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Khayal Vocalism Continuity within Change

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Item Code: NAB713
Publisher: D. K. Printworld Pvt. Ltd.
Author: Deepak Raja, Foreword by Pt. Ulhas Kashalkar, Introduction Lyle Wachovsky
Edition: 2009
ISBN: 8124604819
Pages: 345 (15 B/W Illustrations)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 8.8 inch X 5.8 inch
Weight 650 gm
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Book Description
From the Jacket

Khayala Vocalism: Continuity Within Change presents stylistic perspectives on the music of nineteen modern and contemporary Khayala vocalists, representing various legacies which have guided vocal music for about 200 years. The book is the result of over five years of research, involving the painstaking analysis of over 500 recordings spanning almost a hundred years of Khayala vocalism. The nineteen vocalists are classified into five stylistic legacies, based on their history of tutelage and the stylistic tendencies evident in their music: Agra legacy, Gwalior-Agra confluence, Jaipur-Atrauli legacy, Kairana legacy, and Patiala legacy.

Written by an author of impeccable credentials as a musician, researcher and writer, the book contains seven sections. While the first section serves as n introduction to the Khayala genre and to the various Gharanas, the last presents an annexure containing the various Khayala forms, a glossary of non-English terms rendered in italics, and an index. The intervening five sections deal with the history and stylistics of the five legacies and the music of the vocalists belonging to them.

The book makes complex musicological concepts accessible to non-academic readers and contributes significantly to widening the understanding of contemporary trends in Khayala vocalism.

Deepak Raja [b: 1948] is amongst the most respected writers on Hindustani music today. He works as Repertoire Analyst for India Archive Music Ltd. New York, the most influential producer of Hindustani music outside India and is closely associated with the academic and publishing activities of the ITC-Sangeet Research Academy Sangeet Natak Akademi, and the Indian Musicological Society. His first book: Hindustani Music: A Tradition in Transition, was published in 2005. In 1999, he co-edited a volume titled Perspectives on Dhrupad for the Indian Musicological Society. He also runs a respected blog on Hindustani Music.

The author, a musicologist, is a sitar and surbahar player of the Imdad Khan/Etawah Gharana, and studies Khayala under Vidushi Dhondutai Kulkarni of the Jaipur-Atrauli Gharana. Deepak Raja took an Honours degree in Economics, Philosophy, and Political Science from Delhi University, a Master’s degree in Business Administration fro the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, and a Post-Graduate Diploma in Advertising Administration from the Watford College of Technology in Hertfordshire, UK. He has occupied important positions in the media industry, including Editor of Business India, and Secretary General of the Indian Newspaper Society.


Over the last 50 years scholars and critics of various backgrounds have interpreted the khayala scene from different angles and enjoyed a wide readership amongst connoisseurs. Because the khayala is the dominant genre of vocal music, and is evolving continuously, it is important that every generation of commentators contribute to the understanding of its basic features and contemporary trends. I am therefore happy to associate myself with the work of Deepak Raja and welcome this opportunity to share with his readers my views on the genre.


I believe the author is right in defining the khayala genre relying largely on aspects of architecture, structure, and presentation protocol. I also endorse the manner in which he has dealt with issues of stance or demeanour - aloofness versus intimacy - pertaining to the definition of the genre.

Historically, the progression from dhrupada to khayala, and khayala to thumari, itself represents a steady relaxation of the atmosphere in classical music. Within khayala itself, aloofness appears to have been the dominant feature of the traditional khayala up to the first quarter of the twentieth century. Thereafter, there has been a drift towards informality. Today, aloofness cannot be considered fundamental to the khayala genre. In fact, vocalists who have introduced emotionally explicit (or lively) elements of thumary, tappa, bhajanas, and folk music, into the genre have enriched it greatly, and sustained the interest of succeeding generations of audiences. The integrity of the khayala is not threatened by the mere loss of aloofness. Its strength lies in its architecture.

