India's Vocal Genres


By: Ryan Burns

This web page will explore the many different forms of Indian vocal music. We will start our journey by exploring Bhajan music. We will then turn our attention to other forms of Indian vocal music including: Indian Film Songs, Tarana, Swarmalika, Lakshangeet, Dadra, Indian Folk Music, Gazal, Khyal, and finally concluding with Shabad. All of these different vocal styles are unique in their own way. Let us now start our exciting journey into the world of Indian vocal music.


Indian Bhajan Music

By Ryan Burns

History of Indian Bhajan

We will start our exploration of the many different forms of Indian vocal music with a form of music known as the Indian Bhajan. The origin of India’s Bhajan genre can be traced back many years to the hymns found in the “Sama Veda,” which is the third Veda in the Hindu religious scriptures. In fact, Sama Veda literally means, “Veda of Holy Songs” (Griffith). This literal meaning describes the Bhajan genre perfectly. Bhajan music is a form of Indian vocal music that is used mainly for religious purposes. Bhajan songs are essentially religious praise songs that were written between the 14th and 17th centuries (Courtney). Even though these songs date back many centuries, they still play a major role in India’s society today.

Bhajan music not only plays an important role in India’s society today, but it also played an important role during India’s Bhakti movement. This movement took place during a time when Islamic leaders in northern India were trying to convert the nation of India from Hinduism to Islam. India’s Hindu saints responded to this threat by preaching that it wasn’t necessary for their followers to follow all of the standard Hindu rituals. This caused a lot of people to continue their following of Hinduism since they were no longer required to participate in the traditional Hindu rituals, which were often seen as burdensome and stressful. These saints preached that the most important thing for the people to do was simply “express their overwhelming love for God" (Schouten). It didn’t matter how the people did this as long as they did it. This is exactly how Bhajan music first came into existence. Since Bhajan music doesn’t have a fixed form, it allowed the people of India to simply sing praises to the gods however they wanted. Bhajan music gave the people of India the ability to express their religious beliefs through singing about whatever they felt was most important in their spiritual life at that time. This could be anything from traditional Hindu scriptures, to songs about what they believed the Hindu gods looked like.

Bhajan Style

As stated earlier, Bhajan music doesn’t have a fixed form. Instead, Bhajan music consists of a wide range of musical styles. These styles include, but are not limited to: musical chant, classical devotional songs, high quality poetic music, and more recently low quality poetic music known as the dhun. This varying range of musical styles is due to the fact that anyone who wants to do so can compose and perform a Bhajan piece. Although Bhajan’s don’t have a fixed form, they do share many similarities among them. They all have a fixed theme of religion, and they all have secondary themes about different aspects of that religion.

Common Instuments Used in Bhajans

Although the most important aspect of the Bhajan genre is its vocals, Bhajan’s are often accompanied by many different types of instruments as well. The most common instruments that are found in Bhajan’s are: the Kartal, Ektar, Dotar, Harmonium, Manjira, Sitar, Dholak, Dholki, Table, Surpeti, and the Tanpura. The main function of the Tanpura, Surpeti, and Elktar in Bhajan music is to provide the drone. However, the Elktar is also used to provide rhythmic support along with the Kartal and the Dotar. The Harmonium often plays the melody, while the Tabla keeps the beat.

dholak.jpg Dholak dholki.jpg Dholki dotar.jpg Dotar ektar.jpg Ektar
harmonium.jpg Harmonium kartal.jpg Kartal manjira.jpg Manjira sitar.jpg Sitar
surpeti.jpg Surpeti tabla.jpg Tabla tanpura.jpg Tanpura

Famous Performers of Bhajan Music

With a basic understanding of what Bhajan music, it is now time to explore some of the most famous Bhajan musicians and their songs. Without a doubt, the four most well known Bhajan musical saints are Kabir, Mirabai, Surdas, and Tulsidas. These are the four musicians that are often thought about when classic Bhajan music is mentioned. The most famous works of these four musicians include: “Chadaria Jhini Re Jhini” by Kabir, “Mane Chakar Rakho Ji” by Mirabai, “Shri Ramachandra Kripalu Bhaju Man” by Tulsidas, and “Min Nahi Makhan Khayo” by Surdas.

