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Indian Dhun: Glossary Of Indian Musical Terms


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
This is forwarded by Gyani Jarnail Singh Arshi ji. There is much more at the site:


A sampler for now.

Akar : The singing of melody using the vowel sound aa. It can be sung with rhythm as improvisation or without rhythm in alap form.
Alankar : Exercises of specific note combinations which normally possess symmetrical ascent and descent.
Abhiman : Arrogance, considered the major obstacle in ones learning process.
Arohana : Arohana is the ascending scale of notes in a raga, in the context of North Indian classical music.
Alap : The alap is the opening section of a typical North Indian classical performance. It is unmetered, improvised (within the raga) and unaccompanied (except for the tanpura drone), and started at a slow tempo. In instrumental performance and dhrupad singing, this part receives heavy emphasis and can last for more than an hour; in the more popular modern vocal style of khyal, generally less so.

Baj : A style of playing (i.e., dilli baj, ajrada baj, etc.).
Banarasi baj : A style of playing originating in Benares, often considered synonymous to purbi baj.
Band : (Lit. "closed".) Non-resonant strokes such as Te, Ka, Kat, Tak, etc.
Bandish : A composition or fixed musical piece.
Bansi : Corruption of bansuri.
Bansuri : A bamboo flute.
Bant : Another name for kaida.
Banti : Another name for kaida.
Barabar lay : 1) Thah or single time. 2)Playing in chaturstra jati (i.e., 1/2 time, single time, double time, etc.).
Basant tal : An obscure tal of nine or 18 beats.
Basant shikhir tal : An obscure tal of 26 beats.
Bastani : In the old days this was a sling in which tabla was placed. In this manner the tabla could be played while walking or standing.
Bayan : The large metal left hand drum.
Bedum tihai : A tihai in which the three sections are not separated by a pause.
Benares : A city in North India. A gharana from that city.
Bengal : A state in northeastern India.
Bhdaua daadra tal : An obscure tal of six beats.
Bhagavan tal : An obscure tal of 17 beats.
Bhagn tal : An obscure tal of 23 beats.
Bhai : Brother
Bhairav tal : An obscure pakhawaj tal of 22 beats.
Bhajan : A Hindu religious song.
Bhakti : Devotion to god.
Bhanumati tal : An obscure pakhawaj tal of 11 beats.
Bharan : A filler. Something of little theoretical importance used to fill up a certain number of beats.
Bilawal : Bilawal is the basic thaat (musical mode) in Hindustani classical music. It is equivalent to the Western Ionian mode (C major scale) and contains the notes S R G m P D N S' (see the article on swara for an explanation of these abbreviations). The pitches of Bilawal thaat are all shuddha, or natural.
Bhajan : A bhajan is a Hindu devotional song, often of ancient origin. Great importance is attributed to the singing of bhajans with Bhakti, i.e. loving devotion. "Rasanam Lakshanam Bhajanam" means the act by which we feel closer to either, our true self, or to God. Acts which are performed for the purpose of pleasing God are also sometimes called bhajan.

Cabas : A simple instrument made from beads and coconut which is used in film and folk music.
Carnatic sangeet : The south Indian system of music.
Chakra tal : An obscure tal variously described as five or 30 beats.
Chakradar : A tihai in which each phrase is a tihai in itself.
Chalan : Some consider this to be similar to peshkar while some consider it to be similar to laggi or ladi. There is not a broadly accepted definition.
Chand : A theme and variation based upon unusual syncopations
Chandra tal : An obscure tal of 18 beats.
Chandrachautal : An obscure tal of 13 beats.
Chandrakala tal : An obscure tal of 15 beats.
Chandrakrida tal : An obscure tal of nine beats.
Chandramani tal : An obscure tal of 11 beats.
Chang tal : An obscure eight beat tal.
Chapaka tal : An obscure eight beat tal.
Chapaknewala : A type of Dha characterized by a strong "Tak" sound.
Charbag : A type of gat or paran revolving around a particular bol played four times.
Chartal ki sawari : A rare tal of 11 beats.
Chat : The outer section of the tabla skin.
Chat tal : An obscure tal of 12 beats.
Chatrustal : An obscure tal of 10 beats.
Chatur tal : An obscure tal of 15 beats.
Chaturbhag : An archaic unit of time equal to two kalas.
Chaturput tal : An obscure tal of nine beats.
Chaturstra jati : Any rhythm composed of 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, etc. beats.
Chaugun : A layakari of 4:1. (i.e., quadruple time.)
Chauhai : Similar to tihai except there is a repetition of the phrase four times instead of three.
Chaupalli : 1) The same as tipalli except with four sections. 2) A composition revolving around a quadruple repetition of a single bol (e.g.,. . . . . . .).
Chautal : An old 12 beat pakhawaj tal.
Chegun : (Lit. "six-times") Six strokes per beat.
Chela : A disciple, or student.
Chikari : The drone strings on the sides of sitar, sarod and a few other instruments.
Chilla : 40 days of reclusion and austerities.
Chinh : Notational elements.
Chitra tal : An obscure tal variously described as two or 15 beats.
Choti savari tal : Considered by most to be synonymous to pancham savari.
Chudamani tal : An obscure tal considered by some to be 17 beats and 32 beats by others.
Chutta : The cushioned rings which support the tabla.

