Readings - English

Dance and Music

Vocal Forms

South Asian region as one continent has common cultural moorings, traditions, psychology and pattern of behaviour. The emergence of three counteries over a period of time has retained and continue to hold to the commonalaties except perhaps at a level of psyche. The music is one area in which we find that the commonalities and compositness are very clearly discernable. With the following description of vocal forms, we hope, we are able to relate to the compositness that unite India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Classical/Semi Classical

Thumri is a form of semi classical music. Usually, the text is interwoven around romantic love for Krishna and is written in Brij Bhasha spoken in Uttar Pradesh. The compositions are mostly set to Keherva Rag (8 beats), Addha tal of 16 beats . Thumri became popular from 19 th century onwards.

Dadra is also a semi classical style and shares many similarities with Thumri . Dadra is composed loosely, which allows more freedom to the artist. Any light tal can be used and in some cases it is set to Keherva of 8 beats. The ragas used are pilu or pahadi .

One of the oldest styles of classical music prevalent in north India which touched its peak during the times of Tansen, the legendary singer in Emperor Akbar's Court, the great patron of culture and learning. Dhrupad is known for its pure quality and strict adherence to the tal . It is sung to the accompaniment of pakhawaj (an ancient mridang ). The themes of Dhrupad vary, but usually revolve around the conquests of great kings, mythological stories or devotional songs. Dhrupad is composed in a four-part structure ( sthyai , antara , sanchari and aabhog ) and is usually set to Chautal of 12 beats, tivra of 7 beat s, farodast of 14 beats. It is one of the most difficult styles in Hindustani music. Due to its formal structure and rigidity, ordinary people find it difficult to appreciate and now only a few singers practice this form. Dhrupad has also an instrumental form which is an imitation of the vocal form.

Like dhrupad , dhamar is also a very old style of singing. Dhamar has also an instrumental form. Though this style has similarities with dhrupad , but it is more romantic in character. The themes revolve around Krishna. Dhamar is also called Hori (Holi) and is set to 14 beats. Dhamar like dhrupad has very few practitioners in the present age.

Tarana is based on the use of meaningless syllables in a very fast rendition. Legend has it that Amir Khusrau, the versatile poet and musician invented it. It is found all over India. Tarana is called Tillana in Carnatic music and is commonly used in dance performances.

Khayal is a Persian word, denoting either 'thought' or 'imagination'. Unlike dhrupad which lays emphasis on strict adherence to words, khayal has short lyrics since each word is extended and elaborated in various ways according to the felicity of the singer. Khayal is based on a two-part structure, sthyai and antara.

There are two kinds of khayals : Vilambit khayal (also known as bada khayal and drut khayal ( chhota khayal ). Vilambit khayal is performed at a slow pace whereas the tenor of drut khayal is fast. The vilambit khayal was made popular in the 15 th century by the king ( sultan ) of Jaunpur, Hussain Sharki. Later they were patronized by court musicians of Emperor Mohammad Shah 'Rangile' like Sadarang and Adarang who composed hundreds of vilambit khayals. The drut khayal was invented by Hajrat Amir Khusrau around the 14 th century.

Tappa is mostly sung in Punjabi language where the song is interspersed with small pieces of tans . Tappa has fewer lyrics and is set to a two-part structure – sthyai and antara . Tappa was invented by Ghulam Nabi Shorie (Shorie Miyan ) during the reign of Mohammad Shah. Tappa , a form of light classical music is quite popular in Punjab and Varanasi. In Bengal also one can find beautiful tappas . Tappas are generally sung in khamaj , kafi , pilu, bhairavi ragas.

Ghazal is a popular form of music in India and Pakistan. However, when g hazal was in it formative stage, it was less musical and more a form of poetic recitation. In the present times, g hazal is generally considered a musical composition where primacy is given to the lyrics. Historical sources reveal that g hazal was introduced in India during the 12 th century and was imported from Persia. Indian artistes adapted the g hazal form in accordance with local hues and it enjoys widespread popularity among Indian Muslims.

Though g hazal was introduced first in the north, it also found a fertile ground in the south as well when Urdu began to be used for literary purposes, particularly in Golconda and Bijapur.

