Khayal in Hindustani Music

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Based on the Dhrupad Gayan, the contemporary style of Khayal Gayan emerged and the music lovers welcomed it! Let me walk you through what Khayal Gayan has to offer. 

Khayal word is a Persian word which means imagination, thought, logic. In modern times Khayal Gayan is very popular. As everyone knows, change is a universal law and customs, costumes, language, and lifestyle change with time too. In line with this change, Khayal was originated after Dhrupad. Khayal Gayan has shorter compositions with two parts only, Sthayi and Antara versus the Dhrupad style which has four parts, Sthayi, Antara, Sanchari, Abhoga.

The tendency of an artist is to explore something new. Our culture has been influenced by external cultures and so has our music. During this transition period, from Prabandh originated Dhrupad and from Dhrupad came into existence the Khayal. Thus we can say that Khayal is the modified version of its previous two counterparts.

In today’s prevailing singing genre of Hindustani music, Khayal Gayan is most popular. It has been so much identified with modern classical music that without it a Raagdari Sangeet can never be thought of. Its popularity is such that even on playing instruments Raagas are being played with Khayal in mind.

Khayal is Mainly of Two types: Bada Khayal and Chota Khayal.

Bada Khayal is sung in Vilambit Laya (slow tempo) and the second is Chota Khayal which is composed in Madhya and Drut Laya (medium and fast tempo). In Khayal, the importance is on swaras (notes) rather than words. Normally composition of Khayal is made up of fewer words, which means poetry is limited.

The rhythm tempo of Bada Khayal is Slow (Vilambit Laya) so its one cycle takes more time to complete than the Chota (small) Khayal, therefore it is called Bada (big) Khayal.

Vilambit Laya is composed in Ek Taal, Tilwada, Jhumara, and Ada Chautal.

Madya and Drut Laya is composed in Ek Taal, Teen Taal, Jhaptaal, and Rupak. Chota Khayals are mainly in Teen Taal, a favorite of most artists.

Two Methods of Initial Alaap in Khayal Gayan

The first happens before singing the composition (bandish) of a Khayal. The form of a Raag is to be established by taking Alaap in Aakar.

The second method is the form of a Raag established by Nom – Tom Alaap as in Dhrupad. 

In Gwalior, Kirana, Jaipur Gharana (School of Music) the first method of Khayal is prevalent while in Agra Gharana second method is prevalent. Initial Alaap is often sung in short in which Raag is fully explicit. Before beginning Raag Gayan one should take care to expand the Raag according to the Khayal.

In Khayal, Khatka, Murki, Kan, Meend are profusely used. As compared to Dhrupad, Khayal is of fickle nature and devoid of seriousness. Though Vilambit Laya of Bada Khayal enhances solemnity to a certain extent. 

The gradual growth of Khayal from Dhrupad can be easily understood by Bada Khayal. It is also bound with certain codes but provides a space to express feelings through improvisation. 


Dr. Abhay Dubey is an Assistant Professor of Indian Classical Vocal Music for 10 years at The M.S. University of Baroda in Gujarat, and previously as a Lecturer at Indira Kala Sangeet Vishwavidhyalaya. He has performed for many years and published 4 books on the topic of Indian Classical Music.

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