Having said this, we must, of course, accept that genres of vocal music also differ in other respects Technically, khayala is like a median between dhrupada and thumari. It maintains the depth and rigidity of structure as in dhrupada, albeit to a far lesser degree. At the same time, it enjoys flexibility and allows for emotional appeal that thumari demonstrates, again in a far lesser degree.

While dhrupada emphasizes the tala (beats and cadences), khayala is more closely knit with the theka (the rhythmic cycle without reference to cadences) than the tala. Thumari is sabda-pradhana (poetry-dominant). In the thumari, the lyrics and their treatment are of utmost importance, while the poetry is given a secondary status in khayala. Though there is considerable emphasis on the poetry in khayal, alapa or tanas in akara (non-poetic articulatory devices) to are common.

In dhrupada the raga vistara (elaboration) is done through Nom-Tom alapa Khayala (with the exception of Agra gayaki) has more of akara based alapa or uses the words of the bandises. This is perhaps related to the tradition of vocal music being accompanied by bina or Rudra vina. The dhrupada alapa is said to be of the bina anga. The use of Nom-Tom alapa is a reproduction of this. And since khayala vocalism was not bound by the bina legacy, and the human voice has a longer breath span, khayala musicians did away with the use of the Nom-Tom syllables and moved to clear open akara. Although the laya (tempo and progression) was maintained, it was not emphatically shown with Nom-Tom syllables. Dhrupada does not allow the use of murkis, khatkas, tanas, etc. and these are features which khayala has. The saragama is one articulatory device which is a recent addition to khayala, but is not permitted in either dhrupada or thumari. Khayala also allows use of a variety of tanas, tihais, bola-banta, and other melodic forms and embellishments, which thumari cannot accommodate, because it has to stick to the poetry and cannot drift too far from its theme and emotional content.

Khayala in Performance

Conceptual issues apart, a musical genre lives and evolves in, and through, its interaction with its audiences. A majority of audiences are not musically literate, and therefore, may not appreciate all the nuances of vocalism. But, one thing any musically sensitive person can receive is the emotional content of a raga. As long as a khayala singer can use the available structure to communicate this content to his audiences, he does justice to his task.

In addition to the mastery over svara, tala, and the architecture of the genre - which are basic - a vocalist succeeds by understanding the personality of the raga, and the range of emotional statements it can make. Every facet of his rendition needs to reflect this understanding. Some ragas provide a choice between various melodic facets and moods within the same basic grammar, while other ragas have uni-dimensional personalities. The key to musicianship lies in knowing the difference between uni-dimensional and multifaceted ragas, and making a conscious choice where it is available. Once the choice has been made, it has to guide the choice of bandises, the choice of laya and tala, the approach to the unfolding of the raga, and the overall tenor of presentation.

The melodic contours of ragas and our ideas about their emotional possibilities have evolved over centuries in the Hindustani tradition. This is why I am often intrigued by the trend towards importing ragas from the Carnatic tradition into Hindustani repertoire. In addition to differences in scales and intonation practices, the very notion of raga-ness is very different in the two traditions. Admittedly, a few Carnatic ragas like Abhogi and Hamsadhvani have been absorbed successfully into Hindustani system. But, as a general trend, I see severe limitations because there is no yardstick for validating the raga-svarupa (melodic personality) of Carnatic ragas in Hindustani transformations. Without a yardstick, they may pass off as dhunas (raga-neutral melodic entities), but are not likely to mature as Hindustani ragas.

I can appreciate the attraction of Carnatic ragas as a means of making our music more accessible to south Indian audiences. My experience, however, suggests this logic may not be particularly sound. When I perform in the south, concert hosts generally plead with me not to perform Carnatic ragas. Hey want me to sing the mature Hindustani ragas which they do not have in their tradition. It seems to me that, irrespective of the audience profile, the maturity with which we handle ragas is far more important than either their novelty or familiarity.

Maturity and the Tradition

When we speak of maturity in handling a raga, we have to acknowledge the role of khayala gharanas in evolving different approaches to communicating the raga experience. Traditionally khayala is described as asta-anga (having eight facets). But contemporary khayal does not necessarily include these eight facets. Each gharana has taken a few of these facets and invested several generations of musical energy in integrating them into a distinctive and coherent style. Along with this coherence and distinctiveness - and indeed consistent with these - each gharana also specialized in certain ragas and developed a distinctive approach to treating them.

