“Bandish On Instruments with Particular Reference to Sitar” by Pandit Arvind Parikh

INTRODUCTION : Bandish has been correctly defined as the mainstay or the backbone of any classical music performance, be it vocal or instrumental. Though my subject should confine itself to Bandish or gat-composition on instruments, it is necessary to refer to the importance and different dimensions of implications of Bandish in general, in the presentation of raga.

The theme of the seminar describes Bandish as the key concept to music and its forms. As a performing musician, to start with, I would like to refer to its practical and aesthetic values.

Let us see what are its practical values :

  1. We have heard great Ustads remark, that once you know the Bandish of a raga in all its dimensions, you know the raga-swaroop intimately and thoroughly. Hence, for a student of music, a thorough knowledge of Bandish would be of great practical value.
  2. It has been our noticed that many performance meander around the basic structure of the Bandish while developing a raga, especially when they present difficult or rare ragas, so that the raga swaroop is not disturbed. Here also the Bandish would be of great help.
  3. Svara, laya and sahitya are considered to be the three basic elements of music. Sahitya is an important vehicle of great practical value to project the correct rasa and bhava of the raga and is of great assistance to the performer in conjuring up the right atmosphere or “mahol” of the rag. Whilst the instrumentalists do not have this facility, the composer of a gat certainly uses to advantage, various accents, lilt and alliteration of vocal music, while composing gat-s.
  4. In olden times, it is believed that when instrumental music was not fully developed, gat-s played a principal role in performances. In effect, the performance was very ‘gat-based’. The greater the number of gat-s that a performer was able to present in his performance, the higher his status was. This was the situation in the late 18th and early 19th century. No doubt, my remarks are related more to sitar music, but then this demonstrates one more element of practical utility gat-s or Bandishes.
  5. Especially in Khayal music, when the Bandish is presented in the beginning and the alap etc., follow, the bandish ,is of great assistance in setting the tempo or the pace at which the raga would develop (e.g. Shankara and Darbari. This of course assumes that the bandish-s are very mature compositions of high quality.

Let us now consider the aesthetic value of the Bandish. I would once again refer to the Sahitya element of the Bandish. Many Bandish-s have poetic content of great value. Beautiful compositions in Braj-bhasa or in highly sanskritised Hindi are respected for their literary value. The Sahitya element of great Drupad-s is considered to be almost a treasure. The philosophic projections of such Bandish-s need no extra comments. Apart from the utility and the assistance that the performer obtains from the Bandish, the aesthetic or inherent essence and faithful adherence to such a Bandish helps to built up the correct mental frame of the artist. It is one thing to know the raga swaroop thoroughly and it is another to be conscious of the aesthetic values of the raga which especially our old Bandish-s implicitly possess.

At the cost repetition, 1 would like to refer to the tempo which the Bandish sets according to the mood of the raga. While the Bandish would assist the artist in the actual performance, the aesthetic beauty of the Bandish would also be of great value in creating the appropriate and meaningful atmosphere. The practical values in the physical sense would imply the physical attributes of the performance like, laya, etc., and the emotional aspects would be projected through the aesthetic quality of the Bandish.

STRUCTURE OF BANDISH : Nobody can contradict the fact that all the practical and aesthetic values that we have described earlier, would not result, unless the Bandish itself is properly structured on the basis of several acknowledged and established principles, As a performing musician, I visualise the gat as having two basic segments called Sthayi and Antara. The Sthayi includes first two lines of the composition , viz gat or mukhada and manjha. The Antara also usually contains two lines, the 1st line called the antara and the 2nd line or the boncluding line called “amad” which brings us back to the mukhada of the gat.


  1. This implies that once you have presented the entire Bandish, you have expounded the raga structure fully through all the 21’2 to 3 octaves.
  2. The element of “badhat” is inherent in our alap: well, it is inherent in our philosophy. The structure of the Bandish is undoubtedly based on this principle. The progressive exposition both in terms of Svara and Sahitya (where applicable) very clearly indicates that the principle of step by step development is utilized in establishing the structure of the Bandish.
  3. Earlier we have described the segments of “Sthayi” and “Antara” in terms of “Svara” But inherent in the structure are certainly, the elements of laya and tal. Laya, meaning the pace or the tempo, is designed to bring out the correct rasa-bhava or the mood of the raga and of course so is the Sahitya. The tal in which the Bandish is composed, also should be intimately aligned with the raga bhava, This concept brings us immediately to the structure of Valambit and Drug gat-s. It would be easily agreed that both the laya and tal-s of such compositions are therefore of great significance, and have to be correctly structured.


