak. Importance was also given to Alap and Vilambit laya in the course of performance. This style also stresses on the role of individual notes and their study (swar-sadhana). In the Kirana style of singing, the swara is used to create an emotional mood by means of elongation and use of Kana-s. This effect is further heightened by tuning the Tanpura (a drone instrument) for certain ragas to the seventh note, the Nishad, rather than Pancham. In this Gharana, the practice of rendering the Alap as Bol-Alap using the bols  of the Bandish and not in Akar is to enable the Alap to be developed gradually. The Gharana repertoire consists mainly of ragas like Shuddha Kalyan, Darbari, Malkauns, Bhimplasi, Todi etc. Many Carnatic ragas feature in this Gharana. Another aspect of the Kirana Gharana is that it is one of the few Gharanas of Khayal Gayaki that includes Thumri singing as a part of its performances. The important singers in this Gharana are Abdul Karim Khan, Hirabhai Barodekar, Begum Akhtar, and in recent times, Bhimsen Joshi, Gangubai Hangal and Prabha Atre.

Atrauli - Jaipur: Another of the important ones, this Gharana is associated with Alladiya Khan (1855 - 1943), the great singer of the late 19th and early 20th century. This style has great complexities because of its use of melodic phrases having Vakra (twisted/crooked) turns. The most distinctive feature of the Jaipur Gharana can be best described as its complex and lilting melodic form which arises out of the involuted and undulating phrases that constitute the piece. The Badhat is very clear and is done in short sequences, each lasting for an Avartan and the Tans are very intricate. As a consequence the term ‘filigree-like workmanship’ is often used in the context of the Jaipur Gharana singing. This impression is created by the linking of successive notes through a particular manner of delivery without blurring their individual characteristics or shapes, while continuously varying the swara-patterns to avoid repetition. This is done through a slow tempo, which continues uncharged from the beginning to the end with the duration of its cycle being kept constant. The Gharana, in its repertoire, has a dominance of rare and compound ragas such as Sampoorna-Malkauns, Basant Kedar, Basant-Bahar, Kaunsi-Kanada and Nat-Kamod. This Gharana tends to use the traditional Bandishes and shuns the creation of new compositions. The Badhat is sung using the bols of the Bandish instead of the Akar. The Tans are also full of spiral shaped fast passages or Vakra passages. The important vocalists of this tradition are Alladiya Khan, Mallikarjun Mansur, Kesarbhai Kerkar and in recent times, Kishori Amonkar, Shruti Sadolikar, Padma Talwalkar and Ashwini Bhide Deshpande.

Agra: This style of Khayal gayaki is usually associated with Faiyaz khan (1886 - 1950). The founders of the Agra gharana were originally singers of Dhrupad. Dhamar and Khayal singing came to be adopted in the Gharana. It was Ustad Faiyaz Khan who transformed the traditional and austere Agra style and left his colourful imprint on the Gharana. The Agra Gharana places great importance on developing forcefulness and deepness in the voice so that the notes are powerful and resonant. This Gharana pays special attention to ragas like Megh and Darbarikanada. In the Alap, the shape of the raga is broadly outlined through key phrases and structures, rather than in a note by note manner. The Bandish plays a very important role. The purity of the Bandish is stressed and the entire Bandish forms the central point of the performance. The use of the Meendh in order to make the presentation effective is stressed. The Agra Gharana maintains this aspect of Dhrupad by the frequent use of Meendh and Gamaks for Alapchari and shuns the use of ornaments such as Murkis. One of the most notable features of the Agra Gayaki is its Layakari and the manifestation of rhythm in all the aspects of the khayal presentation. The important singers of this Gharana are C R Vyas, S N Ratanjankar and of late, Jitendra Abhisheki, Vijay Kitchlu and Sumati Mutatkar.

Patiala: This Gharana is regarded as an offshoot of the Delhi Gharana and the famous duo ‘Allu-Fattu’, [Ali Baksh (1850 - 1920) and Fateh Ali Khan (1850 - 1909)], are usually acclaimed as the originators of this style. It was Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan (1901 - 1969), who popularized this style of singing and brought this Gharana to the public notice. This style was influenced, to a large extent, by the qualities of Bade Ghulam Ali’s voice and its wide span of three octaves. While the Patiala Gharana gives pride of place to speed in execution of Tans, the Patiala Gharana repertoire also includes slow Tans, which are akin to the Gamak. Thus, the Patiala Gharana is characterized by the use of greater rhythm play and by Layakari with the abundant use of Bols, particularly Bol-tans. As part of its aesthetic approach, this style focusses more on emotion and sensuality. This style was criticised for neglecting musical form and organization and also lacking in aesthetic balance. The ragas preferred by this Gharana are Malkauns, Bhoopali, Gunakali, Megh Malhar, etc. Ek-tal and Teen-tal are usually chosen by this Gharana. This is another Gharana, which considers Thumri singing as its forte. The major singers in this style Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Ajoy Chakravarti, Parveen Sultana and others.

Rampur-Sahaswan: The Rampur-Sahaswan Gharana can be said to have been established by Ustad Inayat Hussain Khan (1849 - 1919). There is a stress on the clarity of swara in this style and the development and elaboration of the raga is done through a stepwise progression. The characteristic features of the Rampur-Sahaswan Gayaki are that the development of the Alap adheres closely to the structure of the Bandish that is being sung and is not sung as a free exposition before the Bandish. It is presented in the form of a Bol-alap. The stress in the Alap is on developing the Bhava (mood) and the rasa (emotion) of the raga. Singing in Akar is given great importance in training and also the use of natural voice. The preferred tempo is Madhya laya (medium tempo) and the use of a very slow tempo is discouraged. This Gharana lays stress on the literary content of the Bandish. The speciality of the Rampur school lies in its Tans, which cover a much larger range and are marked by their speed of execution. These Tans, which are noticeable for their boldness and clarity, are employed to bring out the Layakari. This style is also marked by a wide variety of Tans and its repertoire consists of ragas like Bhupali-Todi, Bahaduri-Todi, Gaudsarang, Yaman, Kedar, Chhaya Nat, Bihag, etc. The main representatives of this Gharana are Ghulam Mustafa Khan, Ustad Nissar Hussain Khan and in recent times, Ustad Rashid Khan.

Mewati: The founder of Mewati Gharana was Ghagge Nazir Khan. This Gharana adopts the Sapat Tan and Merkhand in its ornamentation. This style gives importance to developing the mood of the raga through the notes forming it and its style is Bhava Pradhan. It also gives equal importance to the meaning of the text. The Gayaki regards words as important and does not believe in stretching words to make the text and rhythm synchronize. It resorts to Tans and Sargams in case the words fall short. This Gayaki also adopts Meendh as a prominent ornament. This Gharana presents semi-classical music in the form of Bhajans and there is a strong Vaishnavite influence in their style. The current exponents of this style are Sanjeev Abhyankar and Rattan Sharma, both students of Pandit Jasraj.

Bhundi Bazar Gharana: This Gharana is less known in comparison to others. The most distinctive feature of this Gharana is that their presentations of Khayals are open voice, using Akar. There is a stress on breath-control and singing of long passages in one breath is highly regarded in this Gharana. Another feature is the intricate method of Sargam singing in which permutations and combinations of a given set of notes are made to give rise to complex note and Tan patterns This Gayaki makes use of this method for the raga Badhat in order to have an extended Alap. This method also permits play with rhythms. In addition, this Gharana stresses clear note intonation and word articulation. Ornaments such as Sapat-tans, Gamak-tans are given precedence along with the use of Meendh. The important singers are Ustad Aman Ali Khan and Anjanibai Malpekar.


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