The gharana legacies allow each khayala vocalist to shape his music with inputs from as many sources as he is exposed to, and evolve a new saili (idiom) or sometimes even a new gayaki (style). The beauty of khayal lies in the fact that despite this individual freedom, the basic tenets of the gharana’s musical philosophy remain intact. The evolution of a musician’s vocalism also depends a lot on the individual’s personality, and strength or weaknesses in certain departments of the craft or art. A direct result of this is evident in the fact that various disciples of the same guru have different, distinct styles.

A gharana has therefore to be understood as the accumulation of musical wisdom, rather than a Xeroxing machine. It is intended to liberate an individual’s creativity without allowing it to drift towards disjointedness. A disciple who follows a gharana has the liberty to express himself better with the principles and spirit of the gayaki (style) ingrained in him. Even the deviations he makes with the within the periphery.

As opposed to this, a student who follows only an individual stylistic model - rather than the gharana’s ideology - is limited by the role model’s strengths and weaknesses. Such a vocalist is more likely to emerge as a clone. His music might represent maturity of a kind’ but, perhaps not the kind that our tradition values.

While gharanas are designed to ensure a degree of continuity, they are certainly not resistant to change. In the last 25 years musicians from all major gharana-s have broken the shackles and have enlarged the aesthetic scope of their music. In other words several limitations of each gayaki were overcome. For instance, Agra gayaki underwent some change owing to musicians like Jagannath Buwa Purohit and, after him, Sharafat and Yunus Hussain. Contemporary Jaipur gayaki too is different from the Jaipur gayaki of Kesarbai Kerkar and Lakshmi Bai Jadhav. Gwalior too saw a change with the over-all tempo of the music having slowed down. Even trail-blazing innovators like Kishori Amonkar and Kumar Gandharva have emerged from thoroughbred gharana training.

Considering the strengths of the gharana institution, no one can argue that it has no relevance today. Though the major gharanas stand considerably weakened in recent years, their wisdom is not totally lost yet. The urgent need is to ensure the transmission of this wisdom from one generation to another.

How Khayala Vocalism has Changed

With the weakening influence of gharana stylistics over the concert platform, some of the specialist facets of repertoire also appear to be going out of circulation. For instance, Gwalior vocalists no longer perform sub-genres like tappa-khayalas, khayala-numas, astapadis and caturangas, which were once the hallmark of the gharana’s repertoire. Likewise, Agra vocalists no longer perform good alapa in Nom-Tom, or perform rare ragas like Dhanasri, Barwa and Gara, which were once the pride of the legacy.

Today’s performers are focused on technical finesse. Very few musicians do justice to the alapa of the vilambita khayala which is the lifeblood of raga-based music. They seem to be in a hurry to get to the second half of the rendition and shoot off tanas at dazzling speeds. Though musicians of yesteryears also had amazing technical command in the tanas department, they did not neglect the alapa. Their tanas were rich in imagination and the melodic features of the raga they were performing. Sadly enough, in the totality of today’s khayal vocalism, the spirit of the raga is receding into the background.

This is why it is common experience that concerts of yesteryears have remained with listeners for ever. Today’s music rarely leaves such a mark. Today’s concerts charms listeners with their eclecticism and dazzling craftsmanship. They are unable to achieve the soulful quality of maestros such as Abdul Karim Khan. Today’s musicians elicit thunderous applause from a native audience and feel good about it. It worries me that today’s youngsters are so easily carried away by such shallow attractions.

Another loss I lament is the replacement of the sarangi accompaniment with the harmonium. The harmonium is unsuitable for accompanying vocal music; and its limitations are well known. We work with it because there are just not enough sarangi players qualified to accompany mature vocalists. Quality musicianship is, of course, available amongst harmonium players. The younger amongst them are also getting around the limitations of the instrument. Some of their solutions are working pretty well. The present situation is not exactly unbearable. But, nothing can replace a good sarangi accompanist as a partner in a khayal performance.

