About Gharana

The word Gharana means "family". In relation to music, Gharana refers to a family of musicians, a school of music or a musical lineage connected with the name of a particular person or place. The characteristic feature of a Gharana is its special style of presentation: the result of the special and extraordinary creativity and innovation of a highly talented musician. The other musicians of the Gharana may have their own individual features of presentation, but their training and conditioning in the distinguishing style of the Gharana is bound to leave indelible and recognisable stamps on the presentation of the performer.

In this sense, Gharana are discernible for quite a long time, although some may have been distinct. Again, there are some Gharana that are "hybrid", i.e., they show mixed styles taken from other Gharana. The emergence of the Gharana system in our music and its growing importance in the 18th and 19th centuries had its own impact upon the evolution of Raga.

A Gharana may take the name of (a) the name of a person, family or group or (b) a place or region. Examples of the first category are Seni Gharana, Imdadkhani Gharana, Kavval Gharana and so on. Example of the second category are Gwalior Gharana. Agra Gharana and so on. In this context, it should be noted that there is a saying that to be able to call a school / tradition a Gharana there must have been at least three generations of established teacher - disciple pedagogic relationships already gone before. Thus, for example, a musician cannot merely migrate from India and settle in, say, Fiji and start a school with a band of students (no matter how serious, motivated and dedicated they all be) and then call his school the Fiji Gharana. Unless the teacher has produced students (Generation A) of acceptably high calibre who have proven themselves in the presence of knowledgeable (qualified) listeners, and the Generation A students have produced similarly acceptable and proven students (Generation B) themselves, and further the Generation B students in their turn have produced similar and proven students (Generation C), there cannot be a Fiji Gharana in this example.

Each Gharana has its own special Silsila or style or logic of presentation, within the general framework of the regional Bani (or, for instrumental music, Baj) which applied to it. Thus, the rise of the Gharana system resulted in the segmentation of the different styles of Raga development. This sometimes led to different versions of the same Raga, specially when comparisons arose between the presentations of musicians of different Gharana presenting the same Raga. This has had a spin-off to the present day. For example, Gwalior Gharana musicians use Shuddha Ni in addition to Komal Ni in Raga Rageshvari but musicians of several other Gharana use only Komal Ni and not Shuddha Ni.

Another interesting phenomenon in this context is that before the rise of the Gharana system, different regions had different Raga. That is to say, musicians of western India would normally sing or play Raga that were different from those of, say, northern, central or eastern India. But after the rise of the various Gharana, this compartmentalisation became diluted, for several reasons:-

  1. A musician of a particular Gharana may be invited to a court situated far away for performance or even service. In that case, it would be natural that he is influenced by the Raga in vogue in that place, just as the "native" or "local" musicians of that place would be influenced by the new (to them) Raga that the Gharana musician brought with him.
  2. Often, certain Raga and / or Bandish or compositions would be considered the "property" of a particular Gharana. That is, the Raga in question would be known only to the musicians of that Gharana and to none else. This would be especially true if the Raga was created in the Gharana. It was the custom to sometimes "gift" some of these Raga / Bandish as dowry to a son-in-law. In this way, Many Raga found their way into Gharana where the Raga had not been in existence before. If the recipient or new "owner" of the Raga was a musician of another Gharana, he would naturally be guided by his own background conditioning in presenting this received Raga; this would quite conceivably cause some variation in it that might remain or even become heightened with the passage of time.

  3. Another common custom was for the princes and noblemen, and also for the new breed of rich men on the post-Moghul period (18th and 19th centuries) to hold Sabha or musical soirees where musicians of different Gharana would present their music. This would lead to an interchange of ideas where musicians would be influenced by the presentations of those of other Gharana.
Thus the Gharana system served to "dilute" the previous "insularity" of Raga music. The result was that musicians of one Gharana began to present Raga of another Gharana in their own conditioned styles. For example, if a musician trained in the Gaurhar Bani style , where there was a good deal of Vilambit or slow tempo development with plenty of long drawn , took up a Raga like, say, Bahar, in which there was no Vilambit, he would by his own background pedagogic conditioning have a strong tendency to present Bahar in his own style, that is, he would incorporate plenty of Vilambit passages into the Raga and perhaps compose his own Vilambit Bandish in the Raga. Thus, the very character of the Raga would change over time. A good example of this phenomenon is the well known Vilambit composition "Nabi ke Durbar" in the Raga Basant, which was not a slow Raga to start with.