The process of conversion of this poetic form into a musical form was rather slow. The g hazal , in 19 th century started becoming associated with the courtesans, known as tawaifs who epitomized art, literature, dance, music, etiquette ( tehzib ) and everything that came under the rubric of high culture. The courtesans were widely acclaimed for their musical abilities, especially for their rendering of g hazal . However, the decline of feudal society and its ethos in the 19 th and early 20 th centuries also saw a decline in the tawaif tradition. Consequently, the change in culture was also reflected in the performance of g hazal . But this change did not deter the g hazal performers and they continued to build upon its musical content, and g hazals began to be heard and appreciated in concert halls. G hazal as a musical form got a fillip in the 20 th century with the development of recording and film industries and g hazal became a part of the mass media. However, to appease listeners and viewers, the lyrical content suffered. The poetic structure of a g hazal is based on a series of couplets woven together by a précise rhyming structure. The first couplet is the most important and is known as matla which delineates the overall form and mood of the entire g hazal . Each subsequent couplet is linked to the matla in a well defined fashion. The last couplet, which is again quite important is known as maqta . It also denotes the pen name ( takhallus ) of the poet. It is usually a personal statement and is different from the rest of the g hazal . The common themes that are used in g hazal range from love (both requited and unrequited), mystical ruminations, revolutionary ideas to social commentaries.

The musical form of the g hazal, though variable, is similar to other Hindustani light classical forms. The rhythmic form of the modern g hazal is usually set to rupak (7 beats), dadra (6 beats) and Keherva (8 beats).

Devotional Music Qawwali
Found in India and Pakistan, q awwali is the traditional form of Islamic song. The word Qawwali is derived from the Arabic word which means 'axiom' or 'dictum'. Qawwali is primarily devoted to the dictums of prophets and paeans to God. The style is closely linked to the spiritual and artistic life of north India and Pakistan.

Qawwali is an integral part of the great Sufi tradition. Sufism - a mystical philosophy striving to attain truth and divine love through personal communion with the divine – is a unique tradition in the subcontinent, which emphasizes that it is possible to reach God in our temporal existence through sheer devotion. And as such, it has strong affinities with various streams of Bhakti movement, which stress the same principle of reaching the divine "here and now, and in this life". In contrast to the mainstream Islam, which propounds that God can only be reached after death or the final judgment, Sufis believe that human beings can come into touch with God in this life. In Arabic, this stream of mysticism is known as tasawwuf.

Bhajans are simple songs eulogizing the thoughts and deeds of God. The truths of life are depicted in the common day-to-day language of the people. Bhajan became popular as a part of the Hindu revivalist movement known as Bhakti movement during the medieval period. The message of the Bhakti movement was simple, that is, any one can attain spiritual salvation if he is engrossed in the pursuit of selfless love of God. Bhakti movement in particular, and bhajans in general embody a spiritual empowerment of the common people and are not predicated upon either formalised rituals or knowledge of Sanskrit which were the bastion of educated upper classes and castes. Therefore, working people irrespective of their station and vocation in society, could sing bhajans . Many of the leading figures of Bhakti movement popularized their devotional songs like Kabir, Ravidas, Surdas though they belonged to lower castes and classes. Bhajan cannot be described musically because it is not defined by characteristics, rather by a sense of devotion ( Bhakti ). The spectrum of bhajans include musical styles from the simple musical chant ( dhun ) to higher versions of vocal music. The poetic content of bhajans encompass a wide array of genres, from quality literature to the lowest poetic form such as dhun .

The Music of the Bauls of Bengal
Baul means madcap and is derived from bayu (in Sanskrit vayu) depicting a sense of nerve current. Baul has become the appellation of those who do not conform to established societal cannons or customs. They revel only in the gladness of their own welling love. According to them, "in love we rejoice in song and dance with each and all." When bauls are asked about the tenets of their philosophy, they do not respond in words but in songs. They move from place to place singing and dancing. The songs have syncretic themes cutting across religion, caste and class divisions. Many baul songs do not even have the signature of the composer. They consider themselves travelers of the shahoj path (easy path). The musical instruments that accompany baul songs are usually khol (clay drum), guba , cymbals, flute and ektara/dotara . Originally, baul songs were composed in the local Bengali dialects and were passed on generationally through the oral tradition.

Shabad means literally the "word". It represents the verbal discourse by the gurus (the teachers) on the nature of God and impact on lived experience of common people in general and Sikhs in particular. Shabad also connotes Gurbani which is the literal rendition of the "Word of the Teacher". Both Shabad and Gurbani come from Guru Granth Saheb - the holy book of the Sikhs. Though similar to bhajans in style, shabad is popular among Sikhs. Shabad is integrally a part of spiritual growth for the humankind. It requires intensive study and meditation to comprehend the significance of Gurbani since it embraces the infinite qualities of God. Historically, Shabad has been performed in traditional musical styles. The Granth Sahib , in fact, specifies the austere ragas in which various shabads are to be rendered. Shabads are sung in the classical ragas in tals like tintal and ektal . Those who perform the duties of singing shabad are known as raagis who earlier used to be adept in the study of scriptures, musical training and spiritual development. However, over the years, shabad is also being performed in lighter or semi- classical forms.


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