I am also nostalgic about the quality of sound that the earlier generation of electronic equipment used to produce. I yearn for the warmth and depth of the sound we enjoyed when just one large rectangular microphone was considered sufficient to capture the singing, the sarangi or harmonium, and the tabla, and music was delivered through valve-type amplifiers. I am sure modern electronics can deliver equally good, or even superior, results. But, systematic research is needed on sound engineering for Hindustani vocalism, and an army of engineers needs to be trained to deliver better results. The need is urgent because a lot of discerning listeners are not happy with what they are getting today.

While the khayala seems to be losing some of its valuable qualities, it has certainly also gained value in some respects.

When we listen to musicians of yesteryears, we observe a certain indifference towards the application of technique and voice. While there was no compromise on the content, their relatively unrefined presentation and technique would perhaps face rejection in today’s times. Today’s musicians are, by comparison, more aware of the subtleties of presentation and have paid great attention to finesse. They have achieved improved voice production, a clean command of svara and tala and adopt a gripping presentation format that appeals to audiences at different awareness levels.

Technology has simplified the lives of vocalists, even beyond the obvious. For instance, electronic tanapuras are today almost as authentic as acoustic tanapuras. And, they are getting better everyday. We no longer need to travel with our tanapuras and fear damage in transit, or worry about the availability of good tanapuras or tanapura players in different parts of the world. two electronic tanapuras, embedded with sampler technology, work almost as well as acoustic tanapuras.

Today’s musicians are as talented and hard working as serious musicians have always been. In terms of general exposure, education and awareness, they are way ahead of earlier generations of musicians. Their only weak point is that they lack the patience, composure and tenacity that classical music requires.

Grooming Khayala Vocalists

The biggest threat to the future of khayala gayaki, and particularly to the continuity of gharana-based training, is the shortage of competent gurus. Moreover, after Independence, cultural activity shifted to the metropolitan cities. In the cities, the gurukula institution (the traditional system of personalized) training requiring the co-habitation of gurus and their disciples) could not survive. Even the guru-sisya parampara (the sanctity and the intensity of the relationship between the teacher and the taught) is struggling. As a result, today, we have a surfeit of vocalists without a sense of direction, depth in communication of musical ideas and discipline in presentation.

The university system has proven itself incapable of producing quality musicians. A replica of the European conservatory may, or may not, work. in India, the closest we have to a successful nursery for khayal vocalists is the Sangeet Research Academy (SRA), supported by Its Ltd. In its 30 years, the institution have produced a few star performers, many A-grade radio artistes, and several very competent teachers.

Fortunately, quality music education has not yet become totally dependent upon corporate support. Though on a smaller scale than before, the guru-sisya parampara still functions as an informal institution in the big city environment, and continues to produce good vocalists. We can only hope that this institution will survive.

Good Musicians and Successful Musicians

As a teacher, I am interested in the process by which we turn out good musicians, and how good musicians become successful musicians. After launching their careers, what musicians do with their training is partly a matter of destiny and partly of the kind of relationship they build with audiences.

There is no sure-fire formula for success. Many musicians believe that they have to make compromises with classicism, or deviate blatantly from the tradition, to achieve success. I am not sure if populism work as a strategy, considering that the audience for classical music is small. In a small market, the rewards of enlarging the appeal of your music can only be marginal. On the other hand, excellence pays off generously. When you sing to please yourself, and invite the audience to rise to your level of aesthetic sensibility, you are rewarded not only with artistic satisfaction, but also in terms of opportunities to perform, remunerations, social status, and quality of life.

I do not suggest that making a career in vocal music is a cakewalk. The path is strewn with frustrations and the temptation to explore short-cuts or even to abandon music in favour of safer careers. It takes a long time for a musician to turn into a mature artiste and convert it all into fame or financial success. The success that singers can achieve in poplar music by the age of 25 or 30 is very rare in classical music. Even at the peak of their professions, which will usually come after 40, classical vocalists cannot expect to match the lifestyles of their peers in the popular music industry. Even with the utmost dedication to the cultivation of the art, the rewards may not be commensurate with the effort, because success depends a lot on public acceptance. And, as always, stardom will be achieved only by a handful.

