In this CD we explore the wisdom of the lyrics of Hindustani vocal music, namely Khayal songs. Khayal is the predominant form of north Indian vocal music which has affinities with the older Dhrupad songs of the Hindu temple and medieval court. Now free from these institutions, the modern Khayal performance on concert stages has become an opportunity for musical virtuosity and showmanship with its emphasis on creativity and free expression. Audiences of today expect to be overwhelmed by a dazzling display of stylistic elements: shimmering cascades of tanas (note patterns comprising vowels), murkis (grace notes), khutkas (rapid turns of phrases), speedy sargams (sa re ga ma, etc), rhythmic interchanges with the tabla, and tricky tihais (triplets). For crowd pleasing, some eccentric vocalists have resorted to gimmickry in the form of rapid staccato, falsetto, fading-out of notes, chromatic glissandos, sudden shouts and other irregular vowel movements, presenting a kind of ‘Khayal on steroids.’ Without endorsing or denouncing the free flow of musical ideas, our observation is that to unsuspecting outsiders, including many Indians, the inevitable question arises--what are the singers singing about? The occasional expression, balama more or piya hamare (“My Dear, My Beloved”), heard in Khayal renditions may alert them to the likelihood of human romantic exchanges, the longing between two lovers. Popular songs in the West have consistently covered this same ground. But since Khayal is considered the top brand of north Indian vocal music and labelled “classical,” one asks, is this all there is to the meaning?
According to musicologists, the seemingly romantic relations depicted in classical Khayal songs refer mostly to divine associations, such as between Hindu deities or between the human being and the Almighty. In fact, the majority of Khayal songs depict situations involving the god Krishna and his favourite goddess Radha, often in relation to descriptions of the seasons like spring and monsoon. A significant minority of songs also reveal Indian wisdom at its finest, with references to intellectual topics found in Hindu philosophy as found in the Upanishads, such as the illusory nature of material existence, the misery associated with greed and gluttony, the prospect of repeated births in the cycle of samsara or reincarnation, and the need for assistance in crossing over to the other side, a place of permanent peace and tranquillity. The solution to these problems is often presented in the songs: chanting divine names, meditation on the Lord, and engaging in devotional worship.
A Khayal song is known as a “bandish,” a carefully constructed musical composition in which there is a balance of note, beat, and word to form a unique creation that is greater than the sum of the individual parts. The lyrics are thus highly important, equal to the musical aspects, but which have not received the attention they deserve. Musicians and audiences alike have frequently lost sight of the essential literal meaning of Khayal, which is indispensible for its full appreciation. We thus present several songs in some of the most beautiful Ragas or melodic patterns of Hindustani music, with lyrics that also teach us some of India’s most profound wisdom.
The wisdom contained in the lyrics of our Khayal songs or bandishes may be divided into four categories.
1) The lyric functions as a hymn of praise that enhances meditation on a specific deity, whether Krishna, Shiva, or a Goddess, by naming or describing the characteristics of the deity. The song forms a “verbal icon” in the mind which, with the addition of the Raga and Tala, assists the devotee to focus attention on a specific deity. Since the Bhagavad-Gita (8.6) affirms that the state of mind at the time of death determines the condition of the next birth, there is ample reason for Hindus to engage in singing or hearing these kinds of hymns, in order to sustain the mental presence of the deity in case of unexpected death. In some songs, the divine source of music is recounted with reference to the ancient Indian notion of Nada-Brahman (“Sound as God”), reminding musicians and listeners that musical experience contributes toward spiritual attainments in this life and the next.
2) The lyric presents an urgent call for the singer or listener to take up the chanting of the divine name of God, most especially Rama, as in ‘Ram Nam,’ or Vishnu or Krishna as in ‘Hari Nam.’ The reason given for this command is that no other solution to the problem of life is as effective.
3) The lyric teaches us aspects of Indian philosophy drawn from Vedanta and the Upanishads. For example, life is suffering under the control of illusion (Maya). One needs to recognize the futility of material possessions and family attachments, and earnestly try to cross-over to the other side of existence as the only remedy for permanent relief from countless rebirths in this material world.
