“Bandish – A Perspective” – by Dr. Prabha Atre

Raag is an abstract concept in Indian music. Raag comes into being in a’ seed’ form in a ” creator’s mind; but later on it keeps growing like a huge mighty tree maturing through contemplation, deep reflection and its actual presentation by its creator as well as by other artists who take liking for it. In actual presentation raag gets limited by the intellect and imagination of the artist. Its infinite potential to expand has made it impossible to confine it in totality, completely in any medium. Nevertheless artists have realised that a raag or a musical form like khyaal, thumri etc. can be condensed in its seed form, encased in a ‘Bandish’ – a small precomposed piece.
Bandish may be roughly, broadly described as a composition confined or condensed within the elements of Swaras (notes) and Laya (tempo). A Bandish for vocal music in addition to swara and laya comprises sensical or nonsensical words. Bandish’s main function is to provide the artist with a schematic plan of a raag or a genre (form) constantly, and to provide him with different directions in which it could be elaborated. Artists have tried to elaborate the structure of a raag according to their capabilities, using the framework of the Bandish as their foundation plan.
Music is basically an auditory act perceived through the sense of hearing. Yet there has been a continuous conscious effort to assign symbols to notes, beats, tempo etc. to create a kind of musical script called notation which would be helpful in writing and reading music composition. However no notation system has so far been able to notate accurately every nuance, regarding movement and expression of vocal or instrumental music. The various ways of approaching and leaving a note, joining two or more notes, the articulation, weightage given to grace notes, turns, modulations of the voice – there are number of such things which need to be learnt by listening to the actual performance only. A system of notation can be meaningful and useful only to a person who has received training in music, who has heard a lot of it. Of course it is needless to say that systems of notations have been useful in education, comprehension, preservation and propogation of music.
In early days bandish acquired phenomenal importance in the absence of satisfactory notation system and printing facilities. The artist had only a bandish as his guide to explore raag structure and musical form. The oral tradition of imparting musical education helped in preservation of these bandishes and bandishes in return preserved Indian Music. This is perhaps the most significant contribution by bandishes to Indian Music.
With the changing time, the form of bandish also underwent changes to suit the different musical genres, sometimes with the intention of introducing novelty, sometimes because a need for change was felt. Thus eight-parts bandish in Ashtapadi became four-parts-bandish in Dhrupad-Dhamar : sthayi antaraa, sanchaari and aabog. In khyaal form, bandish appeared with two parts : sthaayi and antaraa. Lately, especially in vilambit or slow pace Khyaal, bandish has become generally of one part: sthayi, antaraa getting ignored for various reasons. Bandish definitely represents a musical form. However the existance of a raag and its importance depend on the particular musical form.
In classical music or Raag music (Khyaal, Taraana), Raag is everything. Text of the Bandish – the words with or without meaning are only a part of the musical material. Raag is independent of the words.
In light classical music (Thumri, Daadaraa), words are as important as Raag. Raag and words are interdependent and also independent of each other.
In light music or word music (Bhav geet, Devotional songs), words are everything. They are of primary importance. A raag may not be necessarily present and even if it is there, it does not have an independent existance.
While composing a bandish, one has to take into consideration the specific musical form, the raag to be used and if it is vocal music, also the choice of words and their emotional content. Bandish becomes bandish in true sense if one is conscious of all these thing. While in the process of getting composed the bandish also takes on a style and tempo. It is very important, therefore that one follows that style and tempo while presenting the bandish, otherwise the original beauty of the bandish is likely to be lost or affected. Most of the Gharaanas have come up with bandishes of their own to bring out their aesthetic identities. The creative artists who have freed themselves from the framework of Gharaanaa have also composed their own bandishes to suit their style and presented them in concerts as a statement of their distinct musical personality.
In Hindustani classical vocal music, the literary aspect of the song text getting ignored for various reasons, the pronunciation of words, their emotional content also began to lose their importance. This resulted in general disregard and lack of awareness for the literary quality of the text of bandish. There also seemed less cohesiveness as reagrds the actual text presented. Along with song text, the musical structure of the bandish also suffered noticeably, today even in traditional bandishes, one can notice several versions. There is no guarantee that two disciples of the same Guru would present a bandish in its photo copy perfection. Some times the changes are intorduced by the Guru himself, some times students make changes knowingly unknowingly. Although there is a general agreement about the sturcture and personality of a raag and bandish, the differences lie in details. This has made it difficult to achieve standardisation in Hindusthani music.
