Once upon a time, in the glorious past of India, dating back to the 13th century, there lived a genius by the name of Amir Khusro — a musician, poet and scholar. He was an iconic personality in the cultural history of India. Credited with numerous musical, philosophical and literary creations, the Sufi musician is also known as the Father of the Qawwali (musical genre). Amir Khusro served in the court of Mughal emperor Allauddin Khilji. During his reign many renowned singers and musicians performed at his court and were patronized by him. I am now going to share with you one of my favourite legends.
On one such evening, Khilji’s court was adorned by the presence of Gopal Nayak, a celebrated artist from the Indian subcontinent and court musician to the king of Devagiri. With the emperor asking Gopal Nayak to perform an intricate raag for six consecutive evenings, the atmosphere was intense. Amir Khusro wanted to hear the performances but decided to do so by hiding himself among the noblemen in the court. However, this enraged the emperor, and on the seventh evening, Khusro was ordered to replicate the performance of Gopal Nayak. This wasn’t a difficult task for Khusro. But the glitch was that he couldn’t follow Nayak’s language. His solution to this minor problem was substituting the original lyrics with meaningless syllables. And that is how the tarana was born!
You are now probably wondering what a tarana is. A tarana is a type of composition or song of Indian classical music with a very unique characteristic. The reason for this very characteristic is attributed to the above story. The lyrics of a tarana are not your usual Hindi/Awadhi/Brij Bhasha words but rather a collection of nonsensical words and syllables, e.g., Tanom Tanana, Dir Dir Daani, Yallalamu Yallali and so on. (Any similarity to any language of this world is purely coincidental). These are usually fast-paced compositions and are very attractive to listen to, even for the non-classically inclined folk. It is the lively part of a classical concert and fills the listeners with enthusiasm and energy.
A tarana is only one such type of Indian musical compositions. Let’s introduce you next to the most obvious styles of presentation — a bandish. Also referred to as a gat/cheez, a bandish literally means binding together. It is the lyrical aspect of Indian classical music (ICM). Every raag has its own set of bandishes, bound by the rules of the raag and set in a rhythm (taal). The tempo of a bandish varies from slow (Vilambit Lay), medium (Madhya Lay) to fast (Drut Lay). The lyrics can depict our devotion to God, seasons, the beauty of Mother Nature or any generic topic. In the past, many gharanas (schools/houses of ICM) fiercely protected their bandishes from being shared with rival gharanas. Each of them had their unique styles of presenting a raag and its bandish, and hence the performer’s gharana could easily be identified from his style.