Khaas Baat : A Publication for Indian Americans in Florida

The Composition – PART I

Lavanya Dinesh

By Lavanya Dinesh

When we attend a concert featuring North Indian classical (Hindustani) music, we hear different ragas or melodies. But we become aware that the musician is singing different ‘Prakaars’ or genres within the given timeframe. Words such as khayal, taraana, thumri, bhajan, dadra, ghazal, etc., are thrown around. The following is an overview of a few of these kinds of compositions.

1. Dhrupad – Dhrupad or the dhruvapad is one of the most ancient forms of ‘gayaki’ (musical rendition). It is believed to have originated thousands of years ago in the Vedic period. This type of composition and style of singing was established with clarity and nuance by Raja Maan Singh of Gwalior nearly 700 years ago. Dhrupad is usually sung in slow pace, and is set to taalas (rhythmic cycles) like Chautala – a resonant pattern of 12 beats.

When we listen to an artist rendering the Dhrupad, we are struck by its weightiness and depth, as also its forceful yet melodious nature. Due to its intensity, Dhrupad has historically been the domain of male musicians. The predominant theme of the Dhrupad is an unflinching devotion to the Supreme Being. The rasas or emotions employed here are veer (bravery and courage), shaanti (peacefulness) and occasionally shringaar (romanticism). It is technically divided into four parts – the Sthai, Anthara, Sanchari and Abhog.

The gravitas of this type of composition also comes with improvisations involving complex mathematical calculations while singing the lyrics usually in Sanskrit and Hindi. The most commonly found Dhrupad recordings are from Dagar brothers. Currently, the Dhrupad baton has been successfully passed onto the Gundecha brothers, who enthrall audiences with their power-packed performances.

2. Khayal – It is a word derived from the Urdu language denoting a meaningful thought process. The Khayal is the most popular form of composition performed at concerts. This genre is a fairly recent addition to the ancient Indian music tradition, with a given history of only roughly 300 years. A large portion of the Khayal repertoire is attributed to two composers – Sadarang and Adarang who flourished in the court of king Mohammed Shah.

A Khayal can either be Bada Khyal – sung in slow pace (Vilambit laya) usually set to rhythmic cycles like teentaal (16 beats), ektaal (12 beats) and ada chautaal (14 beats), or Chota Khayal – a composition sung in fast pace (Dhrut laya) usually set to teentaal (16), jhaptaal (10) and ektaal (12). The khayal uses lyrics in Hindi, Sankrit, Urdu and Punjabi. The poetic content itself is limited to 4 or 8 lines, including the chorus (Sthayi) and the stanza (Antara).

The themes are basically those of Bhakti (devotion) or Shringaara (romanticism). But it is up to the improvisational prowess of an able performer to bring out its true colors in whatever raaga or melody it is composed in. The creativity, technical and melodic genius of Khayal rendition can be heard in vintage recordings of legendary maestros of yesteryear such as Pandit D.V. Paluskar, Pandit Omkarnath Thakur, Kesarbai Kelkar, Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Ustad Amir Khan, Nazakat Ali – Salamat Ali and many others. Present-day favorites of mine include late Pandit Kumar Gandharv, Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, Pandit Jasraj, Kishori Amonkar, Malini Rajurkar, Ulhas Kashalkar and Rashid Khan.

3. Taraana – It is a kind of composition that uses bols (words) such as nom, tom, yalali, dhire, dhani, retha, nadir and so on. These words do not actually mean anything; they are used in place of poetic lyrics. The phrases are tongue-twisters that test the agility of the performer’s voice and rhythmic excellence. A Taraana is typically sung after a Khayal or by itself as a lighter piece in the latter part of any recital.

It is interesting to note that the Taraana originated in the court of Emperor Allauddin Khilgi nearly 800 years ago as a mode of musical education for foreigners who were not familiar with Indian languages – hence the use of nonsensical words. My favorite picks for listening to taraanas are offerings of vocalists Veena Sahasrabuddhe, Ulhas Kashalkar and Rashid Khan.

To be continued …

Lavanya Dinesh is an accomplished performer and teacher of Hindustani classical vocal music and resides in Tampa. Dinesh, who has three album releases to her credit, also has worked as a music critic and feature writer for Times of India and Deccan Herald. She can be reached at lavanya@lavanyadinesh.com




Varaha Avatar is the third incarnation of Lord Vishnu. As Varaha Avatara, Lord Vishnu rescued Goddess Earth or Bhoomi Devi from sinking to the bottom of the ocean. A demon named Hiranyaksha starts destruction by pushing Goddess Earth into the sea. He steals the Holy Scriptures from Brahma while he is sleeping. Maha Vishnu incarnates himself as a boar and lifts goddess Earth out of the ocean using his two tusks. He then kills Hiranyaksha and retrieves the Vedas from him, thus bringing peace on Earth.

TheTirumala Venkateswara Temple in Andhra Pradesh near Tirupathi is dedicated to Lord Vishnu, where the Lord is in the form of Varaha Avatar. 

Narasimha Avatar is the fourth incarnation of Lord Vishnu. In Tamil language, Nara means man and simham means lion. As per legend, Lord Vishnu took this avatar to save Prahlada, his young devotee from his cruel father king Hiranyakashyapu. Lord Vishnu assumed the form of half-man, half-lion, as Hiranyakashyapu had been bestowed with a boon that he could not be killed by either man or beast, his end would come neither during day or at night and he could not be killed either inside or outside a building. Keeping these conditions in mind, Vishnu took this avataram and killed the cruel king.

There are several temples in the south dedicated to the Narasimha form of Lord Vishnu.

Vamana Avatar is the fifth incarnation of Lord Vishnu. As the story goes, King Mahabali, king of demons and grandson of Prahlada, was dominating and proud. He always showed off his wealth and claimed that he could fulfill all the desires of the people who came to him. As Vamana, Vishnu’s fifth incarnation, the Lord takes the form of a little boy and crushes the pride and ego of the Mahabali. The king had prided himself to be better than the gods and able to bestow any gifts or wishes requested of him. Vishnu, as a little boy, requests for space enough for three steps of his foot. However, one step covers the entire world and the other covers the skies. With no more space for the third step, Bali realizes his foolishness and sees that this little boy is none other than the great Lord Vishnu. Bali offers his head, which Vishnu steps on to symbolize the crushing of Mahabali’s ego.

Sri Vamanar Temple in Kanchipuram is one of the Vishnu temples where God is in the form of Vamana Avatar. It is located near to Sri Kamachi Amman Temple.

To be continued . . .

Jyothi Venkatachalam, director of Abhyasa School Of Dance, Club Tampa Palms, offers classes in Bharat Natyam, traditional folk dances, Indian percussion instruments (Mridangam, Dholak, Ghatam, Kanjira, Morsingh and Konakol). She can be reached at (813) 977-9039 or (813) 404-7899 or via e-mail at jvenkata@yahoo.com

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