While the struggle is cruel, the environment is broadly more supportive today than has ever been. Hindustani music has a bright future, with awareness of its richness growing all over the world. In recent years, international audiences, already enthusiastic about instrumental music and dhrupada, have also become receptive to khayala vocalism. The corporate sector is maturing as a patron of the classical arts. There exists a demand today for every level of musicianship, albeit at its appropriate level of remuneration. Even struggling classical vocalists now have a variety of avenues available in the popular media to make a decent living - if they have the temperament for it.

In my view, the musician’s inner struggle to achieve a maturity in the communication of musical ideas is far more important than his struggle to secure a place in the music market. Once the inner battle has been won, the market is more easily conquered. But, musicians are easily distracted from this truth, and audiences can easily become unsympathetic to musicians, while they are waging their inner struggles.

The Role of Scholars and Critics

The musicians’ struggles - inner or outer - cannot be alleviated. But, they can be made more rewarding for those who strengthen the tradition. With this objective, we should value literature which helps musicians understand their struggles, makes audiences sensitive to the struggles of musicians, and holds both parties responsible for preserving and strengthening the tradition.

The media can do for classical music - though on a much smaller scale - what they have done for cricket and the stock market. With the growth of intelligent analysis, and informed opinion expressed through the media, any field of activity can expect to enlarge its following, while also cultivating a small group of connoisseurs who bring maturity to its appreciation. Classical music cannot compare with cricket and the stock market for appeal to the mass media. But, good books can certainly reach out effectively to the classical music community in India and abroad.

Deepak Raja’s present work is valuable in this context. He is thorough in his research, and writes with sympathy and insight on musicians of diverse backgrounds and levels of musicianship. This kind of analysis of gayaki (vocal styles) and musicians may have appeared in academic literature. But, to the best of my knowledge, it has never been presented to the general public. The richness of his language and clarity in articulation will make this book widely accessible to readers all over the world. I hope that an enlarged edition of this work will follow soon, and cover many landmark musicians of the 20th century who do not find a place here.

I do not necessarily agree with Deepak Raja’s views on the individual musicians covered in this book. But, it is not important that I should do so. He has a point of view, which is well argued and, therefore, deserves to be considered. I compliment the author on his achievement, and recommend his work to all music lovers and musicians interested in khayala vocalism.


This book presents stylistic perspectives on the music of nineteen contemporary and modern khayala vocalists representing some of the major stylistic traditions, and covers almost a hundred years of vocalism. These perspectives have emerged from my work as Repertoire Analyst for India Archive Music Ltd. [IAM], New York, between the years 1996 and 2005.

The literary product of this association appeared to possess value independently of the recordings it was originally intended to accompany. Some facet of this work have been published in Sruti, the performing arts monthly published from Chennai, and elicited an appreciative response. It seemed a worthwhile effort, thereafter, to conceptualize, recast, and rewrite all available writings on khayala vocalism in the form of a book for reaching a wider audience.

In some respects, this book is a companion to my earlier book: Hindustani Music: A Tradition in Transition. The earlier book contains detailed backgrounders on the four major genres of Hindustani vocalism - dhrupada, khayala, thumari, and tappa. For the reader’s convenience, the chapter on khayala from my earlier book is reproduced here as an annexure. However, this book also deals with the stylistics of gharanas, and with individual musicianship. This required a sharper conceptual-analytical approach to the genre. I have, therefore, written here a fresh chapter titled “Defining the Khayala Genre”. This chapter functions as a summary introduction to the khayala, and aims at sharing with readers the conceptual tools directly relevant to appreciating the book.

