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What is Alankars in Indian Classical Music?

What is Alankars in Indian Classical Music?

Alankars:
In the perspective of Indo-Pak classical music, alankar means ornaments and the function of an alankar is to embellish or enhance the beauty of raga. When we talk about alankars today, we specifically refer to embellishments to a swar or a note. There are 33 types of alankars and alankars were first used between 200 BC and 200 AD.

There are two major groups of alankars which are Varna Alankar and Shabdalankar. Shabdalankar is comprised of  Varna based alankars of earlier times. The four Varnas, asthayee, arohi, amrohi, and sanchari were arrangements of notes in a particular sequence or four kinds of movements among notes. Asthayee refers to halting at a single note, arohi to an upward movement,  amrohi to a downward movement.

 Sanchari is a combined upward and downward movement. This classification of alankars related to the structural aspect of a raga. Shabdalankar, include the artistic aspect and refers to the sound production technique and performed by singer or with instrument. All the informal variations that a performer created during a performance within the raga and taal limits could be termed as alankar, because these variations embellish and enhance the beauty of the raga, the taal as well as composition. By the time definition and gamut of shabdalankars seems to have changed. Besides the raga, the tala and the bandish, which are the fixed portions in a performance, the process of ornamentation has been divided into several stages.

In instrumental music these stages comprise the alaap-vistaar , sargams, taans, in vilambit laya and drut laya in case of khayal and Alaap.In Indian music and especially in raga sangeet, staccato (disjointed) or straight isolated notes are almost unheard. In instrumental music, each note has some link with its preceding or succeeding note. It is this extra note or grace note that lays the foundation of all alankars.

The shrutis or microtones are very important in raga sangeet. The alankars in general use today include Meend, Kan (grace note), Sparsh and Krintan, Andolan, Gamak, Kampit, Gitkari, Zamzama and Murki. Many of these alankars are raga form khayal, thumri in instrumental music. Wrong or unnecessary appliance of alankar may ruin an entire rendition or performance. There are four basic kind of alankars which are given below.

Alankara, also referred to as palta or alankaram, is a concept in Indian classical music and literally means "ornament, decoration". An alankara is any pattern of musical decoration a musician or vocalist creates within or across tones, based on ancient musical theories or driven by personal creative choices, in a progression of svaras. The term alankara is standard in Carnatic music, while the same concept is referred to as palta or alankara in Hindustani music.

1. Andolan Alankar
Andolan alankar is a gentle swing or oscillation that starts from a fixed note and touches the edge of next adjoining note. Andolan is the path of the oscillation, which touches the microtones or shrutis that exist in between notes. The note that is being oscillated within an Andolan is known as andolit swar. It must be noted that these andolit swars are raga specific and should not be applied to any other raga.

2. Meend Alankars
Meend is one of the most difficult elements in a raga music. On a string instrument like sitar, surbahar and veenas, when a note is struck and the string is pulled outwards or crosses a fret to reach a higher note or several higher notes from that single stroke, it is called a Meend. Meend is a glide from one note to another on instruments. Vocal singers can also glide from one note to another in meend performance. One has to take care of the accuracy of the starting and ending swars but also on the kan swars of the ragas, the speed of these meends and the tone of intermediate swars.

3. Krintan Alankars
The movement of notes in the Krintan is descending. For example in G R, the forefinger is placed on R and the middle or ring finger is placed on G and immediately after plucking G, the finger on it is moved transversely across the string to produce a secondary plucking (without the help of the right hand) so that R is sounded. Here, R is the main note and G is the sparsh swar. Though the musical idea behind Krintan is the kan swar. These instrumental kan swars produce rather different effects from the kan swar produced vocally. The principal action in playing a Krintan involves complex plucking on string with both hands. The resulting sound has a slightly metallic resonance and can never be reproduced by the human voice.

4. Kan Swars
Kan swars are very important for the proper rendition of a raga. Each note has some link with its preceding and succeeding note. These linking notes are called grace notes or Kan-swars. The Kan swar is never fully pronounced and is sung or played in a very delicate manner. In fact, two or more ragas sharing a common note or phrase differ vastly from each other mainly due to the application of their Kan swars. Meend often begins with kan swars. However, if a kan swar is played on an instrument using a swift meend, the effect is not so different from its vocal counterpart.

What is Gat in Indian Classical Music?

What is Gat in Indian Classical Music?

