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 T h e    K h a y a l   o f    G w a l i o r    S t y l e 

 -Neela Bhagwat

The RAAG is often considered to be the main characteristic of Indian classical music. But this is true only of the dhrupad style, a style that must be recognised in the stages of development of classical music as earlier to the khayal. As we take note of these stages, and certain shifts in emphasis that have taken place in the growth of the form, we would have to recognize that the fundamental characteristic of the khayal is not the raag but the bandish : the composed form of the song.

The bandish of the khayal is composed of three elements ? the raag, theka and poetry. The dhrupad also has three elements in it raagtaal and poetry; but the interaction between the three is of a different kind. The dhrupad divides the words of the poem further into syllables, and the notes of the raag, the beats of the taal and the syllables of the word are sung in unison. A triad is created of the note, the beat and the syllable, which has lines that are equidistant and symmetric. These lines divide the taal twice, thrice, four or eight times as fast, but always maintaining the mathematical graph.

A dhrupad makes extensive use of slides ? curves in the line known as meend and ghasit, and gamakas or wavy patterns caused by variations in the volume of the voice. These patterns are however explored independently; the singer in the earlier part of his recital ? called the 'nomtom' ? explores, and as it were explains the raag and this part is rendered without percussion. Once the percussion is introduced, the graph of equidistant lines described above is created and seldom deviated from.

The khayal integrates what the dhrupad gives in disintegrated form. It does this through dynamic interaction between its three components of raag, theka and poetry. To comprehend the nature of this interaction we must understand the nature of each of the elements independently.

The waves of a raag flow around the word.

The word is musically realized in both its phonetic and semantic values. It is treated in unbroken, complete form.

The taal attunes itself to the ongoing waves of the raag and the word; it does not remain taal, it becomes theka.

The voice of the singer has to balance the waves of the bandish. The voice must be broad and deep, and pointed and sharp as well. Sometimes the singer exerts pressure on a particular note, elaborating it into a wave that becomes gradually lighter and thinner. At other times the singer applies equal pressure everywhere, to carve out a zigzag wave. At all times the voice interacts with the waves ~ the asymmetrical waves ? of the bandish, and modulates itself accordingly. It takes pauses and gives rise to patterns that enhance the sensuous and emotive waves of the bandish.

The khayal presupposes an interaction between the singer and the bandish. It leads, in fact, to a significant interpretation of the bandish, which in turn depends upon the mood of the singer and of the connoisseur with whom the singer attempts a dialogue. It is the response of the audience that adds colour to the singing.

The entire structure implies a dialectical interaction between what we may now term as form, content and technique. The presentation of a bandish implies the unfolding of a process ? of improvisation of the song form, of creation and recreation, an identity through t?he interpretation of the singer depending upon the 'here' and 'now' of the presentation. The same bandish thus undergoes changes with different audiences and different moods of the singer.

A few instructions the old masters used to give are worth mentioning. They used to say; 'Sing according to the face of the bandish (its twists and turns).'Another famous instruction was: 'Think of the nayika that is depicted in the bandish and elaborate on that.'

These statements imply a theme for improvisation. The lines of poetry in the bandish give one combination. The singer has to read between the words and arrive at newer combinations, both semantically and musically. Each new combination adds to the elaboration and creates a musical expanse. It communicates both what is given in the bandish as well as the interpretation of the singer.

An extended musical illustration should explain the point. 'Peer na jaani re' balma, niki tihari anokhi preet' is a khayal in Malkauns in taal Tilwada. What does it convey? The lover does not understand the pangs of love. He does love me, no doubt, but, what a strange way of loving! There is no frustration, 'but a sorrowful anguish. The desire to be in togetherness with the lover.

How does it go musically?* 'Peer na. There comes a pause ? a pause preceding the sama (i.e. emotional high point); ma ?ga, ma?dha ? dthaivat (dha) is just touched and left.

The sama comes on jaa in jaani ? a khatka with the dha dha ma ma ? madhyam (ma) is pressurized and a slide goes downward up to shadja (saa) Again, shadja (saa) is touched and left. A pause tension ? ga?ma, ma?dha; aandolan on dhaivat (dha) as tension grows; again a pause ma dha ma dha ma dha ni saa nee nee?. The complexity begins. The pattern ends just before the first beat of the khaali, i.e. taa. The word jaani is complete by now.