Many readers will look askance at the selection of vocalists covered here. The selection was determined by the publishing arrangements contracted by IAM and assigned to me for documentation. It cannot, therefore, be subjected to a test of historical significance. The selection does, however, reflect a substantial degree of discernment, and spans a wider cross-section of musicianship than commonly covered by authors on Hindustani music. As a result, it delivers valuable insights into the recent interplay between continuity and change in khayala vocalism. The big picture emerging from this selection defies easy conceptualization. But it is, I submit, more faithful to the socio-cultural reality than one that a purposive study of only landmark vocalists might have delivered.

The original purpose of interpreting the music of vocalists covered here was ostensibly “promotional.” You are, therefore, permitted to suspect that the essays on individual musicians are essentially laudatory and uncritical. If, however, you permit the book to reveal its honesty, which may often surface between the lines, you will encounter writing that is sympathetic, descriptive, analytical, and without the remotest resemblance to advertising.

The original purpose of interpreting the music of vocalists covered here was ostensibly “promotional.” You are, therefore, permitted to suspect that the essays on individual musicians are essentially laudatory and uncritical. If, however, you permit the book to reveal its honesty, which may often surface between the lines, you will encounter writing that is sympathetic, descriptive, analytical, and without the remotest resemblance to advertising.

Either because of this, or despite this, it is expected that many readers will disagree with my interpretation of the stylistic tendencies of the vocalists covered. Several musicians - or their admirers - will also be displeased with what I have said about their music. This won’t be the first time, or the last time, that critical writing will have met with such a response. It is a risk I accept without harbouring any delusion that my share of disagreements and annoyance will be smaller than that of others in my profession.

An important caveat to the observations in this book relates to the stage of life and performing career at which each of the vocalists has been studied. Each essay in this book has been documented for when it was written. Wherever possible I have also documented the approximate period from which the sample recordings were drawn for study. In writing the essays, I have also been particular about pointing out the stage of life-cycle issues relevant to the understanding of the music. These aspects require your special attention, so that neither you, or I, may be held guilty of misinterpreting a vocalist’s musical personality.

The book, like all other works of this nature, is vulnerable to the bias of the author’s stylistic preferences. Your only protection against this is the author’s disclosure. Through the choices I have made as a student of music, and those made by members of my family, I have developed a special relationship with the music of the Kairana and Jaipur-Atrauli traditions. You may use this knowledge to judge the reasonableness of my observations.

This book is, essentially, neither about individual vocalists, nor about gharanas of khayala vocalism. It is about continuity and change in khayala vocalism. This focus appeared to warrant the grouping of vocalists into appropriate stylistic legacies. I have done so, knowing that a few classifications are debatable. The necessity of classification, and its controversy potential are, both, reflections of the contemporary socio-cultural reality.

The stylistic hallmarks of the gharanas have largely lost their grip over contemporary khayala music. Despite this, contemporary vocalism has identifiable antecedents, and the link with the past - however tenuous and diffused - needs to be acknowledged I have dealt with the gharana phenomenon in elaborate detail in my earlier book. In this book, I have tried to explain my point of view, in brief, with a chapter titled “Stylistic Legacies in Khayala Vocalism.”

While the legacies provide a backdrop to the understanding of the general stylistic tendencies of vocalists, the analysis of musicianship must reckon with several dimensions which are individualistic. The framework for this appreciation is provided in a chapter titled: “Stylistic Perspectives on Individual Musicianship.”

For understating khayala stylistics, I have drawn generously upon significant recent literature on musical aesthetics, and Hindustani vocalism. In accordance with publishing protocol, every idea or perspective attributable to a known source have been referenced. In order to keep the book reader-friendly, I have appended the numbered list of references to the introductory section of the book, while the body of the text merely carries the number of the reference cited.

Conforming to publishing conventions, all non-English words and terms have been italicized. The glossary at the end of the book attempts to explain all words in italics, especially to the reader unlettered in the Indian languages.

This book makes no claim to scholarship. In fact, I do not know if it belongs to any known genre of literature. It represents my way of interpreting what I have heard, and my way of sharing what I have understood. I place it in your hands in the hope that it will prove itself worthy of your time and attention.

**Contents and Sample Pages**

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