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Indian Vocal Music (Gaayaki) | School of Indian Music - Sangeetalay

Indian Vocal Music (Gaayaki)

VocalIndian Vocal Music – Gaayaki

Vocal form of music is the strongest and the most dominant component of Indian music. Vocal music was considered to be a major part of Natya Shastra historically too. There are several old and new genres of Indian Vocal music such as:

Dhruvpad (Dhrupad)

Dhruvpad is the oldest style of North Indian classical music and it was very popular during the times of Tansen. Since it originated in King’s court, by nature it is either devotional or depictive of King’s glory. It is traditionally accompanied with Pakhawaj (an ancient Mridang), and has four characteristic components namely – Sthaee, Antaraa, Sanchari, Abhog. Dhruvpad is mostly sung in Chautal, Jhampa, Teevra, Brahma, Rudra and other ancient classical Taals. Taans are not used in Dhruvpad but Boltaans and tempo variations such as Dugun, Chaugun etc. are inherent.


Dhamaar is similar to Dhruvpad, but romantic in nature rather than devotional. Its form is identical to Dhruvpad but it was traditionally employed to sing stories about Lord Krishna and his romantic adventures with Gopis, especially during the festival of Holi. It is traditionally sung in Dhamaar Taal of 14 beats, hence the name. Like Dhruvpad it also has Boltaans and tempo variations such as Dugun, Chaugun etc. and needs a lot of knowledge and expertise to be sung properly. For this reason it is also known as Hori and has evolved into a lighter version which is very popular form of folk singing in North India.


Khayal means a thought or an imagination in Farsi and Urdu. Musically speaking, Khayal means an imaginative elaboration of a Raag while being within its confines. Since this form of singing originated in quiet environment of small Mehfils as opposed to King’s court, Khayals are characteristically sung softly and involve romantic compositions. Taans and Alaaps are employed frequently and abundantly in its rendition. It is sung in two basic tempos, Vilambit (slow) and Drut (fast). Those sung in slow tempo are called Bada or Vilambit Khayal and the ones sung in fast tempo are known as Drut or Chhota Khayal. Most common Taals used for singing Khayals are Teentaal, Ektaal, Jhaptaal and Adachautal.


Tarana is a form of Khayal. It only differs from Khayal in that it doesn’t have lyrics and is sung based on meaningless syllables such as Ta, Na, Da, Re, Dim etc. It is mostly sung in Madhya (middle) and Drut (fast) laya (tempo) and characteristically becomes faster and faster as the composition progresses. Taans and Boltaans are very common in Tarana.

Sargam-Geet (Swarmalika)

A composition comprising Swar (notes) of a Raag and bound in a Taal is called Sargam-Geet. Lyrics are absent and the chief objective is to become familiar with the notes of a Raag.


A descriptive song listing the properties of a Raag, such as its Vaadi, Samvadi swar, Jaati, Recital time etc., composed using the same Raag that it describes is called Lakshangeet of that Raag.


Tirvat may be considered as a version of Tarana since its form and rendition are almost identical to Tarana except that it is sung to the bols of Mridang. Since it is difficult to master, it is less popular than Tarana.


A composition that comprises all the four basics namely Khayal, Tarana, Sargam and Tirvat in same order is known as Chaturang (Chatur means four and Ang means part, thus, four parts). First part has lyrics followed by Tarana bols followed by Sargam of the Raag and the composition ends with Tirvat.


Thumari is a semi-classical form of Vocal music. It is considered semi-calssical since it does not remain loyal to one single Raag. It is a form of singing which gives prime importance to expressiveness rather than the lyrics or purity of Raag. It is also considered semi-classical since it does not use classical Taals often but rather the lighter versions such as Addha Tritaal, Keherva and Deepchandi. Its origin is considered to be in court of the famous Nawab Asifuddaula of Lucknow by a Punjabi singer named Miyan Shauri. Thumari singing is known for its variations, improvisations and experimentations with the structure of Raag in a bid to achieve the best possible expression. Probably this is why musicologists do not consider it a respectable form of singing.


Tappa is Punjab’s version of singing Khayals but with a faster tempo and more interesting Taals rather than the classical Taals. Tappa compositions are characteristically very catchy and employ a lot of short but melodious Taans. It is considered to be the fore runner to Thumari style of singing.


Hori is a light classical form of singing Dhamaar. When Dhamaar is sung in lighter Taals rather than Dhamaar itself, the resulting composition is known as Hori. This is traditionally sung during the festival of Holi and describes the celebrations of Lord Krishna. Just like Dhamaar, use of tempo variations such as Dugun and Chaugun with Boltaans is very common in Hori.


Kajari is the name given to songs sung in North India describing the rainy season. Since this season saw many brides waiting for their grooms to come back home, traditionally Kajari has also become associated with songs of separation. Its nature is romantic.


Chait is a month in Hindu calendar synonymous to March-April. Hence, the name Chaiti is given to traditional songs sung during spring in North India. This form of singing is very old and typically describes episodes from life of Lord Ram. Its lyrics are mostly Bhojpuri or Poorvi.


Dadra is a lighter and easier version of Thumari. It is mostly sung in Madhya (medium) and Drut (fast) Lay (tempo), in Taals such as Dadra, Keherva or Roopak.


Devotional songs written in pure Devnaagari language and sung predominantly in Taals of 8 beats are known as Bhajans. This Taal is so typical that it is known as Bhajan Theka. Bhajans can be composed in pure Raags or in variations or combinations of Raags. Contemporary Bhajans are sung in almost all Taals including Dadra, Roopak, Deepchandi or even Teentaal.


These are devotional songs sung in praise of Gods such as Ram and Krishna. These have typically one or two line lyrics which are sung by a group of devotees in a repetitive composition that gains tempo as it progresses. Traditionally Keertans are accompanied with percussion instruments such as Kartal, Jhaanjhar, Manjeera or even mere claps. Membranous percussion instruments such as Tabla or Dholak are optional.


Ghazals are melodious recitations of Urdu or Farsi poems. Since Ghazal singing originated from poems, lyrics are of supreme importance and the composition and its rendition are merely employed to embellish the lyrics. For this reason a good command on language is essential along with a profound understanding of music in order to sing Ghazals, so that the singer can do justice to the lyrics.


Literally, Geet means song. The term Geet is used to denote a verse in Hindi which is not Bhajan, Keertan or any other classical form of Hindi verse or poetry. The songs from movies fall into this genre. There is no hard and fast rule for composition of Geet and the composer and singer have full liberty for all kinds of improvisations and experimentations. Geet may or may not be based on a Raag. It is the lightest version of Indian Vocal music.


Qawwali is a form of spiritual singing originated by Sufis in the 12th century. Typically the Qawwali starts with simple lyrics sung in a melodious composition and as it progresses the singer or Qawwal strives to find deeper meaning of the lyrics by improvising the compositions. When sung perfectly the singer and the listener both go in trance. Its nature has been devotional traditionally but contemporary Qawwalis are often romantic.

Lok-Sangeet (Folk Music)

Rural and traditional communities throughout India have evolved with their own regional customs and festivals which are celebrated with Folk music unique to that community. It is almost impossible to identify all kinds of Folk music in India however, some of the more popular specimens are Banna, Virha, Chandaini, Sohar, Jhoomar, Savani, Lavani, Barahmasi, Maand, Gauri, Janeoo, Bhaat, Pandvani, Suaa etc.