Glossary of Terms


alankar – An ornament; or a specific type of melodic ornament worked out with permutations of the notes. Also see palta.

alap – The first section in the formal performance of a raga, played without rhythmic accompaniment, wherein the notes and phrases of the raga are introduced and explored. The word alap can also be extended to include the jor and jhala of a raga performance.

andolan – A kind of ornament, characterized by a slow up and down oscillation.

antara – The second, higher, part of a composition, showing the upper register.

aroh-avroh – The ascending and descending note pattern of a raga.

asthai or sthai – The first or main part of a composition using only the notes up to N.

avartan or avarta – One complete cycle of tal, made up of vibhags (measures) which in turn are made up of matras (beats).

bandish – A fixed melodic composition within a raga, usually with reference to vocal
music or khyal.

bansuri – The North Indian bamboo flute.

barhat or badhat – Refers to the note by note development of a raga.

baya or bayan – It means “left”. The larger, left hand, usually metal drum of the tabla set.

bhajan – Devotional song.

bols – Bol means “word” or “speak”. All instrumentalists, drummers, and dancers
learn to recite bols and keep tal. The bols, i.e., the language of each disci-pline, is slightly different from one another. The bols refer specifically to the syllables for a drum composition, as well as to the drum strokes themselves. There are different bols, as well as different strokes for different drums: tabla bols, pakhawaj bols, etc. The word bols also refers specifically to the right hand strokes for a composition on a stringed instrument.

chakradar – A drum composition which repeats three times and ends each section with a tihai (which also repeats three times, i.e. nine times in all).

chalan – The heart of the raga. The chalan is a distinctive phrase, played again and
again throughout a raga. It is useful, as a means of identifying a raga, to know and listen for its chalan. Also called pakar.

chhand or chand – The rhythm pattern in its relative speed over the laya. Laya refers
both to tempo and to the ratio of speed between the pattern (chand) and the beat (matra). Chand can also refer to the accent pattern, etc. With reference to the tabla, chand is a kind of composition.

chikari – The high drone strings on instruments such as the sitar or sarod. They are used
for rhythmic articulation, especially in the jhala.
dhrupad – An early style of North Indian classical vocal music characterized by compo-
sitions using a set pattern: asthai, antara, sanchari and abhog. Its mood is usually one of solemnity.

drut – Fast (tempo)

gaab – The black spot on the heads of the tabla.

gajara – The braid around the outside of the tabla heads which is hit lightly with a hammer to tune the drums.

gamak – “Grace”. Gamak is, at times, used as the general term for vocal ornamen-
tation. Also, gamak specifically means attacking or rapidly repeating a note using its upper or lower neighbor note.

gat – Pronounced “gut”, is a fixed composition in the instrumental style which usually follows the alap, jor and jhala, and is the signal for the tabla player to join the performance. The term gat is also used in a different context to describe a specific type of composition played on the tabla.

gharana – A musical family, school or tradition. Most musicians are trained within a specific gharana, i.e., a distinctive tradition.

jati – “Caste” or “type”. Jati has many meanings. However, it is usually used at AACM to refer to ragas differentiated according to the number of notes they use, i.e., a five note raga is referred to as being in aurav jati; a six note raga, sharav jati; a seven note raga, sampurna jati. Jatis can also be combined to make misra (mixed) ragas, thus creating a total of nine jatis.

jhala – Usually the last section played by the instrumentalist before the tabla enters a raga performance. It is also, at times, included as the last and fastest part of alap or gat. It is played with rapid chikari strokes in a fast rhythm.

jor – The second part of a raga performance included in or succeeding the alap. It is usually in rhythm, but without fixed meter.

jugalbandi – A style of presentation with more than one instrumentalist.

kaida or kayda – A medium speed theme and variation tabla composition. In a tabla solo, kaida is usually preceded by peshkar and succeeded by rela.

khali – The empty or unstressed vibhag(s) (division) of a rhythm cycle. It is marked visually by a wave of the hand, instead of a clap, and marked aurally by the absence of the bass notes of the baya.

khyal – The most prevalent style of vocal music today. It retains the basic structure of dhrupad, but is less rigid and, as the name (meaning “imagination”) implies, gives greater scope to the musician for elaboration.

kinar – The outer circle of skin on the tabla heads.

laya – Tempo, also the relative speed of the chand against the beat (matra).

madya or madhya – Medium (tempo).

matra – A single beat. Vibhags (measures) are made up of matras.

murchhanas – Exercises which start with the next higher (or lower) note each time a scale
is sung while retaining the tones of the original scale.

nada Brahma – Na = prana = life; da = agni = fire; Brahma = the omnipotent manifestation of Brahman, the creative energy that motivates the universe. Music is considered nada Brahma, the language of God.

pakar – The heart of the raga. The pakar is a distinctive phrase, played again and again throughout a raga. It is useful, as a means of identifying a raga, to know and listen for its pakar. Also called chalan.

pakhawaj – Pronounced pa-khaw’-aj. The two-headed drum closely associated with dhrupad which, for the most part, has been succeeded by the tabla in North Indian classical music.

paltas – a general word for exercises (or tans), especially those in alankar style. (lit.: turn)

peshkar – A slow speed theme and variation composition for the tabla somewhat akin to the alap in a raga performance. In peshkar, the themes to be developed in a tabla solo are introduced and explored. It is usually followed by kaida and rela.