Another fallout of this dilution was the emergence of new Raga, often in old names. It was now possible for two Raga of divergent sentiments or characteristics to have the same name. Previously, a Raga may have had minor variants in such a way that the basic character or sentiment of the Raga remained intact. For example, Pandit Ahobal reports in his monumental work Sangit Parijata (16th century) that the Raga Bhairavi had two forms, one with R and the other with R. The manner of application of both R and R were, however, the same. Thus the basic nature of Bhairavi - the main sentiment that it conveyed - remained the same in either case, as all the other notes, their Kaku, their Sangati etc. were the same in either form. The "mood" of Bhairavi, therefore, remained constant. Indeed, as long as this was maintained, such minor variations in the presentation of a Raga were acceptable.

However, in the Gharana system, two Raga bearing the same name could have completely different features, and hence completely dissimilar moods. Thus for example, in the case of the Raga Shree, it is seen that a type of Shree called Poorvi Shree, similar to the modern Shree, was in vogue. This is reported in Hrdayanarayana's Hrdayakautuka (17th century). The original Shree, which had G, D and N, became more or less obsolete in north India although in south India, it continued to be (and still is) in existence. By and by, this new Raga Poorvi Shree was abbreviated to Shree and became the Shri of modern times. The original Shri is to be seen in north India in the Raga Bageshri (also called Bageshvari), in altered form. Such metamorphoses were the result of the action of the Gharana system. In like manner, some Gharana used D in Raga like Lalit and Poorvi whereas some other Gharana used D instead. The net result of all this was that the system of Raga became quite confusing, since it lost a good deal of the standardisation of earlier times.

The following chart gives the names of some Gharana in vocal and instrumental (melodic) music.

Below the chart there is a brief description of the musical charecteristics of five major Gharana of vocal (Khayal) music that are prevelant in present times - Gwalior, Agra, Jaipur-Atrauli, Patiala and Kirana. Each Gharana has its own special features. For better appreciation of Khayal, it is important for the listener to understand and keep in mind these features. In this context, it is also important to know that the Tabla accompanist must be fully aware of the special features of the Gharana of the artiste he is accompanying. If the accompanist has a less than proper understanding about these features, he will not be able to provide the correct form of accompaniment that is appropriate to the music of the Gharana. Many an otherwise good - even great - vocal performance has been ruined or all but ruined because the poor vocalist has had to struggle against the complacently ignorant accompaniment of the Tabla player. Indeed, Prof. Basavi Mukerji has herself had this unfortunate experience a few times, where even "renowned" Tabla players have provided completely inappropriate accompaniment. That her performance was still an enormously successful one was the result of the sheer robustness of her supreme and universally acknowledged artistry.
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Names of Gharana of Vocal and Instrumental (melodic) music:
Vocal Music Gharana Instrumental (Melodic) Music Gharana
Dhrupad Khayal Tappa Thumri Rabab Been Sitar Sarode Sarengi Esraj
  • Seni
  • Gwalior
  • Tilmandi
  • Atrauli
  • Jaipur
  • Agra
  • Benaras
  • Udaipur
  • Betiah
  • Vishnupur
  • Delhi #1
          (Qavval or
  • Gwalior
  • Tilmandi
  • Atrauli
  • Jaipur
  • Agra
  • Benaras
  • Lucknow
  • Kirana
  • Punjab
  • Delhi #2
  • Sikanderabad
  • Rangile
  • Rampur
  • Seheswan
  • Bhendibazar
  • Indore
  • Mevati
  • Lucknow
  • Benaras
  • Lucknow
  • Benaras
  • Punjab
  • Seni
  • Seni
  • Kirana
  • Gharpure
  • Jaipur
  • Seni
  • Gwalior-
  • Imdadkhani
  • Seni
  • Rampur
  • Kirana
  • Delhi
  • Punjab
  • Gaya
  • Vishnupur