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surdas.jpg tulsidas.jpg

*Pictures from left to right, top to bottom: Kabir, Mirabai, Surdas, and Tulsidas

Bhajan CD's

  • Veena Sahasrabuddhe
  • Gauranga Bhajan by: His Divine Grace, A.C. Bhaktivedanta, and Swami Prabhupada
  • Prabhupada Bhajans
  • Bhajan, Songs of Devotion by: Ratula Sen
  • The Best Loved Krishna Bhajans by: Lata Mangeshkar, Jagjit Singh, Anup Jalota, and Manna Dey

Video of “Min Nahi Makhan Khayo” by Surdas

Indian Film Songs

By: Kaleb West


Summary Description:

The Indian film song is a style of music that is comparable to Western Pop in many ways. It originated with the birth of cinema with sound. In the early years of the Indian film industry, most of the pictures made were musicals. Interestingly enough, these songs developed over the years into their own genre. In fact, many popular film songs have never been in a movie. Today the Indian film song can be heard in Indian stores and restaurants across the world, Bollywood style movies, and the streets of India. The picture above shows a typical scene from an Indian film in which Indian Film music would be performed.


The genre’s roots are often connected to the first Indian film made with sound: “Alam Ara.” The film brought in a new era for the movie industry and music. The growing Indian film industry began to utilize music extensively, averaging ten songs per film in the first decade alone. The actresses and actors during this period sang and performed their own songs.

Throughout the next decade, things in the industry began to change. The originality and creativity found in the earlier years, turned to formula. “Masaala” films or formula films became the norm. While the creativity during this period may have suffered, two things became solidly grounded in Indian film and film music.

The formula films allowed the solidification of a musical form. The Indian Film Song became the recognizable song we know today. Playback singers became the other theme in Indian film. Many actors, beginning in this period, stopped performing and recording their own songs. Other singers were hired to do this for them – the playback singer.

During the 1960’s and 1970’s relative stability was achieved. The biggest changes during this time was the slow, but sure improvement of recording technique. Throughout the 80’s and 90’s the film industry in India became slightly more shaky as a result of satellite and cable networks, internet, and overproduction of film in earlier times. Ironically, it seems that the entrance of satellite television and the internet into the Indian film and music world popularized the songs and the style internationally. According to Kaushik Bhaumik, a contributor to the History Compass, masaala films still dominate the industry but have allowed the film genre and the songs to gain global recognition.

Today film music is found in many Indian films, but also on popular radio, television, and on the web, especially content catering to native Hindi speakers and family members abroad. While film music originally referred to music found in films, there are many artists today, who have never even had a song in a film. Film music is the equivalent of Western Top 40 or pop music, and is largest section of the Indian music industry.

Musical Characteristics:

Indian Film music is not considered classical, nor is it considered folk. It has a connotation related to pop music. In fact, it has a large western influence. The music utilizes both western instruments and ideas, mixed with traditional Indian instruments and sounds as well. The average Indian Film song can have many forms, but does share with the western pop forms. A common pattern found in the songs is a verse followed by a chorus, then a second verse, chorus, bridge, chorus.

Popular Instruments:

Indian Instruments Western Instruments
Bansuri Guitar
Daf Electronic Drums
Khol or Mridang Synthesizers
Tabla Tarang

Popular Artists-

While many composers have penned songs for films, and thousands of musicians have performed them, these are some of the popular artists: Asha Bhosle, Udit Narayan, Alisha Chinai, Shaan, Madhushree, Shreya Ghoshal, Nihira Joshi, Kavita Krishnamurthy, and Sonu Nigam.

Popular Songs

Below are a few popular Indian Film songs, some from movies and some not.

Tarana Genre

By: Ross Hurley


The exact ancestry of Tarana music like many other forms of music in the past has been lost in the sands of time. Legend has it that Amir Khurso was to perform a song at a performance but could not remember the text but only the music, so he used to Tabla, Sitar and Mridang to make the beat and poured meaningless syllables from his tongue. This is a funny story because the Tabla and Sitar were not around and the time. Another tale of the origin of Tarana lies within a competition between Amir Khurso and Gopal Nayak. Amir Khurso was a well known musician. Nayak saw an opportunity to get a sucker punch and sang a song very fast in Sakskrit, a language that Khurso did not know. Khurso repeated the song note for note but made up words in his native Persian in lieu of the Sanskrit. Though meaningless, the sound created was beautiful, he won the competition and Tarana was born.

