“Khayal” literally means an idea or imagination . Khayal Vocal Singing is the picture of many frames of mind, beliefs, with a stimulating range and attractiveness.

Its name comes from an Arabic word meaning “imagination”. It is thought to have developed out of Dhrupad introducing frequent taans and alankars in it . It appeared more recently than Dhrupad, is a more free and flexible form, and it provides greater scope for improvisation.


Khyal bases itself on a repertoire of short songs (two to eight lines); a khyal song is called a bandish. Every singer generally renders the same bandish differently, with only the text and the raga remaining the same.

The bandish is divided into two parts — the sthayi (or asthayi) and the antara, with the former considered more important as it shows the melodic contours of the raga.


The compositions cover diverse topics, such as romantic or divine love, praise of kings or gods, the seasons, dawn and dusk, and the pranks of Krishna, and they can have symbolism and imagery.


The singer uses the composition as raw material for improvisation, accompanied by a harmonium or bowed string instrument such as the sarangi or violin playing off the singer’s melody line, a set of two hand drums (the tabla), and a drone in the background.

The role of the accompanist playing the melody-producing instrument is to provide continuity when the singer pauses for breath, using small variations of the singer’s phrases or parts thereof.


A typical khyal performance uses two songs —

1 . Bada khyal or great khyal- in slow tempo , comprises most of the performance

2 . Chhota khyal (small khyal) – in fast tempo , is used as a finale and is usually in the same raga but a different taal.

The speed gradually increases over the time of the performance. The songs are sometimes preceded by improvised alap to sketch the basic raga structure without drum accompaniment; unmetered alap is given much less room in khyal than in dhrupad.


As the songs are short, and performances long (half an hour or more), the lyrics lose some of their importance and abstract musical values are emphasized. Improvisation is added to the songs in a number of ways: for example improvising new melodies to the words, using the syllables of the songs to improvise material , singing the names of the scale degrees — sa, re, ga, ma, pa, dha and ni (sargam) , akaar taans. Taans are one of the major distinguishing features of the khyal .

Now and then, the singer returns to the song, especially its first line, as a point of reference.  Song forms such as taranas, thumris or tappas are sometimes used to round off a khyal performance.

1 . Gwalior Gharana

Features –  Similar emphasis on melody and rhythm, preference for simple  ragas, repertoire of bandishes, variety of taans

Famous  Exponents –   Vishnu Digambar Paluskar, Omkarnath Thakur, Ghulam Hassan Shaggan, Malini Rajurkar .

2 . Kirana Gharana

Features – Slow tempo raga development, emphasis on melody, long and sustained pitches, usually traditional ragas, use of sargam,  clarity of text pronunciation, use of some Carnatic ragas and raga features .

Famous  Exponents –Sawai Gandharva, Bhimsen Joshi, Prabha Atre, Hirabai Barodekar, Gangubai Hangal .

3 . Bhendi Bazaar Gharana

Features –Emphasis on breath control to be able to sing long passages in a single breath, use of  sargam, use of some Carnatic ragas .

Famous  Exponents –Aman Ali Khan, Anjanibai Malpekar

4 . Patiala Gharana

Features – Emphasis on voice development, similar emphasis on melody and rhythm,  fast sargam and taan patterns, may or may not include antara, influence of tappa style .

Famous  Exponents –Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Vasantrao Deshpande

5 . Agra Gharana

Features –Closer to dhrupad , rhythmic play, emphasis on voice culture to achieve wide range and powerful throw of voice, rare use of sargam, slower taans, repertoire of traditional and self-composed bandishes .

Famous  Exponents –  Faiyaz Khan, Jitendra Abhisheki

6 . Indore Gharana 

Features –Slow-tempo raga development,  tendency towards serious and expansive ragas, emphasis on melody, judicious use of pause between improvisations, may or may not include antara .

 Famous  Exponents – Amir Khan