In Carnatic music, things are different. The poetry in the song text has some standard and general acceptance. The text being of utmost importance, the singer can not take any liberties. This restriction has helped in preserving the text as well as its musical score. That is why hundreds of singers and instrumentalists in Carnatic music come together and present a bandish (Kriti) in a choral form, it is essential in choral music that the whole piece be composed in advance to the last detail. In western music also an individual artist can not have freedom because of the harmonic choral nature of the composition.
In Hindustani music, it is mainly a solo or individual performance. Therefore in addition to extempore structuring of the raag, the artist can also take freedom with pre-composed bandish. The advantage of this has been the emergence of immense variety within the frame-whether a raag or a bandish. Every artist gave a different perspective of the same raag. Raag’s boundaries seemed limitless; horizons o£beauty widened. Artist loosened the bandish and created more space for the raag.
The merit of a bandish needs to be judged on the basis of knowledge of different musical forms and raags, Command over taal, understanding of literature, aesthetic sense etc. A bandish should not be stamped as ‘good’ simply because it is traditional.
Neither should a ‘recent origin’ be regarded a disqualification for a well composed bandish. All traditional established bandishes were ‘new’ at some point of time. Whether old or new, a well composed bandish adds lots of colours while developming a musical form.
Queries are often raised regarding the need for new bandishes , especially when a large treasure of traditional bandishes is already available for all. Music has to change with time , then is it not necessary to have bandishes to represent this music? Talented artists of every period have added new bandishes to the repertoire of music and connoisseurs as well as laymen have accepted them and welcomed them. The number of artists composing new bandishes has increased today for various reasons. Artist is liberating himself from the constraints of the Gharaanaa. He is being constantly exposed to music of every type, from all direction,. He is looking for some thing novel and he also wants to offer something ‘new’.
A bandish comes alive trough the voice of a singer or the fingers of an instrumentalist. Confining a bandish to notation is keeping it dormant,inactive, lifeless,. But notation does help in learning bandish. However it is absolutely neccessary to listen to the way the bandish is sung or played; since it is practically impossible to include all the nuances of vocal or instrumental music in notation system.
Today there are a variety of tools to assist learning of music and yet there is no effective alternative to oral tradition and notation.
The Importance of Song-Text (Bandish) and its words in Khyaal
Music in its purest form consists of tone and time. In vocal music, however, there is one more component-words, which form an integral part of music. In case of human being, the production of sound is possible mainly through vowels and consonants. To make the best of this situation, vocalists have used words to their advantage :-
Merely as carriers of notes
To create variety in articulation and intonation
To obtain rhythmic patterns through word structure
To lend specific emotional colour.
In vocal music, words have played an important role in bringing variety in the texture of musical material.
Material in vocal music :
Aalaaps are short and slow phrases sung with vowels and usually free of rhythm.
Taans are long and fast phrases sung with vowels and usually rhythm bound.
Bol-phrases are phrases with bols (words) such as bol-aalaaps, bol- tanans, bol-upaj, bol-baant, bol-banaav with or without rhythm.
Sargam are phrases with abbreviated note-names with or without rhythm
Bandish is a precomposed .song text which incorporates characteristic features of a particular form, raag, and taal. It stands as a main pillar around which the development of the form takes place through various sections of phrases like aalaaps, bol-phrases, sargam and taans. Besides providing a melodic line for the accompanying taal structure, the part of the composition called ‘mukhadaa’ acts as a reference point or resting point in the rhythmic cycles after completion of each unit of improvisation in aalaap, bol-phrases, sargam and taan sections as per the need of the form.
In olden days, bandish-song text acquired importance because of the oral tradition, lack of printing facilities and absence of technical equipment like tape recorders, CD players etc. It was easy to remember the essential features of the raag through bandish-song text which was a crystallised or seed from of a raag.
