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Hindu music: a look at the three genres - part 1 thumri

Presents the origins and defining characteristics of one of India`s three musical traditions.

Peter Manuel leads us through the world of the modern Indian thumri by tracing its historical origins, analyzing its form and structure, covering its ties with courtesan culture, and ultimately discussing its role in current Indian musical practices. This presents the reader with a clear and concise layout from which to explore what is perhaps India`s newest(1) musical genre.

Manuel is correct in his assertion that thumri`s significance has been altered for Indian listeners. In effect, the rise of the popularity of thumri as a "respectable" form of musical expression is systematically destroying that which made it initially so appealing to Indian audiences - tired of the constrained, austere dhrupad of classical court life, listeners sought something more lively and enticing. However, the removal of thumri from Indian courtesan culture and the placing of the genre on stage, has also removed some of the sensuousness and expressive detail that is so important to the genre. The article presents evidence of this in the form of a tempo analysis of several thumri compositions from 1901 to 1960. This chart shows that the tempos of modern thumri are remarkably slower than those of its original form, which subtracts directly from its energetic nature.

Another example of the relegation of thumri to a "proper" classical style comes from the forsaking of "the virtuoso scalar runs and tans for a more relaxed style of textual-melodic development" (Ethnomusicology 1986: 480). Manuel states that the exposition of the thumri text began to take the same form as the classical khyals and dhrupads of the time - beginning in the lower octave and moving up to the higher register. This change in the expression of the text has the potential to cause thumri to become even more so what it is not. Especially with the consideration that, in modern classical stage performance, parts (or even the whole) of the expressive dance gestures which accompanied the thumri style have been removed, considered inappropriate for a stage setting. So far thumri is the only Indian musical genre in which the text of the piece is of utmost importance, by changing the way in which it is performed one could destroy the very essence of what a thumri is.

Courtesan culture played an extremely important role in the development of thumri in its original form - as a text expressed through the emotive combination of song and dance. This association, of course, gave thumri a somewhat "disrespectful" place in the musical world when political and social climates changed within India and the view of courtesans was altered from their previous respect as the continuation and sustenance of artistic growth to an "improper" facet of Indian culture. Ironically, it is probably this very same improperness which drew in such a large audience in the first place, and is now being subdued by its pursuit as a classical Indian form to resemble the very genre that listeners were trying to escape - the soberness of the dhrupad.

(1)Although khyal was emerging around the same time, it was already accepted as a classical form of Indian music. Not until recently did thumri become something performed on the stage.

Written by Sabrina Surovec -

In the Khamaj Orchard

In the comity of Ragas, there is a certain class of denizens ordained as "kshudra prakriti ke raga" by the long arm of tradition. They are so called because their provenance lies in the folk idiom. A number of kshudra ragas are acknowledged as the mother lode of the highly structured, expansive ragas that nest at the top of the pecking order. The heavyweights are the preferred choice for formal classical treatment and they exercise their noblesse oblige through the Dhrupads and the 'big' Khayals placed in their service. The kshudra ragas, on the other hand, are mired in the native soil, and in sync with the pulse of the laity. They seduce us through the many subsidiary forms such as Thumri, Tappa, Dadra, Bhajan, Geet and so on. In general, they do not figure in elaborate Khayal or Dhrupad settings and it is in this sense only that they are deemed "kshudra" (lit. small).

Raga Khamaj is the cock of the walk of the kshudra block. Continuing with our exploration of the Hindustani Ragaspace we now enter the inviting confines of the Khamaj orchard where a special son et lumière, arranged by the the refined and cultured ladies of SAWF, awaits us. The lark includes an added attraction, From the Carnatic Gallery, a compendium of enchanting perspectives from the South authored by V.N. Muthukumar, Ram Naidu and M.V. Ramana.

Throughout the discussion, M= shuddha and m =teevra madhyam.

Raga Khamaj

< -- Pandit Kishore Kumar riding a Bong mule

Khamaj represents three separate entities: thAT, raganga and raga. The Khamaj thAT is congruent with the 28th Carnatic melakartA, Harikambhoji, with the following scale set: S R G M P D n. The sampoorNa-jAti Raga Khamaj draws upon all the notes from the parent thAT plus an additional shuddha nishAd.

The raganga kernel is encapsulated in the following tonal clusters:

G M P D n D, M P D-M-G

S" n D P D-M-G

The guiding principle in Indian music dictates that the swaras not be viewed as isolated units. The Indian term "swara" should not be confused with "note" (in the sense commonly used in the West) or a tone with a specific assigned frequency point. The idea of swara circumscribes the 'space' around a nominal note as well as its interaction with itself and its neighbours mediated through kaNs, Andolans and gamakas. This is the primary reason the essence of Indian music and the nuance of swara cannot be effectively conveyed through the written word or notation. It also explains why non-Indians (Westerners in particular) find themselves at sea upon first encountering Indian music.

The curvature and intonation of Khamaj's locus classicus, D-M-G, are vital. This arc is found in other allied ragas but only in Khamaj is its ucchAraNa fully realized. The tonal strips of the raganga outlined above direct Raga Khamaj's conduct. The rishab is varjit in Arohi sangatis. The shuddha nishAd, typically employed in upward movements, is on the whole subordinate to the komal nishAd. The gandhAr in the poorvAnga and the dhaivat in the uttarAnga are the dominant swaras. Let us explore the raga some more.

S, G M P D n D, [S"] n D, M P D-M-G

This tonal sentence elucidates the raganga. [S"] denotes a khaTkA on the tAra shaDaj. That is, a quick twirl of the type R"S"NS" or

G M P D N S"

G M P D n D, P D N S"

G M n D, P D N S"

G M D N S"

G M P N S"

Each of these tonal groups is a candidate for an uttarAnga launch.

N. Moinuddin and N. Aminuddin Dagar -- >

S, G M P D N [S"] n D, G M P DG M G, R S

Notice the langhan of the rishab in Arohi runs, the deergha bahutva role assigned to D, as well as the

The Khamaj terrain embosoms all manner of melodic twists and turns and has been extensively mined. The kshudra prakriti ragas are permitted lattitude for play with vivAdi swaras and the main raga thus elaborated upon usually goes by the prefix "Mishra." The teevra madhyam is a prime vivAdi candidate in Khamaj, used to ornament the pancham. There are also specialized constructs involving m that lead to interesting situations such as an AvirbhAva of Raga Gara (in this form, called Pancham-se-Gara), especially in renditions of Thumri and Dadra.


Raga Gara may be explicitly invoked through a grAha bhedam (murchhanA) by translating the original tonic to the pancham.

It is scarcely practicable to list the myriad variations attending the Khamaj praxis. Its dhAtu is best assimilated through sustained tAleem and reflection.

< -- Pandit Ramashreya Jha "Ramrang"

We are privileged to have at hand Pandit Ramashreya Jha "Ramrang" to illuminate the proceedings with a couple of didactic monologues. In the first clip, pinched off the telephone line, he discursively addresses the Khamaj domain, training his sights on its three principal members: Khamaj, Jhinjhoti and Khambavati. The discourse closes with a recitation of a famous Dadra in Pancham-se-Gara to illustrate the insertion effect of the teevra madhyam indicated earlier. The reader is encouraged to be on the qui vive for the ucchAraNa of the Khamaj arc

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