Meaning of genre to local people

Many people are mistaken to believe that the sounds and tones put together are meaningless, but locals may disagree and say that they come from Persian ancestry. In fact, in 1954, Pakistan adopted a new national anthem that is called Quami Tarana which literally translates to National Anthem. It sounds nothing similar to other Tarana, but is sung in Urdu – the language spoken in Pakistan of course – with Persian dialect.

What makes the genre unique

This genre is unique because the songs are comprised of a conglomeration of syllables and tones that are jumbled together with no distinct meaning. Locals can understand some of the mish mosh but it is very hard to distinguish for outsiders.

Popular Instruments


Popular Artist

Begum Parveen Sultana
Information about artists – Begum Parveen Sultana is regarded as the queen of classical Indian music to many who hear her godlike voice.


Video of popular artist Begum Parveen Sultana singing Raag Hansadvani.

DARBARI - Here is a video of a popular song called Pandit Satyasheel Deshpande by Darbari from a performance in Delhi in 2006.

Ustad Sarahang
Tarana Amir Khusrow

Popular Songs

From Begum Parveen Sultana’s song: Raag Hansadvani
Tarana, Tana Deray na, Tun mean body, Dur mean Door ,AA mean come. Rough transalation= Come inside me, inviting the supreme being inside your soul….. its devotional spiritual vocal and very deep

Aaoge Jab Tum Saajana (Jab We Met)
Ustad Rashid

Malkauns Tarana in Tintal

Bhairavi Tarana - Neela Bhagwat

Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan - Tarana in Jaunpuri


By Wes Barfield

Swarmalika is a style of singing where the vocalist sings the sargam of the song. The sargam is derived from Sa, Re, Ga, and Ma which are the first musical notes of the Indian gamut. The note-for-note relationship between the lyrics and the melody is very powerful in delineating the swar. The swar is the seven notes of the Indian musical scale and can be seen in the following table.

Shadj Sa Do
Rishabh Re Re
Gandhara Ga Mi
Madhyam Ma Fa
Pancham Pa So
Dhaivat Dha La
Nishad Ni Ti

The first two columns show the Indian swar and the third column are its western equivalents. These notes are assembled to make up the musical scale which is referred to as being the “Saptak. “ The word Saptak in Sanskrit means "containing seven" and is derived from the Sanskrit word sapta which means seven. In Hindustani sangeet (North Indian system) the movable notes have two forms. Therefore, the notes; rishabh (Re), gandhara (Ga), dhaivat (Dha), and nishad (Ni) may be either natural (shuddha) or flattened (komal). Madhyam (Ma) is unique in that its alternate form is augmented or sharp. This note is called tivra ma. In all actuality there are 12 swar. This extended concept is shown in the table below. These are roughly comparable to the keys on a harmonium, or piano (chromatic scale).

Indian Swara Hindustani
Shadj Sa
Komal Rishabh Re
Shuddha Rishabh Re
Komal Handhara Ga
Shuddha Gandhara Ga
Shuddha Madhyam Ma
Tivra Madhyam M'a
Pancham Pa
Komal Dhaivat Dha
Shuddha Dhaivat Dha
Komal Nishad Ni
Shuddha Nishad Ni

In Carnatic sangeet (the south Indian system) is a bit more complex. In the South the movable notes Re (Ri), Ga, Dha, and Ni may occupy one of three positions. Ma however still only occupies two positions, either natural or augmented position (sharp). This is shown in the table below.