Re comes on taa, a softer bol in the theka; it is a slide from nishad (nee) to shadja (saa). It provides a brief resting point. Now it addresses the balma in a low and soft voice. Ga ga saa saa dha nee dha.

Does ittaikto him, or to her own self? ? yes, probably. That is niki tihari, nee saa nee saa, nee saa nee saa ga ga saa saa?dha nee?dha. AnAhi preet shows the disturbance again. The voice rises to the madhyam (ma) and ends on gandhar. Pree in preet comes with a slide from madhyam (ma) to shadja (saa); ta goes in lower octave dha nee dha.

The rhythmic cycle of Tilwada is over, and she is back in her mood to say peer najaani re balma. The main theme comes back. This gives a basis for further elaboration; a seed to be nutured progressively. Now it is up to the singer to create and recreate a musical expanse of tensions and release and to interpretthe bandish. The individual thus interacts in a creative manner with tradition.

Exploring the form?content relationship in khayal thus, it dawns upon the mind that the form is by no means as abstract as it has been made out to be in all these years. The importance of the word, its emotive and phonetic potential was never known to us so clearly. Why was one not exposed to this form of khayaP Why is one socialized into the classical tradition of music only within the compartments of the gharanas? A brief history of the growth of the form, from its origins in the court of Mohammed Shah Rangila in the middle of the 18th century (around 1749), would possibly bring these questions into sharper focus.

The khayal such as we have seen above was conceived by two been players in Mohhamed Shah Rangil's court, Sandarang and Adarang. An interesting anecdote has it that there once took place a

conflict between the dhrupad singers and the been players in the court, giving an impetus to the been players to seek a new form of singing that would move away from the rigid, mathematical structure of the dhrupad. Some kind of an interaction between all the prevalent musical forms seems to have given rise to the khayal; it had the directness of expression, and modulations of voice as suited to content, from the folk song, the sensuousness and emotiveness of the ghazal and thurnri, the intricate taan?patterns of sufi qawali, the bol?tanns of the dhrupad, the curves of the nom?tom and the resonant sound waves of the been. All these blended into a fresh identity in the khayal.

One of the descendants of Sadarang Adarang, Natthan Peebaksh, settled in Gwalior. He popularised the form and handed it down to many disciples. His grandsons, Handdu Khan, Hassu Khan and Natthu Khan became well?known exponents. Many singers of the day were fascinated by their singing and wanted to become their disciples. But choosy and brahminical as they were, they taught very few.

The following chart will indicate the lineage of this tradition.


The original khayalgharana, which seems to have presented a model of khayal singing, came to be known as the Gwalior gharana chiefly to distinguish itself from a number of other gharanas that later came up, notably the Jaipur, Agra, Kriana and Patiala. While the history of each is not directly relevant to this paper, and perhaps requires a separate study, the forms of khayal presented by each is certainly relevant.

Most of the later gharanas were established by dhrupad singers who, feeling threatened by the new form, began composing their won khayals. Their khayal, however, never transcended the linear, equidistant mathematical lines of the dhrupad ? a tendency noticed particularly in laipur and Agra gharanas. Other gharanas, while undoubtedly popular, do not present this clarity in their form. The issue, according to me, in determining this clarity is to determine how close the singing comes to the original khayal form of interaction between raag, theka and poetry.

To my mind the original khayal form is the most evolved. It has the potential to absorb a new word, connoting a new idea, thus to communicate the cultural ethos of any period in history, to transcend the boundaries and limitations of the period in which it was born. It demonstrates the potential for being treated on a par with forms like drama, the novel or cinema.