4) The lyric affirms the truth of the unity of God, who nonetheless has many names. Some songs portray a non-sectarian or ‘Generic God’ comprising an inclusive range of names or epithets, such as Prabhu (“Lord”), Sattar (“Divine Truth”), Karatar (“Creator”), Data (“Divine Giver”), who is offered prayer and petition for salvation.
Each of our songs may reflect one or more of these categories, but as they are taken from the principal songbooks of north Indian classical music, namely Bhatkhande (KPM), Patvardhan (RV), and Mehta (AG), they are part of the standard core or “canon” of the Khayal repertoire. Tthe songs are listed alphabetically according to the Raga. All the compositions are performed in Madhyalaya Teental of 16 beats.
Alahiya Bilaval (RV 3.159-160/AG 35)
Sumirana kara bhaja rama nama ko
Jo kachu bhala hove tera bande
Eka dinava ghara jana hoga
Vapasa phira nahi ana hoga
Soca samajha paga dhariye bande
One who reveres and remembers the name of Rama will attain all goodness and success.
One day we all will have to leave this world. In order to secure a place in the next life, not to return to another physical body, it is recommended to consider this message carefully and surrender.
Bhairav (RV 3.123-124)
Prabhu data re
Bhaja re mana jivana ghari pala china
Jo tu cahe ana dhana lacchami
Dudha puta bahu tera
Vako nama bhaja guru ko nama
The Supreme Lord is the Giver of everything! Therefore worship Him every moment of your life.
One who desires from you the blessings of this life and the next should heed this call and sincerely worship the Lord and take the name of one’s Guru
Bhairav (KPM 2.181-182)
Prabhu data sabana ke
Tu rata le mana ghari pala china
Jo tu cahe dudha puta ana
Dhana lacchami imana vake nama
Le vake raba ko nama le ranga rata sabana ke
Oh Lord! You are the Giver of everything.
Let my mind recall you at every moment.
Whatever one desires from you, material or spiritual, the highest blessing is the pleasure of chanting your name in good faith.
Bhupal Todi (RV 5.235)
Jaba rama nama kahi gavega
Taba bheda abheda samavega
Guru prasada bhai anubhavamati
Visha amarita samajhavega
Whenever I chant the name of Rama, I make no distinctions between caste and creed.
By the mercy of Guru, I am able to experience happiness, and transform the poison of materialistic life into eternal bliss.
Bihag (AG 38-40)
Vamsi kaisi baji nanda lala tuma
Jamuna ji ke ghata dhuna mana men
More vamsi suna sudha budha bisrani
Jaga nistarana bhakata nivarana
Brija ki bhumi para sarasa janama lino
Kalindi men natha tuma naga so prani
Oh Lord Krishna, the sound of your flute by the side of the Yamuna River has captured my mind, and made me lose all sense of comportment.
You are the upholder of the universe and the shelter of devotees, yet you took birth in Braj, and pleased the wives of the Nagas while defeating the demon Kaliya.
Darbari Kanada (KPM 4.659-660)
Samajhata na mana tu mera
Lakha bara samajhavata hun mai
Kahe na tajata andhera
Jhuthi maya jhuthi kaya
Jhutha jagata basera
Anta samai koi kama na avata
Catra prabhu eka tera
Oh Mind, you do not understand truth, despite my thousands of attempts to explain it. Why don’t you abandon the darkness of ignorance?
This material world is illusion, the body is illusion, the entire universe is illusion. At the time of death, no one will accompany you beside the Lord.
Kafi (KPM 1.46-47)
Prabhu teri daya hai apar
Tu agama agocara avikala cara acara sakala
Ko tu adhar patitana ko udhar
Dina anatha patita aru durabala
Mahad aparadhi saranagata hun
Catura tihar mohe para utar
Oh Lord, Your mercy knows no boundaries.
Though you are inaccesible and unknowable in your fullness, you uplift the fallen and are the foundation of everything moving and non-moving.
