Performance of Raag

Theory of Raag in Indian  Classical Music

Popular Raags in Indian Classical Music

Performance of Raag in Hindustani Classical Music

Over centuries Raag performance and it’s techniques have evolved so much that it is impossible to mention every possible aspects of Raag performance, however it is worthwhile to examine key elements of Raagdaari in Vocal and Instrumental performances,

  • Prominent forms of Vocal genre
    • Dhrupad (Dhruva Pada): It is the most ancient, heavier form of Raag performance that is rendered with a long and slow Aalap followed by singing of Dhruv Pada (verse of 4 lines) at a faster tempo. Dhrupad singing is accompanied by Pakhavaj, which produces deeper and more sustained sound compared to Tabla.
    • Khayaal (Imagination): Khayaal is most popular form in vocal singing and each Gharana have distinct styles of presenting Khayaal. (Note Gharana are covered “Ghanara and Artists” section) In general Khayaal performance can be divided into parts as follows,
      • Alaap: A free form exploration of Raag Swars without the rhythmic taal and allows the artist to showcase the beauty of Raag through Swar Vistaar (gradually exploring the Raag with one note at a time)
      • Vilambit (slow tempo): Bandish (generally 4 line verses written in Hindi, Avadhi or Brijbhasha language) sung in a slow tempo where an artist can demonstrate his/her control on notes, taal consciousness and emotions. A Vilambit Khayaal establishes the structure and mood of the Raag
      • Madhyalya (medium tempo): A medimum tempo Bandish further emphasizes the Raag’s mood and emotion and starts building the anticipation about the finale in the listener’s mind,
      • Drut (faster tempo): Bandish sung at high tempo consisting of faster Taans, Paltas and Layakari, all of which are complex and twisted phrases of Swars, and ends with a Tihai, which is the climax of the performance.


  • Dadra: Dadra is a light classical form with verses written mostly in Avadhi language (popular in North India) and composed in light Raag (such as Pilu, Bharavi, Khamaj) and light taals (such as Dadra and Kaherva). The main focus in Dadra is elevating emotions in the wordings than exploring the Raag as done in Khayaal.
  • Thumari: It is the most popular form of light classical music that originated in Royal courts of North Indian Kings. Thumari’s are also composed in light Raags and Taals, similar to Dadra, and the verses written in Avadhi or Brijbhasha languages portraying emotions of love , devotion or separation.
  • Tarana: Tarana singing form is credited to Hazrat Amir Khusro where syllables with no specific meaning are sung at a very high tempo. Sometime words from Pharsi languages are also used in Tarana.
  • Tappa : This style of singing dates back to 15th century and derives its roots from folk music of Sindh and Punjab and its lyrics are generally in Punjabi language expressing emotions of romance, pathos and separation. Tappas are also composed in lighter Raag such as Khamaj, Bhairavi, Des and taals such as Punjabi, Kaherva .
  • Kajri : A popular light classical form in North India, that portrays emotions of lovers who are separated and generally sung in monsoon seasons. The emphasis in Kajri is on emotions than on the technicality of the Raag. Popular Raag in Kajri are Desh, Khamaj, and Bhariavi.
  • Chaiti: Another light classical singing style which is sung during the month of Chaitra (Mar-April timeframe) and has verses composed on love and devotion.
  • Hori: Hori is semi classical format mostly sung during Holi (festival of colors) and majority of its lyrics depict Lord Krishna playing hori with his Gopis.
  • Natyageet: In later half of 19th and beginning of 20th century, Dramas were very popular in North India and Maharashtra. Songs based on Raag formed and integral part of the story telling and plot of the drama. In fact it’s the live performance of songs that popularized drama performances. Many stalwart musicians of early 20th century became popular through Natyageet.
  • Bhajan/Abhang: Most versatile and popular form of light classical singing, a Bhajan or Abhang is sung in praise of god and composed in virtually all Raags and Taals. Bhajan and Abhang are integral part of stage performance of vocal singing and often the performances conclude with a Bhajan composed in Raag Bharavi.


Raag in Instrumental Genre:

Raagdaari on Musical Instruments is equally popular amongst listener as the Vocal genre. In spite of some limitations of Musical Instruments (such as their sound producing technique that may not generate a sustained sound like human voice. For e.g. a Sitar needs to be constantly plucked to produce continuous sound), the instrumental artists have been successful in overcoming these limitations. They have also developed techniques can faithfully produce vocal nuances such as Meend (gliding from one note to other) and imbibe Gayaki Ang (vocal singing styles) into the Instrumental Raag music.


Primarily all Raag performance on Instruments begin with Madhyalaya (medium tempo) unlike Vocal that can begin with a Vilambit (Slow) or Ati-Vilambit (Very slow) tempo. This is mainly to make instrumental music more enjoyable in listener’s mind as it does not have lyrics and also to overcome the sound sustenance issue in some instruments.

All the forms of vocal genre that are popular, are performed in Instrumental Hindustani Classical Music. Performances such as Khayaal, Thumari, Chaiti, Hori, Kajri, Dadra are regularly performed in Instrumental Music.

A typical Instrumental performance of a Raag has the following parts:

  • Alaap: Unconstrained by rhythmic taal, Alaap is used to explore the Raag structure where the artist explores each note by adorning it with Alankar (use of adjacent notes in the Raag) and builds the anticipation of the upcoming melody in the listener’s mind.
  • Jor: It consists of the central and main theme of the performance and establishes the Sthayi (first lines of Bandish) and Antara (intermediate lines of Bandish) of the Bandish. Accomplished artists often adopts Gaayaki Ang (nuances such as Taan, Laykaari and Paltas) in the Jor section, to beautify the Bandish
  • Jhala: This is the climax in the instrumental performance where very fast patterns of notes are performed and allows the artist to show case his/her mastery over the instrument. Often same phrases are repeated with improvisations and playing with the beats of the accompanying Taal.
  • Tihai: The concluding part of the instrumental performance where a single phrase (generally the Sthayi or its variation) is repeated at a very high speed, three times.