With this background indicating the importance and structure of Bandish or gat-s, we can now consider Bandish on instruments. You will pardon me if my direct or oblique references are Sitar oriented, because that is the instrument I know. To start with, it is necessary and useful to refer to the evolutionary process of the stylistic developments of raga exposition on instruments and more particularly – Sitar.

Just as Veena was originally used as an accompanying instrument, so was Sitar, in the initial period. However, when Veena became an independent solo instrument, bols were introduced to create highly ornamental and systematic patterns to beautify the presentations.

The paran-s of pakhawaj were adopted and these were knows as tar parans when played on Veena. Sitar naturally followed similar developments. The basic bol-s of Sitar are da and ra. By using these basic bol-s, several different kinds of bol-s were created such as dir, dadir, dar, rda, darda, dra and dra-rda. Over the period, several permutations and combinations of these bol-s were used by sitar players to create interesting rhythmic phrases through the use of the right hand mizrab.

By and large the left hand in the Sitar develops the melody, while the right hand creates the rhythm. I repeat, by and large and not completely. We have seen how bol patterns were gradually developed with the right hand. As mentioned earlier, Sitar was originally used as an accompanying instrument. It was used as a pause filler (poorak) to maintain the “Nyasa” note on which the vocalist had chosen to halt. However it did not take the musicians long to discover the limitations of the Sitar as an accompanying instrument and its potentialities as a solo instrument. Thus the melody was gradually developed with the increasing movement of the left hand. During the 18th century, it is believed that the Senia style of sitar players used 12 different “angs’ in their performance. These were: alap, jod, gat, toda, ladi, guthav ladiguthav, ladlapet, kattar, tarparan, jhala and thokjhala. We learn that different styles of gat-s were composed by the performers of different styles such as Senia baj, Jaipur baj, Masit Khan’s or Delhi baj, Poorbi or Razakhani baj, etc. Of course there are several versions and it would be commonly accepted that the crystallization of the gat-s or Bandish on Sitar and similar instruments took place during the latter half of the 18th century. It may be significant to mention at this stage that the followers of Tansen were divided into two mainstream, one of Beenkars and the other of Rubabiya-S. It is believed that the Beenkars gave importance to Svara presentation while the Rabab players laid stress on laya in their presentations. Over the period, Sitar absorbed the effective use of both the svara and laya- no doubt based on the Dhrupad style of vocal music.

Nawab Ashfaq Ali Khan mentions in his book ‘Nagmate-ul-Hind’ that the famous court musician Nemat Khan or Shah Sadarang in the court of Mohammed Shah Rangile, composed the first gat to be played on Sitar, His brother Khusro Khan’s son or Shah Sadarang’s nephew, Phiroz Khan was also a great composer of Sitar gat-s. Phiroz Khan’s son Ustad masit Khan was also a great Veena and Sitar player and made historical contribution to the style of Sitar playing by making is highly ornamental and systematic at the same time. His musical genius was responsible for establishing definite bol patterns to be used in gat-s and in fact this was the beginning of Masit Khani gats in Vilambit teental which are being played even today. With the “mukhada” of 5 matra-s i.e. dir da dir da ra, the entire mastikhani gat uses the bol-s dir da dir da ra da da ra, dir da dir da ra da da ra. Masit Khan developed 6 different bol patterns in different tals utilising the rules of bani-s and the basic bol-s of sitar i.e. dara and dir. However the pattern mentioned above i.e. dir da dir dara da da ra, dir da dir da ra da da ra, was considered to be highly scientific, simple and well suited to instrumental music. Hence it became extremely popular in North India and in effect this style of gats received the stamp of Mastikhan gat. Several other sitar players composed gats in similar style but all such gats came to be known as Mastikhan gats. Earlier sitar players developed their sitar performance on the basis of these bol patterns dividing the same into sections of 5-5 and 3-3 making the total of 16 beats of teental in vilambit laya.