Indian Swara (Carnatic)
1st Rishabh
2nd Rishabh/ 1st Gandhara
3rd Rishabh/ 2nd Handhara
3rd Gandhara
1st Madhyam
2nd Madhyam
1st Dhaivat
2nd Dhaivat/ 1st Nishad
3rd Dhaivat/ 2nd Nishad
3rd Nishad

Swarmalika is found to be very important to students who are learning about North Indian music. This is because of the mnemonic for remembering the rags. The rag is the most important concept that any student of Indian music should understand. The Hindi/Urdu word "rag" is derived from the Sanskrit "raga" which means "colour, or passion.” It is linked to the Sanskrit word "ranj" which means "to colour.” Therefore rag may be thought of as an acoustic method of colouring the mind of the listener with an emotion. Swarmalika is not considered to be a full performance piece, but more of a warm up for beginners.


Lakshan Geet

By: Zack Lightweis

Lakshan geet, also referred to as (lakshangit) is a type of teaching technique used in India typically for vocal instruction. It is a style of singing pertaining to India, where the songs lyrics in fact characterize the rags featured in that song. So in essence, once the lakshan geet is committed to an individuals memory he/she will in return never forget the rag. To truly understand the meaning behind the vocal instruction referred to as lakshan geet, one must first understand the true concepts and fundamentals of “rag”. (Harmonium)

The rag, or raga, is a modal scale and one of the melodic formulas of Hindu music having the melodic shape, rhythm, and ornamentation prescribed by tradition. (Harmonium) In Indian music much impact is placed on the important concept of rag. The actual word ‘rag’ is derived from the Sanskrit word “ranj” which later became “raga”. “Ranj” or “Raga” means “color, or passion”. This is believed in music to represent an acoustic method of painting an emotion in to the mind of the listener. Rag is a musical term used in the Indian music genre, but cannot be described as tune, melody, scale, mode, tone, or any other music concept for which an English word exists. Therefore, rag is rather a combination of different Indian musical concepts and Indian characteristics, such as swar, mela, jati, arohana/avarohana, vadi, samavadi, pakad, and swarup, to name a few. (Jairazbhoy) The ‘swar’ are the notes of the rag, and are very similar to the English concept ‘solfege’ which is basically sight singing. In America we use the seven syllables (do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, ti), but in India they use the seven syllables (sa, re, ga, ma, pa, dha, ni). Mela is the modal structure of the song. Jati is the number of notes used in the rag. Arohana/Avarohana describes the ascending and descending structure. Vadi and samavadi is a characteristic that identifies the important notes. Finally, the pakad or swarup characterize the movements of the rag. Understanding the fundamentals of rag is key to understanding the lakshan geet vocal instructuon technique. (Harmonium)

The individual who deserves credit for explaining ragas and making ragas understandable was the late Pandit Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande, who also created the original Lakshan Geet composition. Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande was an Indian musicologist who is accountable for writing the first modern treatise on Hindustani Classical Music. He is also responsible for reclassifying the distinction of ragas, from Raga (male), Ragini (female), and Putra (children) into the currently used ‘Thaat’ system. This system is what helped Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande eventually create his lakshan geet teaching method. With the lakshan geet method and other Indian genre teachings, Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande developed schools and colleges in India for systematic teaching of Hindustani music. In 1926 Bhatkhande prepared the course material for Maris College of Music in Lucknow, India. After his death, the college is renamed ‘Bhatkhande College of Hindustani Music’ which is now called ‘Bhatkhande Musical Institute’. Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande made a landmark achievement when he prepared Hindustani course materials and started up music schooling facilities. Lakshan Geet is the Indian teaching technique used for vocal instruction of ragas. And without the late great Pandit Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande there would be none of this important focus placed on the education of music in India.

Example of Indian musician performing a Lakshan Geet.

Dadra and Thumri Genres

By: Alyssa Kosh

Dadra Genre

Dadra is a form of music most commonly found in Hindustani music, which encompasses a light classical form to the sounds. It enables the artist to create music in a loose, free scene. Dadra has numerous arrangements of tempos. It can be heard from moderately slow to extremely fast speeds. It is an extremely popular genre of music for many reasons. Such as, it is easily performed in three and six beats and is very symmetrical and poses no great challenge to the musician. Also it is extremely common in the Indian taxonomy of tals.

The Dadra tal is a form of music which is commonly found in qawwalis, film songs, bhajans, gazals, and folk music throughout India. Is a lighter form of music comprised of three or six beat tals.