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    Musical features of five prominent Khayal Gharana of today
    (excerpted from Prof Basavi Mukerji's book "Improvisation in Hindustani Classical Music")
    Gwalior Gharana -
    • A strong Dhrupad base
    • Open-throated and bold voice production
    • Preference for Tilvada Tala for and Addha / Punjabi Theka in Teentala for Chhota Khayal
    • A tight and well-knit Bandish in , also in Tala such as Jhoomra, Ada-Choutala or Ektala
    • Long Auchar or introductory Alap before the Bandish
    • Use of Behlava as part of Vistar
    • Importance of vowels in Badhat. Extensive use of Aakar. Vowels often coalesed with words. Sharp vowels like EE and OO employed in the higher notes.
    • Employment of Gamak throughout, lending Vazan to the notes used
    • Elongation of the Anunasik Svara (nasals), especially for staying on the higher notes
    • A penchant for long Bandish often containing Adi Laya syncopation
    • Use of syncopation during Vistar, especially in medium tempo phrases
    • Systematic phrasewise development of the Raga
    • No liberties taken with the purity of the Raga
    • Preference for "Shuddha Raga" as against "Sankirna Raga" and "Chhayalag Raga"
    • Straight and simple Raga development
    • Use of Larajdar or weighty Tana, mostly Alankarik, in Vilambit Laya before fast Tana
    • Forceful and simple Tana, mostly Sapat and Choot, produced with Vazan at a moderately high speed
    • Abundance of Boltana
    • Protracted Bolbant amd Layakari before the commencement of the initial Larajdar Tana
    • Employment of cross-rhythm against the Tabla Theka
    • Preference for Tarana instead of Thumri
    • A bent towards display of virtuosity, e.g., Tayyari of Gamaka and Behlava tana, etc.
    • The Gwalior gayaki is said to be "Ashtanga Pradhana", the various Ang being - Alap, Bol-Alap, Bol-Tana, Tana varieties, Layakari, Meend, Gamaka and Murki
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    Agra Gharana -

    Because of socio-cultural links with the Gwalior Gharana at the time of its inception, the Agra gayaki is considerably close to that of Gwalior. Its main features are -
    • Bold and full-throated voice production like that of Gwalior Gharana
    • Dhrupad based development of Khayal
    • Long Nome-Tome Alap before commencing upon the Khayal composition as practised by Dhrupadiya
    • Articulating the sharp vowels EE and OO for lingering on the high notes
    • Importance of Bol-Alap
    • Well-enunciated Bandish
    • Clear and lyrical rendition of the text of the song
    • Development on the basis of the Ragaphrases and rhythm as opposed to the system of 'Svara-Badhat'
    • Employment of Thumri-like Bol-Banav phrases in Chhota Khayal instead of long Alap
    • Laya-based Gayaki. Indulgence in Sath-Sangat / Ladant with Tabla accompaniment at appropriate places 1
    • Proficiency in Dhrupad, Dhamar and Thumri Gayaki
    • Emphasis on the purity of the Raga Little use of "lighter" improvisational tools e.g. Khatka, Murki, etc.
    • Moderately fast Gamaka Tana
    • Use of Jabra Tana
    1 The late Sharafat Hussain Khan was famous for this.
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    Jaipur-Atrauli Gharana -