Da : A tabla bol of pakhawaj origin.
Da : A tabla bol.
Dadra : A semiclassical style of singing
Dagga : The large metal left hand drum.
Dakshaman tal : An obscure tal of 21 beats.
Dam : (Lit. "Breath"). A pause, specifically the two pauses which separate the three sections of a tihai.
Damdar tihai : A tihai in which each section is separated by a pause.
Damodar tal : An obscure tal of nine beats.
Damaru : A small hour-glass shaped drum traditionally ascribed to Shiva.
Damaru yati : An ancient form where the tempo begins very fast, decreases to slow, then increased towards the end. So called because its graphic representation resembles a damaru.
Darbar : Royal court.
Darbari kanada : A common evening rag.
Das pran : (Archaic, Lit. "ten breaths") The ten characteristics of tal.
Das syandan tal : An obscure tal of 10 beats
Dayan : small wooden right hand drum.
Dedh : Playing 3 strokes over two beats (i.e., 1 1/2 times)
Deshi : Pertaining to the world, land, country, or, people.
Deshi nishabd kriya : An ancient concept regarding timekeeping with the hands, performed so that sound was not produced. This was specifically used in the deshi sangeet.
Deshi sashabd kriya : An ancient concept regarding timekeeping with the hands, performed so that sound was produced (i.e., snapping of fingers, clapping of hands, etc.). This was specifically used in the deshi sangeet. deshi tal - A tal which is of the ordinary material world, opposite of marg tal.
Devadhwani tal : An obscure tal of 17 beats.
Devagandhar tal : An obscure tal of 23 beats.
Devaguna tal : An obscure tal of 12 beats.
Dha : A fundamental bol of both tabla and pakhawaj.
Dha : An uncommon bol.
Dhadhi : A Muslim community of hereditary musicians, generally considered to be low caste.
Dhaivat : The sixth note of the scale (Dha).
Dhammar : An old style of singing, similar to dhrupad, generally associated with the spring season.
Dhammar punjabi tal : An obscure tal of 14 beats.
Dhammar tal : A 14 matra pakhawaj tal.
Dhi : A fundamental bol.
Dhin : A fundamental bol.
Dholak : A crude folk drum characterized by a cylindrical wooden shell covered with skin on both sides.
Dholak masala : A paste applied to inner surface of left hand drum skin on many folk drums.
Dholki : A small folk drum popular in Maharashtra.
Dhrupad : A classical style of music, once popular but today rare.
Dhruva : (Archaic) A type of timekeeping in marg sashabd kriya characterized by the snapping of fingers.
Dhruva tal : An obscure tal variously considered 11, 14, 21, 23, or 29 beats.
Dhumali tal : A variation of kaherava tal.
Dhun : 1) A light style of instrumental solo. 2) A musical religious chant.
Di : A tabla bol of pakhawaj origin.
Dilli : Delhi, the present capitol of India.
Dilli baj : The style of playing tabla, originally from Delhi, characterized by extensive use of the middle finger and strokes on the rim of the tabla.
Dilruba : A bowed instrument with frets like a sitar.
Din : A bol of tabla and pakhawaj.
Dipak : A rag that is supposed to produce fire when sung correctly.
Dipchandi tal : A common 14 beat tal.
Dobahar tal : An obscure tal of 13 beats.
Dohatthu : A composition where both hands are played on the same drum.
Dom : A low-caste community of musicians.
Dotar : 1) A simple two-stringed instrument played in folk music. 2) An instrument similar to rabab played in Bengal.
Drut : 1) Fast tempo. 2) An archaic unit of time equal to two anudrut.
Duff : A large tambourine used in folk music.
Dugun : A layakari of 2:1 (i.e., double time).
Dupalli : A type of gat where a phrase repeats twice.
Durbal : A note of the rag which is weak or subdued.
Dval : The tasma of the tabla.
Darmaish : Encore. A special request from the audience.