There are many instruments that accompany the Dadra which each possesses different rhythms, styles and tones. The eclectic sounds of each of the instruments all combined form lavish sounds that make the Dadra individual.

TABLA: This instrument a pair of drums. It consists of a small right hand drum called dayan and a larger metal one called bayan.

SARANGI: This instrument has three to four main strings and a number of sympathetic strings as well. Surprisingly the strings float in the air because the instrument has no frets or fingerboard Although it is extremely difficult to play, the popularity of this instrument is tremendous.

HARMONIUM: This instrument has numerous parts to it; the bellows, body, handles, key, cover, stops (main), and stops (drone). There are two types of sitting positions: the standard sitting position and the Qawwali sitting position.

TANPURA: This instrument is known for its very rich sound. There are three main styles that accompany the tanpura; the Miraj style, the Tanjore style and the small instrumental version sometimes called tamburi.

s_tabla.jpg Kosh_sarangi.jpg harmonium.jpg tanpura.jpg

Video of artists in the Dadra Genre:

Sudeep Banerjee sings the famous dadra of begum akhtar " cha rahi kali ghata "in his own inimitable style

barsan laagii saawan bundiya - ghulam ali

This is a bhajan (Hindu devotional song), called "Tu Dayal Deen". It is written by the 16th century saint Tulsidas and is sung by Chandrakantha Courtney

Thurmi Genre:


During the 19th century the thurmi genre became popular throughout India and the rest of the world. At that time it used to be a song sung by courtesans accompanied by dance. It encompasses the genre of Dadra but in a much deeper way. The language includes a dialect of hindi called Brij Bhasha. The meaning behind this genre has more history and is more known throughout the world. The texts revolved around a girls love for Krishna and have some symbolism of romance and devotion in the words.

There a different forms of thurmi each with different styles are meanings. The 8 beat Kahrava tal, the dipchandi of 14 beats, the jat of 16 beats, or the addha tal of 16 beats are the most common form used in thurmi.

The noted artists of the Thurmi include Gauhar Jan, Begum Akhtar, Shobha Gurtu, Noor Jehan and Prabha Atre. Shobha Gurtu is known as the thurmi queen.

The lyrics in thurmi genre are the most exemplified parts of the music. Although it is sometimes difficult to comprehend, the lyrics are astonishingly meaningful to the artist. Most lyrics are geared towards emotions such as romance, violence, separation. These lyrics are the lyrics of a thumri composed by the medieval poet Lalan, They explain how its tunes are driving Radha mad.

ab naa baajaao shyaam enough! now stop
ba.nsuriyaa naa baajaao shyaam playing on your flute, dark lover
(e rii) vyaakul bhaayii brajabaalaa this braja girl's heart is aflutter,
ba.nsuriyaa naa baajaao shyaam I ask you, please stop playing
nit merii galii.n me.n aayo naa don't come to my lane all the time
aayo to chhup ke rahiyo and if you have to come,
ba.nsii kii terii sunaaiyo naa just don't play your flute
ba.nsii jo sunaaiyo to suniye I am warning you now:
phir shyaam hame.n aapnaaiyo naa if you have to play that flute
aapnaaiyo to suniye laalan then you'll have to be mine you won't be able to go elsewhere
phir chhoDo hame.n kahii.n jaaiyo naa so will you please stop playing
ba.nsuriyaa naa baajaao shyaam now?

Beautiful rendition in raag Sindh-Bhairavi by Pt Ajay Pohankar.

Indian Folk Music

By: Justin Alperstein


History of Indian Folk Music

India’s folk music has dated back since the fifth century. India has many various type of Indian folk music including: bhangra,lavani, dandiya, Rajasthani, and Bauls. Each one of these genres of Indian folk music is played from different areas of the country. Each area or tribe enhances the music adding their own personal taste of how they think the music should sound like. “Tribal and folk music is not taught in the same way that Indian classical music is taught”( Since there is not a proper way to teach folk music this makes it an unusual genre of music, allowing the artist to create any type of music he or she desires. Throughout time “Folk Music” has been played in many different ways. In the 17th century the music would tend to be played only for festivals or sorrowful events. On the other hand today the “Folk Music” is heard not only at these types of events but is played on a regular basis. Since “Folk Music” is played so much throughout India it is one of the most common genres you will hear played in the country.