    The Jaipur / Atrauli and the Alladiya Gharana have become more or less synonymous today, albeit the latter is actually considered an offshoot of the former since it was founded by Ustad Alladiya Khan of Jaipur Gharana. Some of the salient features of this Gharana1 are as follows -
    • Full-throated voice production; much use of the chest voice
    • Predominance of Aakar in Raga Badhat
    • Short compositions
    • Short Auchar before the compositions
    • Preference for Teentala in Vilambit Khayal
    • Employment of short Penchdar (rolling or twisted/difficult) Tana even in Vistar portions
    • Laya-based Gayaki, i.e., the Vistar portions strictly adheres to the Tala and progresses totally in relation to its beats and sub-beats
    • Prominence of Tana and rhythmic Behlava in the course of Vistar
    • Unorthrodox way of Raga delineation. (Some Vidvan profess that the Alladiya Gayaki is based upon Tana structures as against the Alap base of other Gharana like the Gwalior and the Kirana Gharana
    • Intellectual and complex approach to presentation with special emphasis on aesthetics
    • Importance of Bol-Ang and employment of Bolbant before approaching fast Tana
    • A penchant for rare (mostly Salag and Sankirna) Raga, i.e., Raga neither commonly presented by the other Gharana nor well-known to the concert going public at large
    • Superfast and Penchdar/difficult Tana
    • Primary emphasis on aesthetics relating to the form of the genre of the song, i.e., the artistic and intellectual variety of development of its various components such as Vistar, Bolbant, Layakari, Tanabazi, etc., over grammatical accuracy or purity of the Raga structure, since unconventional note permutations are often introduced in its presentation
    1. K. P. Mukherjee, in his article "Sociology of Indian Classical Music" published in the annual journal (Gharana issue) of the Sangit Research Academy, Kolkata, has observed as follows:

    "Alladiya Khan produced many distinguished disciples starting with his own son manji Khan to Kesarbai and Nivriti Bua Sarnaik, and no two members of the same Gharana sing in exactly the same manner. This is perhaps because the Ustad was throughout experimenting and evolving a Gayaki, and his pupils represent the Talim given to them at various points of this evolutionery process."

    While this statement is basically accurate, it is nevertheless possible to discern some common features shared by the exponents of this Gharana to a greater or lesser extent.
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    Patiala Gharana -

    Made famous by the late Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, this Gharana is well-known for its lively and instantly entertaining Gayaki. This is a style which incorporates almost every known tool of embellishment in Khayal, making itself immediately appealing to all types of listeners. Some of its salient features are -
    • Mellifluous and resonant voice production
    • Badhat on the lines of Raga-Vistar as distinct from Svara-Vistar
    • Short and artistic (virtuoso) Khayal compositions
    • Free use of all types of improvisational tools, e.g. Khatka, Murki, Gamak, Meend, Zamzama, and so on
    • Employment of a wide range of Tala
    • Alankarik, Vakra (zigzag) and Phirat Tana in abundance
    • Incorporation of Tappa style Gayaki
    • Spectacularly virtuoso performance
    • Marked flexibility of voice with the capacity to expolit a variety of tonal shades
    • Mastery over Punjab-Ang Thumri alongside Khayal Gayaki
    • Use of notes in chromatic order in Thumri singing
    • Use of Behlava and Sargam during the transition from the Badhat stage to the Tana stage
    • Employment of occasional Shadja Parivartan or tonic transpositional techniques during Sargam Tana
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    Kirana Gharana -

    The is one of the most popular Gharana of Khayal today. Founded by the great Ustad Abdul Karim Khan, it has also been propagated by his contemporary Abdul Wahid Khan through two of his famous disciples Hirabai Barodekar and Amir Khan, as also by his also by his own disciple Sawai Gandharva. Popularly, Amir Khan has been accredited with the origination of another distinct style, the Indore Gharana, owing to his induction of fresh ingredients or ideas such as Mirkhand and other mathematically devised permutations into the Kirana concept of music. The prominent features of this (Kirana) are -
    • A soft and sensitive voice capable of subtle tonal manipulation1
    • Alap-Pradhhan Gayaki, i.e., style heavily relying upon Alap
    • Lyrical approach to "Svara-Lagav or articulation of notes
    • Vilambit Badhat (development) of every note of the Raga. This principle of Svara-Vistara is diametrically opposed to that of Raga-Vistara followed by, say, the Agra and Gwalior styles.
    • "Chaindar" or serene, contemplative and restrained Gayaki. Unhurried, restful style.
    • High introspective and emotive content.
    • Preference for Vilambit Ektala for Bada-Khayal and Drut Teentala for Chhota-Khayal2