raga or raga or raag – Pronounced “raag”. It is the basic form in Indian classical music and a very difficult concept to define. It is said, “one does not learn to define raga, but to play it.” A raga can be characterized by a specific ascen-ding and descending pattern of notes.

rasa or ras – “Juice.” The concept of rasa implies a strong connection between music and the emotions it evokes. Nine rasas, or moods are usually spoken of in connection with Indian classical music. They are:

1) Shringara – divine or human love
2) Hasya – humor
3) Karuna – sadness or compassion
4) Raudra – anger or fury
5) Veera – heroism or majesty
6) Bhayanaka – fear
7) Vibhatsa – disgust
8) Adbhuta – wonder or surprise
9) Shanta – peace and tranquillity

At times Bhakti – devotion is spoken of as the tenth rasa, but bhakti is in fact at the very basis of raga, for raga originated in the singing of the Vedic chants.

rela – Fast speed theme and variation tabla composition, usually preceded by peshkar and kaida in a drum solo.

sam – Pronounced “sum”, literally means “equal, together, balance.” It is the first and most important beat of the tala cycle, where the melodic phrase of the instrumentalist or vocalist and the rhythmic phrase of the tablaist come together.

samvadi – The “prime minister note”. The second most important note in a raga.

saptak – Octave or register.

sarangi – A multi-stringed instrument played with a bow, previously used only as an accompanying instrument for vocal music, but which is now often played as a solo instrument.

sargam – The seven notes (svaras) of the scale or saptak. Also exercising using sargam or a composition in which the note names are sung.

sarod or sarode – A twenty-five string instrument which is plucked with a coconut shell plectrum. Its body is made of wood; the fingerboard is a smooth fretless steel plate. Its belly is covered with goat skin which gives the sarod a mellow, resonant sound. Four strings carry the melody, three are resonating jawari strings, three are chikari strings, and fifteen are taraf strings which provide sympathetic resonance.

sastras – The sastras, in music, refer back to theories first set down in the Natyasastra, a treatise of the fourth century attributed to Bharata, i.e. knowledge founded on tradition.

sitar – A North Indian plucked stringed instrument made from a seasoned gourd with a toun or teakwood fingerboard. It has sixteen to twenty movable frets. Its five to seven main strings, including the chikari strings, are played with a wire plectrum fitted over the forefinger. Eleven to thirteen resonating strings, tuned to the notes of the raga being played and running beneath the frets, help to produce the characteristic shimmering sound of the sitar. The main strings are usually tuned to Ma Sa Pa Sa; the chikari strings are tuned to Pa, Sa, Sa.

sruti or shruti – A microtone, or microtonal interval. The number of srutis is often given as twenty-two to a saptak (octave).

sthayi – See asthai.

sur – Sur means tone, pitch or note. Also, sur refers to the skin area between the gaab and the kinar on the tabla heads. In drumming, a stroke on sur represents the tonic, i.e. the pitch of the drum.

svaras – The notes of the sargam (scale).

tabla – Pronounced “tubla”. A set of two drums, the smaller, right hand drum, the dayan, is often referred to, individually, as the tabla. Its body is usually made of rosewood. The larger left hand, bass drum, the baya, is usually made of metal. Both drums together are referred to as the tabla. The head of each drum is covered with skins and is composed of sections called, the gaab, the sur, the kinar, and the gajara.

tala or tal – The tals are the rhythmic cycles usually played on the drums. Tala (rhythm) along with raga (melody) are the two most important aspects of Indian music. The most common tal in Indian music is tintal. Other frequently heard tals include jhaptal, rupak, kaharwa, dhamar, ektal.

tali – A clap or division within a rhythm cycle or theka. Tali literally means “clap”.

tan – Tan(s) (pronounced “taans”) can be used in a general sense to refer to the many kinds of variations on a melodic composition or to one particular kind of variation.

tanpura or tampura or tanbura – A stringed instrument with a resonating gourd base and a long neck of wood. It somewhat resembles the sitar in appearance, but it has no frets, and far fewer strings. Its four or five strings are tuned to the tonic, the fifth and the octave. They are plucked with the sides of the finger-tips. The tanpura provides the third essential component, i.e. the drone (reference tone) in a performance of Indian classical music. The other com-ponents are raga (melodic structure) provided by vocalist or instrumentalist and tala (rhythm) provided by the tablaist.

tarana – A usually fast-moving, highly rhythmic section of a vocal composition using syllables based on drumming or dance bols such as “ta” and “na”, or nom-tom syllables.

that – One of the ten thats in the system of raga classification developed by Bhatkhande.

theka – The basic pattern of tabla bols or the signature line that identifies each tal. For example, the theka of rupaktal is: tin tin nadhi nadhi na, and it is unusual in that the first matra / vibhag is both sum and khali.

thumri – A light classical vocal style.

tihai – A rhythmic cadence repeated three times.

tintal – The most common of the tals used in North Indian classical music. In sixteen beats, divided 4+4+4+4.

tukra – A short, lively, fixed tabla composition.

vadi – The “king note” of a raga, i.e. the most important note in a raga.

vibhag – One measure. A vibhag is made up of matras; several vibhags make up an avarta. An avarta is one cycle of a tal.

vilambit – Slow (tempo).