Abhay Shivgounda Patil

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Archive for September 2017

Tarana! Tale of Mystically Auspicious Syllables of Music

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This is a blog version of the narration for a Tarana (तराना) concert by Ms Jayanti Sahasrabuddhe, accompanied by Vivek Datar (Harmonium) and Ravi Gutala (Tabla), on August 12, 2017, organized by Eventscoop.  (Jayanti is the disciple of Hindustani Classical music virtuoso Dr Veena Sahasrabuddhe.)

Tarana is a special form in the repertoire of the Hindustani art music.

Vocalists normally render compositions that have words in it. The lyrics, of course, carry appropriate meaning. However, focus is always the melody and rhythm – sur and taal. Performer and audience, both, explore the emotion through music – words typically take back seat. Enter Tarana, Trivat, Raas and Khayal-numa. These are the forms that abandon words and instead use the the meaningless sound clusters – the mystically auspicious syllables of music!

Tarana doesn’t restrict itself to any particular raga or taal.

Setting free from the tyranny of words

Noted musician and writer Aneesh Pradhan explains that Tarana probably best represents the vocalist’s urge to move away from song-text and into the realm of instrumental music. It uses syllables of music allowing musicians to be unfettered – without the restrictions that literal language may pose.

There is another aspect too. Language purist routinely get disturbed by “mangling” of words – at times the distortion gets so bad that it alters the meaning! And many a time “poetry” doesn’t rise to the class of the music. So, may be, the thought of setting oneself free from the tyranny of words must have fascinated musicians!

The etymology of Tarana

Tarana – this word is derived from Persian word Tarannum – which literary means a song 

Some musicians believe that the syllables, the so called meaningless words, used in tarana, in fact have a base in Persian, but that these connections have been lost over the years. There sure is a reason to believe in this claim – as this “meaningless” bols do reveal their Persian origin. Take the words  yalaliNadir, Derena. In persian ‘yalaliya Ali, Nadir– unique, DerenaDarina– old.

The Farmayishi Tarana variant does actually use Farsi words.

Tarana is “Extreme Programming”

Those who belong to the field of software development – let me tell you that Tarana is to music what “extreme programming” is to software development. Why? The operating principle of extreme programming is that whatever is good – take it to the extreme. Example? Peer review is good. Take it to extreme – do pair programming! In classical music, music is important. Lyrics incidental. Take it to extreme. Drop the literal language completely. So!

Origin of Tarana

Like everything else (!) Amir Khusro is credited with the origin of Tarana.  He was a bard in the court of Sultan of Delhi – Allaudin Khilji. That was 14th century. The story goes like this. Amir Khusro heard Gopal Nayak sing Raag Kadambak. He did not understand the Sanskrit words, but remembered the notes. Later he sang the composition using “bols” of mridangam, sitar and tabla – and that was Tarana. But see – sitar and tabla arrived on the scene much later!  .

Veenatai’s research tells us that there indeed was a form of music much earlier – found in the compositions of Marathi saint Dasopant. There are also references to “Kaivad Prabandh” in a book by Sharangdeo in 12th century – it was sung in the form of bols of Mridangam.

To each his own

Veenatai compares Tarana and Tappa – both creative variants of classical music. Both allow the artist to dazzle audience with their range. While Tarana preserves purity of the raaga, Tappa has no such restrictions. Another interesting point she makes is that Tarana being bereft of words, listeners are not bound by the meaning of words – and each one can experience it differently!

When everything has been sung

Pt Kumar Gandharv said once thus.

When everything has been sung, and the feeling of inadequacy still persists, then the musical form tarana satisfies your quest.

Anecdotes about the composers

Pt Kashinath Shankar Bodas, elder brother of Late Veenatai Sahasrabuddhe, was a prolific composer. Veenatai used to demand made to order taranas from him. I came across a heartwarming note by Veenatai in her memoirs where she shared how Kashinathji used to hear out people, during normal conversation, as if he was enjoying a concert! He was a keen student of music, fond of collecting bandish, and was influenced by Pt Kumar Gandharva.

Pt Balvantrai Bhat, was considered a complete vaggeyakar – one who has mastery over both “vak” (words) and “gey” (melody).  His pen-name was Bhavrang

It’s amusing the way artists use metaphors from their craft. Once Bhaiyaji (as Pt Bhat was called by his near ones), Veenatai and Prof Sahasrabuddhe (Veenatai’s husband) were traveling together in a car. Initially it was  Prof Sahasrabuddhe at the wheel. Bhaiyaji was visually impaired – but he figured at once that, on the way back, it was Veenatai who was driving. “The car is moving in the Gwalior gharana style (of music)” he exclaimed. “It has both gamak (गमक) and meend (मींड)”, he added. “It must be Veena!”. (From Veenatai’s book उत्तराधिकार – सांगीतिक परंपरा : कुछ विचार.)

Let’s check what gamak and meend means and relate that to driving an automobile. 

Gamak – is traditionally described as a vibratory effect in producing a tone to the delight of the listeners. Here the artist gives touches of the preceding and succeeding notes.

Meend: A melodic embellishment where the passage from one note to the lower is achieved by maintaining continuity. It is an act of कर्षणक्रिया (act of stretching).

So one gets an idea how Veenatai must be changing gears and what effect it had on the ride – the vibratory effect that was Bhaiyaji’s delight!


  • Keywords and Concepts – Hindustani Classical Music, Ashok Da Ranade (Promilla & Co. Publishers, New Delhi) ISBN  81 85002 12 6
  • Tarana: How Indian classical music broke free from the confines of language, Aneesh Pradhan.
  • Article by Ms Anjali Malkar on Tarana. (Link from shadjamadhyam.com not available.)
  • उत्तराधिकार – सांगीतिक परंपरा : कुछ विचार, वीणा सहस्रबुद्धे
  • संगीत कला विहार, मार्च  २०१७ अंक (अखिल भारतीय गांधर्व महाविद्यालय मंडल, मुंबई)




Written by Abhay Shivgounda Patil

September 2, 2017 at 2:01 pm

Posted in India, Music

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