    1. Vamanrao Deshpande, in his book "Indian Music Traditions - An Aesthetic Study of the Gharanas in Hindustani Music" (1973), has in one place described the Kirana voice thus: "The Kirana tone is delicate and tender; it resembles a soft silken thread and possesses a sharp point." However, he has also said, "In Kirana the voice emerges from a deliberately constricted throat and has a nasal twang." This, however, it is respectfully submitted, is not entirely true. In fact, none of the Kirana stalwarts had or has a nasal voice, as is evident from the available recordings of Abdul Karim Khan, Hirabai Barodekar, Gangubai Hangal, Sawai Gandharva, Bhimsen Joshi, Roshanara Begum, Amir Khan and Prabha Atre. As far as the voice production from a deliberately constricted throat is concerned, it can be said that only Abdul Karim Khan had this tendency to some extent, otherwise the voice production in the Kirana Gharana is soft and supple in relation to the other Gharana, although it is both natural and effortlessly full, quite in keeping with the requirements of Khayal singing.

    2. In fact, the present trend of a laid-back Vilambit Theka was started by Abdul Karim Khan and further slowed into Ativilambit Theka by Amir Khan after him.

    [Note by Dr Chintamani Rath - It was Amir Khan's uncle Abdul Wahid Khan who started this trend. Amir Khan gave it the popularity it has come to have today. Abdul Wahid Khan had learnt Sanskrit and had tried to understand the meaning of Marga in relation to Laya and Tala as expounded in ancient treatises on music. One of the reqirements in the ancient Marga system was that a complete stanza (or an independently standing portion of the stanza) of the poem/song being sung was to fit a single Avartana (cycle) of the Tala. If the stanza was long, it was natural that the Tala cycle would be sufficiently slowed down in speed so that the stanza could conveniently fit into a single cycle. To avoid the resulting inconvenience or difficulty of having unduly large distances between the beats due to such stretching, the Marga system had a method of keeping the rhythm going by means of a pattern of sub-beats sounded in between the main beats. There was a particular way in which these sub-beats were to be employed.

    Unfortunately, while Abdul Wahid Khan understood the part about fitting a stanza within one cycle and the consequent stretching out of the Avartana, he could not unravel the method of employing the sub-beats. So, he compromised by having the Tabla player fill in sub-beats as the Tabla player saw fit, to enable the singer to keep intelligent count of the progress of the Theka. This "filling in" by sub-beats was called Khanapuri (literally, "filling in of the house/home").

    Thus it came to be that Tabla players got the licence to fill in all manners of ornamented sub-beats, sometimes in quite a haphazard fashion. In Kirana Gayaki, this did not create too much detraction for the singer (or for the audience). But (and this is the sad part) ignorant Tabla players began to employ such fanciful and inappropriately ornamented Khanapuri to the Gayaki of other Gharana too, causing not a little distress to the singer on the one hand and to the knowledgeable listener on the other. Unfortunately, this tendency on the part of Tabla players continues to the present day, where the ignorant Tabla player, not knowing the inherent features of the particular Gharana of the singer he is accompanying and the way in which that particular Gayaki demands the support of the Theka, willy-nilly drums away all manner of irritating syllables with great smugness. The ultimate sin here is providing florid, syncopated and lengthy Khanapuri within the Theka to a singer of the Jaipur-Atrauli tradition: this Gayaki demands a straightforward, unembellished Theka. It is very important for the Tabla player to know the demands as to Theka of the Gharana of the singer.]

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