Lavani is one of the most famous types of “Indian Folk Music.” Lavani music has been noted to be in existence since the mid 1500’s but was not a popular genre of Indian music until the late 1700’s. Originally, the Lavani genre was used as a self-confidence tool for the soldiers in the army so they could feel like their hard work is paying off. Today Lavani music is being used in a very different way. Typically today if you hear the genre of Lavani music, it will be used in an erotic or sexual way. It is played in many “Gentlemen’s Clubs” around India. The reason that Lavani is used today in an erotic way is because it was one of the first types of Indian music that incorporated both dance and music all at once.


There are many various types of Indian influenced instruments that are used to play “Indian Folk Music.” Since India does not have all the resources we have in the United States, many of their instruments are used from common goods, which are accessible to the Indian musicians. Another very interesting thing about “Indian Folk Music” instruments is that most of the time the artist creates his or her instruments. This not only allows the artist to create an instrument he wants to play, but also allows the artist the have it sound the way he or she would like. This is another great example why “Indian Folk Music” is different no matter where you go throughout India. Some instruments typically used to play Indian Folk music include but are not limited to: Charchari, Daf, Ektar,Madar, Shankh, timki, and most importantly the Dholak.

“The Dholak is a cylindrical wooden drum” (Barthakur 99). The average size of a typical Dholak is around 56 cm long. The Dholak is made with strings on the sides of them that if tightened or loosened allow the Dholak to sound very different. In India the Dhoak has rope, but the rope can be from anything that has rope-like features. Since the Dhoak is one of the most commonly used instruments when talking about Indian Folk Music, there are many great artist in any village you would go to. Another great feature about the Dholak is that it’s not played with drumsticks but rather the musician plays it by hand. The Dholak is one of the most important instruments when it comes to Indian folk music. Since there are so many variations of its appearances and sounds, there is not one man made Dholak that is alike.

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Since there are many different Indian villages there are many artist and tribes out there that play “Indian Folk Music.” Ferdousi Rahman is one of the most well know “Indian Folk Music” artist. Ferdousi is one of the few women that have made it big in the genre of “Indian Folk Music”. When it comes to “Indian Folk Music” artist, they can range from either being a one-man band, or even an entire tribe all coming together to form a tribal band.

Gazal Genre

By: Martine Barjon



Many people are not familiar with Ghazal, but it is basically what Americans could relate to as romantic lyrics in a song. As soon as the words are sung with the melodic rhythms, it captivates people into wanting to hear more. A beautiful melodic form of poetry that is composed with five to twelve couplets rather than simply being labeled music, Ghazal brings the romance to the Indian and Pakistan. This genre was developed in South Asia in the 12th century but flourished in the 14th century thanks to the Arabic verse. (Schimmel, Shiloah, Landau, and Grabar) It was not until this poetic style of writing transcended into musical form in the 18th century. This style usually has a reoccurring rhyme and theme of love, whether it was about heart aches, lost love, forbidden love, or even unacquainted love. The first couplet of the ghazal is the most important one; this is called the “malta” (Academy of American Poets). This is so important because it is an introduction to the ghazal and basically allows people to have an idea of what to expect. It may be hard for people to adjust from the poetic sense and transforming it into a song, but in theory, that is the concept of music.

Popular Artists:

A popular ghazal singer is Shafgat Ali Khan. He started doing ghazal at the ripe age of seven. While most were barely able to tie their shoes, Shafgat was starting to become a master of the craft of ghazal. He appeared and performed at a music festival in which he acquired a lot of attention because of the talent that he had portrayed. This was when he realixed that music would become his destiny one day.

Another popular ghazal artist is Talat Mahmood. Not only was he prosperous as a singer, but he was also a successful film actor. This multi-talented man demands attention when he performs. Talat was raised listening to famous performers and he aspired to be like them. He got into music at an early age but his career started to flourish when he was sixteen years old.