Poor, helpless, fallen, and weak, I am a sinner, full of offenses, yet I surrender to you. Catur says “Please carry me across to the other side.”
Kalingada (RV 2.94)
Kauna jaga men hamara hai
Adhara sanca tuma bina
Mama mana mandira men virajo
Aba prabhu dera na lagavo avo
Without you, Oh Lord the foundation of everything, who is there for me in this universe?
While you shine in the temple of my mind, you are also everywhere.
Kedar (KPM 3.124-125)
Soca samajha mana mita piyarava
Sad guru nama kare sumiranava
Ghari ghari pala pala umara ghatata saba
Ajahu ceta mati manda caturava
Oh Mind, concentrate on the name of the True Guru, and remember him always.
Moment by moment, my life is fading away. Please illuminate me and give spiritual peace.
Lalit (AG 112)
Hari ka nama sumarale
Dukha daladala jaya manuva
Johi teri dhyave sohi phala pave
Nama sumrana sukha dai manuva
Always remember the name of Lord Hari, who takes away all pains.
Whatever you desire from God, you will receive the fruits, but meditation on the Name brings the highest bliss.
Malkauns (KPM 3.708-709)
Suna re mana murakha ajnani
Bhai bandhu saba kutuma kabila
Sanga calata kou nahi
Moha jala men bilama raho hai
Kauna kisi ko mani
Eka dina panchi nikasa ja bego
Ye ne ce kara jani
Listen, Oh foolish and ignorant Mind! Brothers, friends, family,relatives, wife—none of these will accompany you at the time of death.
You are mired in the false illusion of affection, when in fact no is there for you.
One day a bird will come to you and say it is time to go--will you be ready?
Nat Bhairav (RV 7.136)
Nita sumarana karata hai karatara
Tihare carana sarana mohe dije
Dina dayala abhaya vara data
Itahi vinati mori suna lije
I always remember the Lord who is the Creator. I beg for the shelter of his feet.
Please listen to my plea and give fearlessness to me who is poor and helpless.
Purvi (RV 2.50-51)
Ari ye mainka saba sukha dino
Dudha puta aura ana dhana lacchami
Kirapayo govinda ranga dino
Agama aparana jaga nistarana
Kripa karana dukha harana sukha sadana
Saba batana molayaka kino
There is great happiness and bounty for me, due to the blessings of Govinda.
The lord is inaccesible, without limit, and upholds the universe. By his mercy, sorrow is removed and happiness is established. These truthful words are priceless indeed.
Purvi (KPM 1.41-42)
Natha natha kara bola rasana
Kahe tu manava ka vada karata hai
Krishna Krishna kahi dola rasana
Always recite the Lord’s Name with joy.
Why hasn’t everyone taken up your promise of liberation?
Recite the name of Lord Krishna and swing with joy.
Shankara (KPM 4.213-214)
Sukha kara dukha hara tuma data
Deta dilavata ese bidhata
Dhana dhana jaga ke tuma trata
Saba jana sisa carana paranimave
Mangata mangata dara tore ave
Umanga umanga mana bhavana pave
Sakala khalaka ke tuma natha
Oh Lord, You give happiness and remove all distress.
You provide all facilities, establish laws, and graciously deliver all from sorrow.
All men bow before your feet. I also desire your blessings and the bliss of mind. You are the Lord of all beings and creatures.
Tilak Kamod (KPM 3.302-303)
Kara hari ko bhajana nita utha more mana
Hari saba ke tarana hari patita pavana
Joi Janata sarana joi
Dharata carana vake harata janama vake
Tarata marana aise tilaka bhuvana bhaja
Oh Mind, always worship Lord Hari, the saviour of all the fallen souls.
One who knows the truth will take shelter of the feet of the Lord and avoid future rebirths and death itself, finding bliss in the beyond, says Catur.
Todi (RV 2. 86-87) Gulab Das
Saca saca kije ata sukha
Dije harijana ko natha tuma
Manusa janama yaha vritha jaya ko
Kahe gulaba suna re mana murakha
Lo bhi ceta caitana duje
Brikha ko tyaga srimadhava nama
sudha rasa lije
Please give me truth, and give me great happiness, as you are the Lord of humankind. Please help me to traverse the ocean of birth and death and conquer the illusion of material existence.
