Since before the Vedic age, Indian music was classified into two categories: Marga and Desi. While Marga sangeet was considered sacred, that which was studied, Desi sangeet was music created by the common people, which encouraged freedom of expression, where the compositions were flexible and meant to delight the hearts of the people. This kind of music differed from region to region within the country, and thus the term Desi.
Indian Classical music is learned as a discipline, and as a science, wherein one masters the Raga (melodic framework of musical notes) and the Taal (rhythm). It is an orally and aurally taught tradition where the Guru (mentor) teaches the disciple various techniques of improvisation within a set framework of notes sung in different tempos of a particular Taal.
Indian classical music finds its roots in Dhrupad, an ancient form of music. The text of this form being mainly religious, the improvisation of the raga is limited as it mainly focuses on rhythmic patterns. Khayal (meaning imagination) gayaki is an offshoot of Dhrupad. It developed as a less rigid form of gayaki, using one’s imagination and ideas, focusing on various embellishments of notes within the “avartan” (cycle) of a taal.
Many ragas sung in Khayal are those which have unlimited scope for embellishment, while still conforming to the rules and boundaries set by that particular raga. Khayal includes the presentation of a Vilambit (slow paced) Khayal and a Drut (fast-paced) Khayal. Some examples are simple ragas (those containing only 5 or 6 notes) are Bhup, Malkauns, Durga, etcetera. Despite the number of notes being less, there is still a wide scope for permutations and combinations. Some “heavy” ragas using all seven notes include Darbari Kanada, Miya Ki Todi, and Miya Malhar. Additionally, there are complex and rare ragas, those which are created by conjoining two ragas, also called “Jod” ragas, like Nat-Bhairav and Kafi-Kanada.
Unlike ragas like the ones mentioned above, there are other “subordinate” ragas, that is, those which have limits on creative rendition. The note combinations of such ragas are closely set together making it difficult to embellish them for very long, resulting in a shorter lifespan in turn changing the ‘prakriti’ (nature) of the raga, as compared to a more relaxed rendition of a raga like Yaman. As a result of this, even the taals used are played in a medium tempo (Madhya laya) rather than in a very slow or fast tempo. Some of these ragas are Des, Khamaj, Kafi, Pilu, Bhairavi, Pahadi, Maand, and so on.
In Semi-Classical music, there is more flexibility than in a Khayal, as there is more focus on the text, and therefore the mood of the composition is usually Shringar Rasa (mood of love). It describes the love between Radha and Krishna, or more generally speaking, between two lovers, their separation or secret rendezvous, even inclining towards devotion. Some forms of semiclassical music include Tappa, Thumri, Dadra, Kajari, Chaiti, Hori, Bhajan, amongst many others. These forms use taals like Teentaal (16 beats), Deepchandi (14 beats), Dadra (6 beats), Rupak (7 beats), and Keherwa (8 beats). The ‘subordinate ragas’ mentioned above are some examples of the ragas used in these forms. Since semi-classical music forms are generally not sung for more than ten to fifteen minutes, the use of these ragas is appropriate. They help to enhance the composition and bring out the emotive text with subtle bol-alaaps and little taans and even divert into the realm of neighboring ragas and come back to the original raga (“Avirbhav- Tirobhav”). Most of the text is in regional dialects of Hindi, like Braj and Awadhi and even Rajasthani.
If one had to elaborate on raga Khamaj, for example, there would be limited possibilities, but an expert would be able to maneuver them artistically. The Vadi and Samvadi are Ga and Shuddha Ni respectively, and most of the alaaps either pause or end on Ga, Sa or Pa. Unlike a Khayal, little phrases are sung without pausing unnecessarily on various notes. Some key phrases are, ‘Ga, Sa Ga Ma Pa Dha Ma Ga; GaMaPaDhaNi Dha Pa, Dha Ma Ga; Sa* NiDhaPaMa Ga, PaMaGaReSaReSa; GaMaPaDhaNiSa*, Ni Dha Ni Sa*, PaNiSa*Re*Ni Dha Pa, DhaMa Ga. As illustrated above, some of the note combinations are set close together since this is the nature of the raga. Pausing on each note for too long as in khayal gayaki could lead to diverting into another raga like Des. It is based on Thaat Khamaj, although the note combinations are different in the Aroha: Sa Re Ma Pa Ni Sa*, and the Avroha: Sa* Ni Dha Pa, Dha Ma Ga Re, Ga Ni. Sa. The Vadi and Samvadi are Re and Pa respectively. If one pauses for too long on Re in Khamaj, it could confuse, leading one to move on to Ma using the common phrase MaRe, Ma Ma Pa; and ending with Ma Ga Re Ga Ni. Sa.