Ekaki vadan : Instrumental solo.
Ekgun : A layakari of 1:1 (i.e., single time)
Ekhatthu : A composition which can be played with a single hand.
Ektal : A common tal of 12 beats, however, non-standard versions may be found for 3, 4, 5, 7, and even 9 beats.
Ektar : A simple one-stringed folk instrument.
Esraj : A bowed instrument related to the sarangi.

Fard : A purbi composition characterized by an absence of khali/bhari structure.
Farmaishi paran : Any paran which is used for a farmaish (encore). This term really means nothing. It may be applied to virtually any paran, however, it will more commonly be applied to ekhatthu (ekhatthi), lom-vilom or top compositions.
Farodast tal : An old and obscure tal of seven or 14 beats.
Farukhabad : 1) A town in northern Indian. 2) The gharana from this town.
Filmi : 1) Pertaining to the film or movie industry. 2) A style of popular music.
Fuljhadi : (Lit. a type of fireworks, a "fountain".) A type of gat characterized by sudden changes in the overall speed.

Gharana : (gharānā) - In Hindustani music, a gharānā is a system of social organization which groups musicians who are linked by lineage and/or apprenticeship and who adhere to a particular musical style. The gharana concept gained currency only in the nineteenth century when the royal patronage enjoyed by performers weakened. Performers were then compelled to move to urban centres. To retain their respective identities, they fell back on the names of the regions they hailed from. Therefore, even today, the names of many gharanas refer to places. Some of the gharanas well known for singing khayals are : Agra, Gwalior, Patiala, Kirana, Indore, Mewat, Sahaswan, Bhendibazar and Jaipur.
Gurukul : Abode or a traditional retreat where a guru teaches his students.
Gayakee : Style of singing.

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Jhalak : Glimpses.

Kajri : Folk music of Uttar Pradesh sung during rains.
Khayal : Imagination ; elaboration of a raga with lyrical composition consisting of two stanzas.
kirtan : Kirtan is deeply rooted in Vedic tradition. kirtans are often simple songs in lyrical language expressing emotions of love for the Divine, whether for a single God/Goddess, or any number of divinities. Many kirtans feature several names and aspects of the chosen deity, especially in the case of Hindu sahasranamas, which list a divinity's 1008 names.

Layakari : Use of different rhythmic patterns.

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Pandit : Pandit is a term used in India for a scholar or a skilled master and is the honorific title for an expert musician. The Muslims in India, however, use the title Ustad.
pakhavaj : The pakhavaj also called mardal, pakuaj, pakhvaj and mardala is an ancient Indian barrel shaped percussion instrument which is similar to the mridangam. It is famous in North India. It is widely used for orissi dancers and sometimes for kathak. It is the standard percussion instrument in dhrupad.

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Ragini : A ragini is an archaic term for the 'feminine' counterpart to raga.
Raga : (राग, Rāga) - In Sanskrit, Raga is literally "colour" or "mood". In the Indian musical tradition, ragas are held to evoke particular "moods" and metaphorically "colour" the experience of the listener and are often performed to correspond and resonate with a season or time of day. Indian classical music is always set in raga.

