Krsna Kirtana Songs est. 2001                                                                                                                                            

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Vocal Forms


There is a variety of Indian vocal styles with great diversity in classical music. This page will familiarize you with some of the vocal forms in Hindustani classical music.




Bhajans are devotional songs sung in glorification of the Lord, His devotees, His philosophy, His opulences, and His associates. Classically, there is no limitation on bhajans, as they can be sung in any raga, any degree of technicality, and with any instrument. If you are interested in reading some bhajan texts, please visit the lyrics page where a library of devotional songs is found.




Kirtans are is a chanting of the Lord’s holy name, or His devotees, opulences, and associates. They either can be sung in a chorus with a lead singer, or sung alone. Most common kirtans will have the mahamantra chanted. The mahamantra is “hare krsna hare krsna krsna krsna hare hare/hare rama hare rama rama rama hare hare


Like bhajans, there are no limitations on how technical, or on which raga is it sung in. In Gujarat, the term “dhun” is used, which is the same as kirtan.




Thumris are semi-classical based songs which are very romantic in nature. The texts are usually short and simple with a refrain known as the asthayi and the verse known as the antara. Ragas like Des, Tilak-Kamod, Khamaja, Bilawal, Yaman, Pilu, Kafi, and Bhairavi are often used. There are a lot of thumris which describe Krsna’s activities like “Ab na bajawo more syam”, “jao vahin tum syam”, and “kaisi yeh bhalaye re kanhai” which are all in Braja-bhasa language. The tala usually starts off with slow ektal or slow jhumra tala. At the end or the high point of the song, the speed increases and the tala changes to a fast tintal or kaherva tala. This is not possible in classical music; it is possible here, however.




Kheyal is the most common piece when people describe vocal forms. The description of the kheyal includes two sections: a slow or vilambit section and a fast or drut section. Vilambit section is sung in a slow version of ektal or occasionally slow tintal or slow jhumra tala. The slow section brings out more subtle facts of the raga. The drut section is sung in either ektal or tintal. It will usually be a different text for the drut, as the same text is hardly ever used in two sections. Kheyal, unlike thumris, bhajans, or kirtans, have many technical aspects that cannot be broken. If rules are followed, then improvisation is possible.




Dhrupads is a very ancient style of singing which its origin come from the Sama Veda texts. It is usually accompanied by tanpura and pakhawaj. The singing style is very rigid, beyond that of the kheyal. It must not change talas at all. The texts of the dhrupad are usually devotional based. As this singing style is extremely difficult to master, it is rarely heard today.




A special version of dhrupad sung in fourteen matra dhamar tala. These are actually Holi songs of Lord Krsna. Like the dhrupad, this style is rarely heard.




Ghazal is actually a semi-classical form based on Urdu romantic poetry. There have actually been some styles which are ghazals which are devotional. It follows most of the rules of thumri, except that it does not have a slow section, and the adherence to the raga is not so rigid.




Qawali is the Islamic devotional song. It can either be a text or a kirtan setting. The style of kirtan and qawali is not much different. The dholak, tabla, and harmonium are the main instruments.




This is based on a wandering Bengali sect of singers. While their lyrics may vary, their instruments are usually a baya, khomok (a string attached to skin to produce otherworldly sounds), gopiyantra (one stringed drone), harmonium, khol, tabla, kartal, and dotara (four stringed lute). Bhaktivinoda Thakura has written thirteen songs in Baul style to preach Krsna Consciousness in the book “Baul Sangit


UPDATED: December 20, 2010

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