The Hindustani music system uses different musical forms like the Dhrupad, Khyal, Thumri, Dadra, Tarana and so on. Of these, the important ones are Dhrupad, Khyal and Thumri. While the Dhrupad is the most strict form in terms of grammar and presentation format, the Khyal permits more liberty. The Thumri is the most flexible compared to the other two. But what separates one form from the other? How can one identify and differentiate? Let's see in detail.

Dhrupad: The Dhrupad is considered one of the oldest forms of Hindustani vocal music. The performance of Dhrupad consists of two parts, namely, the exposition section or Alap and the fixed composition or Bandish. There are four styles of performing Dhrupad. They are Gaurahari (Gobarahara), Nauhari, Dagari and Khandari . Of these, only the Dagari style seems to exist today. Dhrupads have their basis in raga form and are set to Tal. They exist both as vocal and instrumental forms. The performances on the Bin (Vina) are now rare. The Dhrupad usually covers themes such as religion, philosophy, devotion and praise of deities, patrons, and celebration of seasons. The distinctive feature of Dhrupad is the strongly systematized arrangement of its musical parts. This emphasis extends to raga development and adherence to the grammar of the raga and meticulous exploration of rhythmic possibilities, which makes this style serious and somber with an appeal that is restricted to a relatively smaller audience. The singer starts with an Alap followed by a fixed composition which has four parts:

a) Sthayi - base or refrain
b) Antara - an intermediate section
c) Sanchari, meaning, free flow, as the singer has the liberty to sing in any register and move between these, and
d) Abhoga, the last component.

Sometimes before improvisation the words are engaged in a kind of rhythmic play known as ‘bol-banth’, in order to bring out the rhythm. The Alap or exposition broadly follows the three stages of Vilambit, Madhya and Drut (slow, medium and fast tempo respectively). Dhrupad is always accompanied by a Pakhawaj. Popular Dhrupad singers include the Dagar brothers (N Zahiruddin & F Wasifuddin Dagar) and Gundecha brothers.

Dhamar: This is similar to the Dhrupad in terms of the style of singing and raga development, except that the form is almost invariably sung to the Dhamar Tal, a cycle of 14 beats. This Tal has beats distributed irregularly and being brisk, endows the music with a rhythmic lilt. Dhamar songs pertain to Holi (the festival of colours) and the antics of Lord Krishna. This style has more of erotic content too, in addition to giving more freedom.

Khayal: This word comes from the Persian word, meaning idea, thought, conception or imagination. This form is more free and flowery when compared to the somber Dhrupad. Khayal covers diverse topics such as divine love, separation of lovers, seasons, praise of kings, patrons and the pranks of Lord Krishna. The style and presentation of singing a Khayal greatly differs from that of Dhrupad. In fact, the subtle nuances and embellishments are also different. The use of Tan in the Khayal gayaki is one of the major features that distinguishes it from Dhrupad. In addition, there is a greater use of ornamentation in the Khayal form, which uses gamaks like Sargams, Murkis, Khatkas, Kanas, Meendhs as also the gamaks found in Dhrupad. The lyrics of the Khayal or Cheez also has two sections, Sthayi and Anthara.

The performance of Khayal usually takes place in two parts. The main Bada Khayal, followed by the sub or Chhota Khayal. The Alap and the Bandish are dealt with in a variety of ways in actual performance, largely depending on the style of Khayal singing adopted by a particular school or Gharana. The main difference between the Bada Khayal and Chhota Khayal lies in the tempo or laya to which they are sung, and also in the kind of improvisation that follows the presentation of the Cheez. The Bada Khayal is sung in either slow or medium speed, while the Chhota Khayal is sung at a fast tempo.

Infact, Bada Khayals are composed to suit slower tempos and their structure can accommodate Alap and movements in medium tempo. The mood of the Bada Khayal is serious and provides the best means of elaborating the raga. The Chhota Khayal, which follows is rendered almost without a break. Although it is a separate cheez with its own text and a different tal, the Chhota Khayal is set to the same raga as the former. However, at times, the raga chosen for the Bada Khayal may not be suitable for rendering at a fast tempo. In this case, a different raga melodically close to the first one is chosen. In the case of Chhota khayal, as the development of the raga has already taken place while presenting Bada Khayal, the Cheez is presented fairly quickly and the singer gets on with the improvisation without an Alap type exposition. The Chhota Khayal is usually sung in a fast or Drut tempo, usually in Ek-tal or Teen-tal. Chhota Khayal improvisation is also characterized by frequent repetition of the first phrase of the Sthayi and the use of Tans.

Tarana: This is a vocal composition that is usually sung in a fast tempo using syllables such as na, ta, re, da, ni, odani, tanon, yalali, yalalam, etc. Sometimes, Pakhawaj bols or Sargams are also used. The difference between the Drut Khayal and Tarana lies in the text. In the Khayal, the fast type is usually a meaningful poem while in a Tarana, there is no poem as such and the emphasis is on producing rhythmic patterns with vocables. The Tarana is set to a raga and Tal. The Tal can be Teen-tal, Ek-tal, Thumra, Ada-chantal and so on and its tempo can range from Vilambit to Drut. Tarana singing requires specialization and skill in rhythmic manipulation. The late Amir Khan, Nissar Hussain Khan, Krishnarao Pandit and Kumar Gandharva were known for Tarana singing, as well. Among the present day singers, Ustad Rashid Khan, Veena Sahasrabuddhe, Padma Talwalkar and Malini Rajurkar include this form in their repertoire. The Tarana can have bols of Sitar, Pakhawaj and Mridang too, in addition to Sargams.

Tappa: This musical composition is characterized by its very quick phrases and short Tans without any elaboration. These songs are usually composed in Punjabi and were supposed to have been sung by camel drivers in the North-West, before they were adapted into classical music. The songs have an extremely short text and do not consist of sections. They, however, use the Tals employed for Khayals. These are composed only in a few ragas like Kafi, Peelu, Jhinjhoti, Gara, Barva, Manjh Khamaj and so on. The predominant rasa or emotion of these songs are romantic-erotic. This is a semi-classical form, which can be classified with Thumri. It forms a part of the Gwalior gharana repertoire. Among the present day singers, Malini Rajurkar frequently presents a Tappa as part of her concert repertoire, in the place of a Bhajan or Thumri.

Thumri: These are considered as light classical as their melodies do not strictly adhere to the raga structure and are based on less-weighty or mixed ragas. This musical form exists in both its vocal and instrumental forms, providing a light and enjoyable fare, and is frequently employed for concluding music concerts. The text of Thumris are composed mainly in Braj Bhasha (an old Indian language) and the themes are predominantly romantic, particularly focussing on the separation of lovers and the pranks of Lord Krishna as a playful lover. These texts are invariably in the female voice. Thumris are usually composed only in certain ragas which belong to a group of ragas that are closely associated with folk music and also employs Tals that are similar to those of folk rhythms. The structure of Thumri consists of a Sthayi and Antara. In this case also, the Mukhda, i.e., the portion of the first line concluding on the Sam, is the most important part of the composition.

Dadra: This is another light-classical form closely related to Thumri. Dadras are set in Dadra Tal or Kaharva Tal. Dadra pieces have a faster tempo compared to Thumri with greater emphasis on rhythm. These are light fast songs in Urdu or Braj Basha. The text in Dadra deals with more mundane topics. Dadra texts appear to be derived from folk sources.


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