2. Forms Of Music

Forms Of Music

Forms Of Music

The two distinct styles, Hindustani and Carnatic came into vogue after the advent of the Muslims, particularly during the reign of the Mughal Emperors of Delhi. Both the systems of music received their nourishment from the same original source. Whereas the Indian music of the Northern part of India assimilated some features of the music of the Persian and Arabic musicians who adorned the courts of the Mughal rulers of Delhi, the music of the South continued to develop along its own original lines.


There are 10 main forms of styles of singing and compositions: Dhrupad, Dhamar, Hori, Khayal, Tappa, Chaturang, Ragasagar, Tarana, Sargam and Thumri. Nowadays Ghazals have become very popular as the ‘light classical’ form of music.


Dhrupad is the oldest and perhaps the grandest form of Hindustani vocal music. Dhrupad is essentially a poetic form incorporated into an extended presentation style marked by precise and orderly elaboration of a raga. The exposition preceding the composed verses is called alap, and is usually the longest portion of the performance. Dhrupad is in decline since the 18th century.


  • Khayal literally means ‘a stray thought’, ‘a lyric’ and ‘an imagination’.
    This is the most prominent genre of Hindustani vocal music depicting a romantic style of singing.

  • Khayal is dependent to a large extent on the imagination of the performer and the improvisations he is able to incorporate. A Khayal is also composed in a particular raga and tala and has a brief text.

  • The Khayal texts range from praise of kings or seasons, description of seasons to the pranks of Lord Krishna, divine love and sorrow of separation.

  • There are six main gharanas in khayal: Delhi, Patiala, Agra, Gwalior, Kirana and Atrauli-Jaipur. Gwalior Gharana is the oldest and is also considered the mother of all other gharanas.


  • Thumri originated in the Eastern part of Uttar Pradesh, mainly in Lucknow and Benares, around the 18th century AD.

  • It is believed to have been influenced by hori, kajri and dadra. Thumri is supposed to be a romantic and erotic style of singing and is also called “the lyric of Indian classical music”.

  • The song compositions are mostly of love, separation and devotion. Its most distinct feature is the erotic subject matter picturesquely portraying the various episodes from the lives of Lord Krishna and Radha.

  • A Thumri is usually performed as the last item of a Khayal concert. There are three main gharanas of thumri — Benaras, Lucknow and Patiala.


Dadra bears a close resemblance to the Thumri. The texts are as amorous as those of Thumris. The major difference is that dadras have more than one antara and are in dadra tala. Singers usually sing a dadra after a thumri.


These compositions are similar to Dhrupad but are chiefly associated with the festival of Holi. Here the compositions are specifically in praise of Lord Krishna. This music, sung in the dhamar tala, is chiefly used in festivals like Janmashthami, Ramnavami and Holi. The compositions here describe the spring season. These compositions are mainly based on the love pranks of Radha-Krishna.


The tappa is said to have developed in the late 18th Century AD from the folk songs of camel drivers. Tappa literally means ‘jump’ in Persian. They are essentially folklore of love and passion and are written in Punjabi.


Ragasagar consists of different parts of musical passages in different ragas as one song composition. These compositions have 8 to 12 different ragas and the lyrics indicate the change of the ragas. The peculiarity of this style depends on how smoothly the musical passages change along with the change of ragas.


Tarana is a style consisting of peculiar syllables woven into rhythmical patterns as a song. It is usually sung in faster tempo.


Chaturang denotes four colours or a composition of a song in four parts: Fast Khayal, Tarana, Sargam and a “Paran” of Tabla or Pakhwaj.


  • The ghazal is mainly a poetic form than a musical form, but it is more song-like than the thumri. The ghazal is described as the “pride of Urdu poetry”.

  • The ghazal originated in Iran in the 10th Century AD. The ghazal never exceeds 12 shers (couplets) and on an average, ghazals usually have about 7 shers.

  • The ghazal found an opportunity to grow and develop in India around 12th Century AD when the Mughal influences came to India, and Persian gave way to Urdu as the language of poetry and literature.

  • It developed and evolved in the courts of Golconda and Bijapur under the patronage of Muslim rulers. The 18th and 19th centuries are regarded as the golden period of the ghazal with Delhi and Lucknow being its main centres.


  • Purandar Das is considered as the founder of the Carnatic style of music. The credit for the development of the Carnatic style goes mainly to three musicians named— Shyama Shastri, Tyagaraja and Muthuswami Dikshitar

  • They are called the triratnas of Carnatic music. Their period stands from 1700 to 1850 AD. Apart from them three main exponents of Carnatic music were Kshetra Rajan, Swati Diurnal, Subramaniya Bharathi

  • They all are considered among the seven great exponents of the Carnatic music.