Other ghazal artists include:
Kishore Kumar
Lata Mangeshkar
Mehdi Hassan
Sonu Nigam
Kumar Sanu
Udit Narayan

Popular Instruments:

The main instruments used for ghazal music today are familiar instruments such as clarinets, flutes, and guitars and also some foreign instruments that many may or may have not heard before are those such as mandolins, Japanese drum, accordion, and ukulele. The original ghazal instruments included the Indian sitar, tabla and harmonium, intruments that we have grown familiar within the World Cultures chapter readings.

Popular songs:

Talat has written over eight hundred songs. One of his albums, entitled Evergreen Hits of Talat Mahmood can be heard online through this link:


By: Melissa Klassman

Music helps individuals express their feelings. It can help one establish self-image and inspire society to flourish to its ultimate potential. Music comes from the soul and each note has something special to it. Kheyal is an Indian style music that transforms into “idea” and “imagination”(Khyal) which is the foundation of all music. Kheyal is the modern genre of classical music in North India. It has an extraordinary place in the Indian culture because it is innovative and symbolizes the traditions Indians live by.

To start, Kheyal has interesting qualities, which is based on pieces of short songs. The two most important sections are called Vilambit and Drut. The Vilambit section is very slow and usually played in 12 beats. The structure of the beats is called Ekatal, which is a clapping arrangement. Ekatal is divided into 6 slow beats: clap, wave, clap, wave, clap, clap. The second section Drut has a fast tempo and typically contains 16 beats. The arrangement of the beats sound like clap, 2, 3,4, clap, 2, 3, 4, wave, 2, 3, 4, clap, 2, 3, 4. Though the songs are short, and the performance is long, the lyrics sometime will lose some of their importance. So, then performers improvise to the beats of the songs and make new melodies, with different material, and scale degrees.

Kheyal is an important factor to the development of Northern Indian Classical music. Before Kheyal the common styles of singing were dhrupad and dhammar. Dhrupad is the oldest style in Northern music and is know to be masculine and difficult for the average person to appreciate. Dhammar is also an old style but is romantic. Many more people can relate to this style of music.

Another influence in the development of Kheyal is the lyrics. The Indian vocal form was developed through sexual segregation. In the time Kheyal started, men and women were kept in separate places in royal palaces. The men would sing in the royal courts, which were big and had no sound systems, and would give the effect of dhrupad because it was loud and manly. The men had to sing loud because they were in a large building and surrounded by a crazy environment. Kheyal was also sung in the women’s smaller quarter and it was not necessary to sing loud. The women would represent the Dhammar of being slow and delicate. The combination of the fast and slow music of dhmmar and dhrupad would result in Kheyal. People started to hear the music outside of the royal courts and the style of Kheyal became popular.

A typical Kheyal performance uses two songs and is at least a half hour long. The music has transformed into a faster tempo for most of the song. The singer uses the arrangement of improvisation, fast/slow tunes, and instruments. The most common instruments are the harmonium, sarangi, violen, tabla, and drone. The variation of the different sounds makes the audience feel the emotion from the performers.

In retrospect, Kheyal has special meaning to the Indian culture. It can be tracked back thousands of years and have immense amounts of meaning throughout the beats. Every song has its own particular mood, and plays an important role in expressing oneself. Kheyal is one of the highest forms of music existing because it is enriched with culture. Anyone who listens is fortunate to hear this heritage.


By: Morgan Goldberg



The genre of Shabad is known to be devotional music. “Some of the major earlier forms of Indian Classical music like Prabandh Sangeet and Dhruvapada were all devotional in character” (Encyclopedia of India). Slowly after, other forms of devotional music such as Shabad came into the picture. Shabad is a genre of Indian vocal music that is general sung on religious occasions. In comparison to the Indian culture it is evident that in the culture of Judaism, music performed during religious occasions contains similar beats and tones. Even though the backgrounds are completely different, religious ceremonies seem correlative. The genre of Shabad was officially created around the 17th century; Guru Nanak and his follower Mardana created the genre of shabad and made it popular. The Guru and his sidekick Mardana, traveled around the country of India to spread the message of love through the Shabad genre of music (Encyclopedia of India). The meaning of Shabad literally translates to “word” (Devotional songs). “As such it represents the verbal description of the nature of God. This is generally from the Guru Granth Sahib, which is the holy book of the sikhs. The shabad is also referred to as “Gurbani” which literally means “Message of the Teacher”” (Devotional songs). Today, there are three distinct styles that exist in the shabad singing. There are certain supplements that go along with the Shabad genre of music. “Shabads are sung to the accompaniment of the harmonium, tabla and often the dholak and chimta. In the last few years there has been a rising “Gurmat Sangeet” movement. It represents an artistic “return to the roots”. The movement has helped to increase the chances of going back to the original ways of the Shabad music.