We return to the same problems. Why is it that we have not been socialized into the form of khayal that we have just seen? Khayal music is taught by a guru to his disciples. This forms a structure of relationships which is very close to that of the patriarchal joint family. The norms governing the relationships are similar to the ones observed in the authoritarian structure of the joint family. The guru becomes the authoritarian father. He takes care of the disciple by imparting to him the knowledge that has formed the source of his survival. These norms are, therefore, born out of a confusion of attitudes towards (a) knowing, and (b) source of survival. The highest goal for a guru to achieve is an earnest desire to see himself surpassed by this disciple (shishyat ichchet paraajayam). But if the disciple really does this, it is likely to affect the guru's very conditions for survival. This creates something of a love hate relationship which, instead of helping the development of the disciple and thereby the tradition, becomes a barrier very difficult to remove. Often disciples seem to deviate from the norms of behaviour in order to assert their individuality. And it would seem to be a pattern that only son?cum?disciples are the ones allowed to flourish, since it is they who add to the property of the primary group, i.e., social unit of the family.

The relationship is then also governed by traditional social norms born out of loyalties to caste, community, religion and so on. Thus, in a situation as insecure as this, the khayal gharana which has always operated as a power group vis--vis other gharanas, lays down norms and conventions ? usually tacit and instated ? that prejudice the minds of in group members. They can hardly become objective about their gharanas, their gurus, or their music.

Around the turn of the 20th century certain developments took place. Some attempts towards an objective study of khayal music were started by Vishnu Digambar Paluskar by opening schools of music, and by V.N. Bhatkhande by collecting bandishes from singers of various gharanas which he recorded in notation form. Bhatkhande also made an attempt to give a theoretical structure to classical music, which was later made the standard in the various music schools. A number of music conferences began to be held, promoting musicians and popularising classical music. Thus, music and musicians acquired a status in the eyes of the urban middle?class.

With this the problem of survival was gradually solved, but that of objective analysis remained unsolved. The only teaching method in the gharana structure was an imitation of the guru. The music schools, using chiefly Bhatkhande's theoretical structures, produced not singers but listeners ? not Tansens but Kansens, as V.D. Paluskar said. In other words, the schools of music worked to popularize classical music. And the responsibility of producing, singers remained that of the gharanas.

By this time, consequently, the gharanas were able to establish themselves comfortably. Most had their own following which grew as students taught in music schools, came to the gharanas for 'advanced' education and in turn permitted the gharanas to flourish. Since each gharana was accepted only for its special appeal to its listeners, the sole criterion remained that of popularity, leaving little room for objective analysis. The growth of the gharanas led to an increasingly rigid gurushishya relationship, restraining growth and further development. (it may be mentioned here that one can notice a trend of eclecticism among the present singers, who may seek more than one guru to escape this rigidity. Their achievements are worth debating, but perhaps in a separate analysis.)

The only gharana that preserved the authentic form of khayal was Gwalior (a chart of which is given earlier). Due to the brahminical attitude towards knowledge and the imparting of it, very few could carry the tradition on further.

The various barriers posed to its growth not withstanding, the khayal has a potential to flow with changing times. But this will not happen unless we experiment with the idea of interaction between raag, theka and poetry? poetry expressing new cultural ethos. In short, the interweaving of the basic elements in the khayal have to be placed in the present socio?cultural context. It will be only then that we can relate to the traditional roots and still deviate from them. That will be the continuation of the tradition in the real sense of the term.

The concept of continuity of sound in khayal takes a pause for granted in fact only through punctuation that taught is communicated ' in any language, and so in khayal singing. Similarly, the continuation of tradition is possible only if we can is deviate from the traditional ethos, in composing, singing as well as teaching music.

Therefore, the relationships that govern our present processes of teaching also have to undergo change. The patriarchal joint family structure has to give way to a new form of socialization based on equality in relationships and obejctivity in the pursuit of knowledge. Only then can we have a teacher who would be happy to seethe student's progress and will be ready to learn from his student, and treat the process of imparting knowledge as team work, in an extended family situation.

One can draw a great deal from the khayal tradition and can get insights regarding the use of sound in film and theatre, to merely take one example.

It is only be relating to the tradition as on outsider that one can be creative as an insider.

1 have tried to throw a few ideas about the relationship between an outsider and an insider in the khayal tradition. let us take this as the basic situation and view and review the problems in music hereafter.

Many of the ideas expressed in the first section are those of my guru Pandit Sharachandra Arolkar.

The musical swaras are as follows: shadja (saa), rishabha (re) gandhar (ga), madhyam (ma), pancham (pa), dhaivat (dha), nishad (ni)

The line (--)after the note means that the note is prolonged for one or two more beats of the taal.


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