Gat has been derived from the Sanskrit word 'gati', which means movement. A gat is played on harmonium, sitar, sarangi, sarod, flute, violin and santoor with any rhythm which can be slow or very fast. Gat is a fixed melody that includes two or more melody lines. The improvisation of a raga on an instrument starts with alap, jod and jhala. It is then followed by a gat in slow tempo. Actually any instrument, Indian or western routes to a gat when it starts to play in rhythm.
Gat is a fixed, melodic composition in Hindustani vocal or instrumental music. It is set in a specific raga, performed with rhythmic accompaniment by a tabla or pakhavaj, a steady drone, and melodic accompaniment by a sarangi, violin or harmonium. There are different ways of systematizing the parts of a composition. A bandish provides the literature element in the music, for standardly structured singing. In the past, many gharanas protected their bandishes from moving out of the family with gross incoherent vocal renditions. In the realm of vocal music, it is often known as Cheez.

What is Khyaal in Indian Classical Music?

What is Khyaal in Indian Classical Music?

Khyal or Khayal is the modern genre of classical singing in North India. Its name comes from an Arabic word meaning "imagination". It is thought to have developed out of Dhrupad introducing frequent taans and alankaras in it. It appeared more recently than Dhrupad, is a more free and flexible form, and it provides greater scope for improvisation. Like all Indian classical music, khyal is modal, with a single melodic line and no harmonic parts. The modes are called raga, and each raga is a complicated framework of melodic rules.

This is the most prominent genre of Indian (vocal) music. A khyaal is also composed in a particular raga and taal and has a text. The text of khyaal is very brief.  The composition again consists of two parts:  asthayee and antraa. The khyaal text ranges from praise of kings or seasons, description of seasons, divine love, sorrow of separation etc.  The texts contain rhyme, alliteration, and play on words.  A khyaal performance is of two types:  bara khayaal and chotaa khayaal each of which has a two-part (asthayee + antraa) composition and extensive improvisation.  Baraa and chotaa khyaal are performed in slow tempo or madhy laya medium tempo and chotaa khayaal is always in phrase of the asthayee (or the antraa) is called mukhraa.  

This vital phrase serves as the cadence phrase and remains intact during the improvisation.  The melody of the baraa khayaal is relatively unimportant compared to the text, taal and the mukhraa. Khyaal recital typically consists of one or two male/female vocalists accompanied by arangi or harmonium, taanpura and tabla.  A typical live performance lasts about 30-45 minutes. Khayaal singing is very popular.  It involves presenting a lyrical composition in classical style.  The chota khyaal  is a small composition sung at a medium or fast tempo, usually to the accompaniment of a percussion instrument. 

The bara khyaal is a longer rendition that allows deep exploration and gradual expansive development of the raga being performed. A classic vocal performance involves a bara khayaal followed by a chota khayaal in the same raga. Khayaal is sung with a tabla and sargam notes are used in khyaal performance.

What is Thumri in Indian Classical Music?

What is Thumri in Indian Classical Music?

Thumrī is a common genre of semi-classical Indian music. The term "thumri" is derived from the Hindi verb thumakna, which means "to walk with dancing steps so as to make the ankle-bells tinkle." The form is, thus, connected with dance, dramatic gestures, mild eroticism, evocative love poetry and folk songs of Uttar Pradesh, though there are regional variations.

The Thumri is yet another form of rendering ragas. However, this very popular, light classical form of Hindustani music is limited to specific ragas whose key emotion is lyricism and eroticism, e.g. Bhairavi, Gara, Pilu. Effective wordplay usually characterizes a thumri and chiefly associated with folk songs of UP and Punjab, the thumri is composed in dialects of Hindi.

The text is romantic or devotional in nature and usually, revolves around a girl's love for Krishna. The lyrics are usually in Uttar Pradesh dialects of Hindi called Awadhi and Brij Bhasha. Thumri is characterized by its sensuality, and by a greater flexibility with the raag.

Thumrī is also used as a generic name for some other, even lighter, forms such as Dadra, Hori, Kajari, Saavan, Jhoola, and Chaiti, even though each of them has its own structure and content — either lyrical or musical or both — and so the exposition of these forms vary. Like Indian classical music itself, some of these forms have their origin in folk literature and music.
What is Alaap in Indian Classical Music?

What is Alap in Indian Classical Music?

The gradual exposition of Raga emphasizing Vaadi, Samvadi and other salient features of the raga in a slow tempo is known as Alaap. The word alaap means a dialog or conversation. Alaap is a dialog between the musician and the raga.


Alaap reflects the depth, the temperament, creativity, and training of the musician. In alaap, the musician improvises each note gradually. Beginning with the lower octave and in a slow tempo and techniques like kana swar and meend etc. are performed.

 The alaap is sung at the beginning of the raga at the time of a performance. This is also known as the vistaar. When the musician starts rendering a bada khayal/chotaa khayaal (song) the tabla or any other percussion instrument joins.

Alaap has used again with the composition, this time with the rhythm as well. This alaap is slightly faster and rhythmic. Sometimes the words of the song are also improvised with notes. This is known as bol alaap. Alaap is usually sung in Akaar i.e. without pronouncing any syllables only using the sound "aa" of the vowel.