Popular instruments used in the Genre

There are many instruments that are popular within the Shabad genre of music. These instruments contribute the making of the music. Some of the instruments that are used frequently in the music are the chimpta, dholak, harmonium, tabla, and santur. The chimpta is two tongs that when pressed closely together, they make a jingle sound (Chimpta). The Dholak is a drum looking instrument that makes low-pitched tones (Dholak). An instrument like the harmonium usually plays the melody of the entire song, while other instruments keep the pitch and the beat. This instrument is not native to India. “It is a European instrument which was imported in the 19th century. It is a reed organ with hand pumped bellows” (Harmonium). The tabla instrument keeps the beat throughout the songs played. There are two types of santurs, Indian and Persian. The Indian one is box-like, while the Persian one is much wider (Santur).

s_chimpta.jpg Chimpta s_dholak.jpg Dholak s_harmonium.jpg Harmonium
s_santur.jpg Santur s_tabla.jpg Tabla

Popular artists that perform the Genre

There are many performers for each genre of music. One popular artist in particular that performs the genre of Shabad music is Dya Singh. “Dya Singh is the master musical interpreter of the traditional sikh hymns (shabad) with diverse influences from around the globe”. He became successful and turned fully professional in 1995, he also toured to the United States, England, Canada, Singapore, Germany, Ireland, Japan, Thailand, Malaysia, Dubai, and Kenya (Singh).

Popular songs

Bhai by: Dya Singh
Aavo by: Dya Singh

Popular music videos



Arati Ankakikar Tikekar- Raga Ahir Bhairiv/Mira Bhajan

1 Vilambit Bandish in Ektal

2 Drut Bandish in Tintal

3 Bhajan in Dipchandi Tal


Ghulam Ali - Husn-E-Ghazal

1 Kathin Hai Raha Guzar

2 Dil Mila Aur Gham Shanaas Mila

3 Zakhm-E-Dil Ke Agar Siye Hote

4 Abke Tajdide Wafaa Ka Nahin Inka Jana

5 Tamam Umr Bhar Tera Intezar Maine Kiya

6 Dard-O-Gham Na Raha

7 Saqu Sharab La Ki Tabiyat Udaas Hai

8 Kithe Takre Te Haal Sunawa


Gopal Krishnan - Inde Du Nord: Dhrupad - Khyal

1 Alap, Jhor, Jhala

2 Vilambit Gat (Tin-Tal)

3 Drut Gat (Tin-Tal)

4 Alap, Jhor, Jhala

5 Dhrupad (Chautal)

6 Dadra


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Apte, Vasudeo Govind 1987 The Concise Sanskrit English Dictionary. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidas

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Courtney, David. SHABAD - SIKH DEVOTIONAL SONGS. 18 Apr. 2011.

Griffith, Ralph T.H. HYMNS OF THE SAMAVEDA. n.a.: n.a., 1985.

Morcom, Anna. 2001. 'An understanding between Bollywood and Hollywood? The Meaning of Hollywood-style music in Hindi films', Ethnomusicology Forum, 10:1, 63-84

Schouten, Jan Peter. Goddelijke vergezichten - mystiek uit India voor westerse lezers. Netherlands, 1996.

Schimmel, Annemarie, Amnon Shiloah, Jacob Landau, and Oleg Grabar. "Islamic Arts." Encyclopedia Britannica. 1st. 2. 2011.

Viswanathan, T, and Matthew H. Allen. Music in South India: The Karṇāṭak Concert Tradition and Beyond : Experiencing Music, Expressing Culture. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.


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