Characteristics of Carnatic Style of Music

 Following are the characteristics of Carnatic style

1. The intensity of sound can be controlled in this style.

2. Use of helical (Kundali) swaras is evident.

3. Free and typical style of raga.

4. The singer recites the ‘aalap’ and ‘taanam‘.

5. The distorted swars are named according to the shrutis.

They are Started Afterwards

  • The Tamil classic of the 2nd century A.D. titled the Silappadhikaram contains a vivid description of the music of that period. The Tolkappiyam, Kalladam and the contributions of the Saivite and Vaishnavite saints of the 7th and 8th centuries A.D. also serve as resource material for studying musical history.

  • It is said, that South Indian Music, as known today, flourished in Deogiri the capital city of the Yadavas in the middle ages, and that after the invasion and plunder of the city by the Muslims, the entire cultural life of the city took shelter in the Carnatic Empire of Vijayanagar under the reign of Krishnadevaraya. Thereafter, the music of South India came to be known as Carnatic Music.

  • In the field of practical music, South India had a succession of brilliant and prolific composers who enriched the art with thousands of compositions. After Purandaradasa, Tallapakam Annamacharya Narayana Tirtha, Bhadra-chalam Ramdasa and Kshetranja made contributions to the wealth of compositions

  • The birth of the Musical Trinity – Tyagaraja, Muthuswami Dikshitar and Syama Sastri – at Tiruvarur between the years 1750 to 1850 A.D. ushered in an era of dynamic development in Carnatic music.

  • Outstanding feature of Carnatic music is its raga system & highly developed and intricate tala system. Though clear cut demarcations in the style of musical presentation, similar to the gharanas of Hindustani music are not seen in Carnatic music, yet, we do come across different styles in rendering compositions.

  • The ancient musical forms like Prabandhas, etc. gradually gave away to the different musicals forms that are in use in present day music, though the basic elements of the ancient Prabandhas are still retained in the modern forms. The following musical forms offer interesting study:


Gitam is the simplest type of composition. Taught to beginners of music, the gitam is very simple in construction, with an easy and melodious flow of music.


Very much like the gitam in musical structure and arrangement, the Suladis are of a higher standard than the gitam.


The Varnam is a beautiful creation of musical craftsmanship of a high order, combining in itself all the characteristic features of the raga in which it is composed. Practice in Varnam singing helps a musician to attain mastery in presentation and command over raga, tala and bhava.


This is learnt after a course in gitams. More complicated than the gitas, the Svarajati paves the way for the learning of the Varnams. The theme is either devotional, heroic or amorous.


Very similar to the svarajati in musical structure, this form- Jatisvaram-has no sahitya or words. The piece is sung with solfa syllables only.


The Kirtanam had its birth about the latter half of the 14th century. It is valued for the devotional content of the sahitya. Clothed in simple music, the kirtanam abounds in Bhakti bhava. It is suited for congregational singing as well as individual presentation.


The Kriti is a development from the Kirtana. It is an highly evolved musical form. The highest limit of aesthetic excellence is reached in the Kriti composition. The raga bhava is brought out in all the rich and varied colours in this form.


Padas are scholarly compositions in Telegu and Tamil. Though they are composed mainly as dance forms, they are also sung in concerts, on account of their musical excellence and aesthetic appeal. The music is slow-moving and dignified.


A javali is a composition belonging to the sphere of light classical music. Sung both in concert programmes and dance concerts, the javalis are popular because of the attractive melodies in which they are composed. In contrast to the padas which portray divine love, javalis are songs which are sensuous in concept and spirit.


The Tillana, corresponding to the Tarana of Hindustani music, is a short and crisp form. It is mainly a dance form, but on account of its brisk and attractive music, it sometimes finds a place in music concerts as a conclusion piece.


This is the most important branch of creative music. It is in this branch of manodharma sangeeta, that the musician has ample opportunities of displaying his or her creative talents, imaginative skill, and musical intelligence.


This is a branch of raga alapana. It is raga alapana in Madhyamakala or medium speed. There is perceptible rhythm in this. The rhythmical flow of music, flowing in fascinating patterns, makes tanam singing the most captivating part of raga exposition. also read:-Dance Forms of India.

Practice the following Questions-

Q-1 While folk music and dance in India share common themes and concerns, there is a wide variety of forms. Comment.

Q-2 Trace the roots and evolution of classical music in India. Also identify the distinguishing features of Carnatic Music.

Lecture Content