Samagana : (सामगान, Sāmagān) - Sām is composition of words in Rigvedic hymns into notes. The hymns of Rigveda form the base of Sāmgān. Sāmagān is not merely a name given to singing hymns of Veda but represents the philosophy and science of uniting thought, sound and music. Sāmagān is purpose of creation of Samaveda.
Sam : (साम, Sām) - See Samagana
Swara : The notes, or swaras, of Indian music are Shadjam, Rishabham, Gandharam, Madhyamam, Panchamam, Dhaivatam and Nishadam. Collectively these notes are known as the sargam. In singing, these become Sa, Ri(Carnatic) or Re(Hindustani), Ga, Ma, Pa, Da(Carnatic) or Dha(Hindustani), and Ni. Sargam is the Hindustani (North Indian) and Carnatic (South Indian) equivalent to the western solfege (Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La, and Ti).
Surbahar : The Surbahar (also known as bass sitar) is a plucked string instrument used in the Hindustani classical music of North India. It is related to the better-known sitar but has a lower tone. The surbahar is over 130 cm long. The surbahar has four rhythm strings (cikari), four playing strings (the thickest is 1 mm in diameter) and 15 to 17 unplayed sympathetic strings. All these strings lie on a flat bridge.
Sitarkhani : Sitarkhani is a Punjabi theka in 16 beats. Some suggest that it is not really a separate tal, but is merely a type of tintal. There are different views as to its name. Some call it Punjabi theka and others call it sitarkhani.
Sitar : The Sitar is derived from the Veena family of Indian musical instruments. Its name most probably came from the Persian instrument called "Setar", which is from the saz family of instruments. An older Indian instrument called the Rudra Veena resembles the sitar in some important respects, most notably in the use of gourd resonators.

Thaat : A thaat is a specific set of notes or swara. The idea for Thaat or mode originated in the Carnatic music tradition, where it was described as mela around 1640 A.D. by the musicologist Venkatamakhi. Thaat is considered the basis for the system of organizing and classifying ragas in North Indian classical music. The notion of thaat, and the ten basic categories, were created by Pt. Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande in the early decades of the twentieth century. Bhatkhande visited many of the gharanas or traditions of Indian Classical music, and conducted a detailed analysis of the Indian Raga system, to come up with this set of ten thaats. Each thaat contains a different combination of altered (vikrt) and natural (shuddha) notes. There are ten generally accepted thaats: 1) Bilawal (=Ionian mode): S R G m P D N S'; 2) Khamaj (=Mixolydian mode): S R G m P D n S'; 3) Kaafi (=Dorian mode): S R g m P D n S'; 4) Asavari (=Aeolian mode): S R g m P d n S'; 5) Bhairavi (=Phrygian mode): S r g m P d n S'; 6) Bhairav: S r G m P d N S'; 7) Kalyan (=Lydian mode): S R G M P D N S'; 8) Marwa: S r G M P D N S'; 9) Poorvi: S r G M P d N S'; 10) Todi: S r g M P d N S'.
Theka : The word "theka" literally means "support". Originally the theka was nothing more than a "groove" that is laid down for the accompaniment of other musicians. However in the last few centuries it has emerged as "the" signature for any north Indian tal. Theka is generally conceived of as a conventionally accepted arrangement of common bols. Such bols as Dha, Dhin, Ta, Na, and Tin are the most common. The majority of common thekas may be played using only these bols.
Tukra : Tukra means "little piece."
Tintal : Tintal (or teental, trital) is one of the most famous talas of Hindustani music. It has sixteen beats in four equal divisions, the third of which is the khali, or open division. To follow the tal the audience claps on the appropriate beat, which in tintal is beats 1, 5 and 13 (the first beat in each full division). A wave of the hand indicates beat 9, the first beat of the khali section.
Tabla : (तबला, تبلہ, tablā) - Tabla is a popular Indian percussion instrument used in the classical, popular and religious music of the Indian subcontinent and in Hindustani classical music. The instrument consists of a pair of hand drums of contrasting sizes and timbres. The term tabla is derived from an Arabic word which means "drum".

Ustad : The ustad means Maestro (or maestra for women) or "master" or "teacher.

Vistaar : Elaboration of a group of notes in a particular raga.
Vilambit : Vilambit (Hindi विलंबित) (also called vilambit laya) is an introductory slow tempo, or laya, used in the performance of a vocal raga in Hindustani classical music.

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