The Ashtapadi bandish in Prabandhs that were sung before “Dhrupad-Dhamaar” had eight parts. Dhrupad-Dhamaar bandish came with four parts-sthaayi, antaraa, sanchaari and aabhog, although today, sanchaari and aabhog are rarely heard.
Khyaal bandish appeared with only two parts – sthaayi and antaraa. In recent years, antaraa-the second part of the bandish, especially in slow (vilambit) or badaa khyaal is fast desappearing. Even the sthaayi has been reduced to one time cycle.
The recent trend to reduce a bandish especially in slow or vilambit khyaal to one cycle of taal is also an indication of the artist’s endeavour to free himself from the words. One-line-one-taal-cycle bandish is already in vogue in Carnatic music (raagam-taanam-pallavi).
Under the name of tradition, many things are accepted blindly and people don’t like to part with them. Besides, the changing time also needs to be taken into consideration. The artist is heading towards free expression in khyaal, the only form which has the potential of beautifully representing the “pure”, abstract’ quality of music.
The need for antaraa, therefore, needs to be viewed in the context of tonal structure of the sthaayi, the nature of the raag, voice range and singer’s preference.
The bandish-song text of a khyaal has two parts-sthaayi and antaraa. The purpose of the sthaayi is generally to support the elaboration of the form in the lower and the middle octaves, while the antaraa helps elaboration in the middle and the upper octaves.
Since words cannot be avoided in vocal music, which form part of the musical material, and since, the purpose of khyaal is to project the raag, which is an abstract concept, the fewer the words, the freer is the artist to play with the notes. One meaningful line set to one rhythmic cycle is the smallest possible bandish necessary for a badaa khyaal. Secondly, if the sthaayi serves the purpose of the antaraa, the deletion of the antaraa is the natural consequence and not a deviation from tradition.
Even in arts, survival is through necessity. For novelty’s sake, one can also add snchaari and aabhog to khyaal bandish or convert them to Ashtapadis. Why not ?
Before one talks about tradition, the importance of sthaayi, antaraa, words of the song-text, etc. one must ponder over the following points :
Why not compose antaraas in the lower octave if the sthaayi is in the upper octave ?
Why not sing the whole song-text every time while coming to the “Sam”?
Why not give the same importance to the meaning and pronunciation of the words in song-text of khyaal as in thumri-daadraa or light songs ?
Why dhrupad-dhamaar presentations are not considered incomplete when the sanchari or the aabhog of the song-text are deleted ?
It is also a known fact that in the past, many artists did not sing the antaraa in their concerts for the fear of losing it out through plagiarisation; many teachers taught only the sthaayi to their students. Was their music incomplete? All this means that the completeness of khyaal does not depend on the antaraa alone.
It is also observed that the words in badaa-khyaal tend to lose their identity in terms of tonal structure and literary meaning, because of the slow pace of the development. In chotaa-khyaal, since the tempo is fast, words retain their tonal structure and also naturally convey literary meaning. Repeating one line in chotaa-khyaal would amount to monotony. The text elaboration of the bandish in this case becomes a necessity.
What is important is to give due attention to the pronunciation of the words and their meaning. The length of the bandish is immaterial, if it helps in building the form and the raag structure. It is also logical and natural that khyaal uses only the bare minimum of words in the song-text to bring out the x abstract’ content in the raag as well as the form. Khyaal represents music in its purest form.
In instrumental music, bandish takes form of a gat having similar parts – sthaayi and antaraa. It is interesting to note that many a times instrumentalists also use only sthaayi to develop the form.

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NAD-SADHNA INSTITUTE FOR INDIAN MUSIC AND RESEARCH CENTRE is a place where researchers in music education, professionals in related fields, as well as undergraduate, post graduate and PhD scholars, students and enthusiasts, can get together in a virtual exchange of information and knowledge in the field of Music Education and Musical Performance. Besides, our purpose is to work in areas as diverse as academic research, music and sound production, exhibition services, and the delivery of cinematic, music, and arts events. Nad Sadhna was founded in 2010 and is based in Jaipur, the city better described as the cultural capital of the Country. Having dedicated study facilities, extensive holdings of published and unpublished materials (books, journal and newspaper articles, scores and recordings), collections of recorded music and an audio visual laboratory.


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