Poet Gulab Das commands his foolish mind to give up greed and cunning, to give up all vices and taste the beautiful name of Sri Madhava (Krishna).
Vrindabani Sarang (KPM 3.503-504)
Rata kara rasana rama ko nama
Rata kara rasana rama ko nama
Rama rama raghupati raghu nayaka
Krishna Krishna karuna kara syama
Gopi pati gopala gadadhara
Radha vara locana abhirama
Recite the name of Rama with joy, Rama who is Lord and leader of the Raghus, by whose mercy also appears as Krishna or Shyama.
Krishna is Lord of the Gopis yet holds a club as Vishnu. More beautiful still is Radha whose eyes enchant.
Yaman (KPM 2.31-32)
Ahata anahata bheda nada ke
Prathama bheda srutiyana so hove
Anahata munijana dhyana dharata jaba
Nabhi kantha aura murdha sthana son
Mandra madhya aura tara hovata
Sapta surana ke nama bakhane
Sa re ga ma pa dha ni sa ni dha pa ma ga re sa
The fountainhead of sound in Indian music, Nada-Brahman, is divided into two realms: ahata or ‘struck’ sound (manifest), and anahata, or ‘unstruck’ sound (unmanifest). The struck sound is then divided into 22 srutis or microtones. The ancient sages meditated on the anahata or unstruck dimensión of Nada-Brahman, being in touch with Divine Truth.
The seven notes of music, sa re g ama pa dha ni, are described as spread over three octaves, lower (mandra), middle (madhya), and tara (higher), which correspond to the three levels of the body, the navel, throat, and head.
Yaman Kalyan (AG 1-2)
Darasana deho sankara mahadeva
Mahadeva tihare darasa vina mohe
Kala na parata ghari pala china dina
Ana pari hun sarana tihare
Tuma vina kauna bandhave dhira
Vipada pari mope maha kathina
Oh Lord Shiva, please give me your darshan (visión),without which there is no peace even for a moment.
I approach you Lord, and surrender to you. Without you there is no stability in life, only danger and distress.
KPM. Bhatkhande, V. N. Kramik Pustak-Malika. Vols. 1-6. Hathras, 1953-1964.
RV. Patvardhan, V. N. Rag-Vijnan. Vols. 1-7. Pune, 1962-1970.
AG. Mehta, R. C. Agra Gharana: Parampara, Gayaki aur Cijen. Baroda, 1969.
INSIDE CD COVER – left flap
What do singers of Khayal sing about? What is the meaning of Khayal lyrics which, though sung in Hindi, is frequently elusive and difficult to understand even for people of India? As the predominant form of north Indian vocal music, Khayal is usually misunderstood because the style of performance has overshadowed the literary dimension, which deserves its proper place. In effect, crowd pleasing has become more important than conveyance of meaning and message. This CD presents several examples of Khayal lyrics from the perspective of Indian philosophy and religion, to show how there is a deep spirituality in many of the songs that goes back to ancient Vedic knowledge contained in the Upanishads. In fact, Khayal songs often reveal Indian wisdom at its finest, with references to the illusory nature of material existence, the misery associated with greed and gluttony, the futility of excessive family attachments, the prospect of repeated births in the cycle of samsara or reincarnation, and the need for assistance in crossing over to the other side, a place of permanent peace and tranquillity. The solution to these problems is often presented in the songs themselves: chanting divine names, meditation on the Lord, and engaging in devotional worship. We present twenty songs in some of the most beautiful Ragas or melodic patterns of Hindustani music, such as Kedar, Bhairav, Darbari, Purvi, and Todi, with lyrics that also teach us India’s profound wisdom.
All of our songs are taken from the principal anthologies of north Indian classical music, namely those of Bhatkhande, Patvardhan, and Mehta, and are part of the standard Khayal repertoire. The songs are listed alphabetically according to the Raga, and are each performed in Teental of 16 beats.