Tracing further development of gats, we come across the names of Rahimsen of Jaipur, the son of Miya Sukh Sen and son-in-law of the famous Ustad Dulhe Khan, who developed sitar into versatile and highly effective instrument during the 18th century. Using the Dhrupad ang in alap and the “bol-bant” of rabab and been type in the gat presentation, Ustad-s of this period developed sitar playing to a very high stage. Apart from the compositions of gat in teental, several gats were composed in jhaptal as well, following the Sadra style of vocal music. The gat presentations were were developed with intelligent and full use of different bol patters, forming small fikres. It is believed that small meends were also introduced during this period. Noted names of sitar players of Mastikhani style during this period are Bahadur Khan, the son of Ustad Masit Khan of Delhi, Ustad Dulhe Khan of Jaipur, Gulam Hussain Khan of Delhi, Muglu Khan, Pan Khan, Bulaki Khan of Mathura, etc.

We have noted that Masitkhani has was being developed principally in Delhi, Jaipur, Alwar etc. At the same time on the Poorab side ie. in Lucknow, Kashi, Jaunpur etc., another style was being developed called the Razakhani style. It is believed that this style was developed by Gulam Raza Khan who was is fact one of the principle students of Masit Khan. While the gats of the Masitkhani style are based on vilamdit and sometime madhya laya, the gats of the Razakhani style are based on madhya and drut laya. Whilst the Masitkhani style is based on the principles of Dhrupad or Been, the Razakhani style is based on the principles of Thumri, Tarana and to some extent on Khayal. One can safely therefore say that these two styles of gat-playing are complementary to each other. The bols of Razakhani gats are da ra dir dir dar dar da, da dir dara da da ra. Just as the Masitkhani baj has its own specialities, so has Razakhani baj. Whilst the Masitkhani baj has certain amount of dignity and depth, the Razakhani style projects a unique beauty of layakari. The sitar players paid great attention to the “Katav” of boi-s whilst developing the Razakhani gats. The specialities of Razakhani or poorvi baj were the patterns of composite bol-s and rhythmic patterns created through intelligent use of the mizrab. Many sitar players used the ang of ladi whilst developing the Razakhani gats, as alsb ladhant and tar paran. As we have mentioned, the Razakhani gats initially (I repeat , initially), were based on Thumri ang. Gat-s of this type were composed in Thumri ang raga-s like pilu, kafi, khamaj, Tilakkamod, Bhairavi, Zila, Desh, Sohani etc. and were commonly played in Sitarkhani theka. It is interesting to note that sitar players of Razakhani baj did not play the Masitkhani gats and were considered to be highly proficient when they could play several gat-s Razakhani style in their performance, Important sitar players of this style were Gulam Raza Khan, Ali Raza Khan, Pannalal Vajpeyi, Babu Iswari Prasad, Barkat Ali or Savlia Khan, Gulam Mohmad, Sajid Mohmad etc.

Another style of Sitar gat-s was known as the Phiroz Khani Style. The compositions of such gats were spread over all the 3 octaves and were fairly long drawn. According to some, such gat-s meticulously differentiated between Sthayi and Antara. The speciality of the gat-s of this style was, in the event the 1st line ended on a note of the middle octave, the 2nd line would start from the same note in the lower octave and vice versa. The same rule was followed for the ending and beginning of the subsequent lines. We don’t get detailed information about Phirozkhani gats. It appears that after a short period of time, such gat-s were overshadowed by Masitkhani and Razakhani gat-s

19th Century: We have noted that during the 18th century, after the initial introduction of the bol-s into the technique of sitar playing, the gat presentations made full and effective use of different bol combinations in the highly ornamental gat-s that were developed by various musicians, both in the Masitkhani and Razakhani style. During the 19th century, the dualistic evolution of sitar reached still greater heights and it would be no exaggeration to say that this period was golden period for popularity of sitar. Great sitar players made useful contributions and centres like Jaipur, Delhi, Gwalior, Alwar, Rewa, Baroda, Jaunpur, Lucknow, Rampur etc. became the focal points of sitar playing.

Further developing the existing style of gat-playing, sitar player introduced several innovations which increasingly enriched the style. Short fikre-s which were earlier introduced were further embellished as a part of gat presentation mainly by the famous sitar-player Amrit Sen. The technique of gat-toda by intelligent use of bol-s was also introduced. Greater scope was afforded to Tabla players during the gat presentation. It is believed that the technique of tihai-s to be played in sitar performance was introduced during the time during the time of Ustad Inayat Khan. In fact, he was responsible for making it popular and according to some, he was the one who introduced tihai-s on sitar. It appears that the technique of jhala playing was not in existence before the time of Ustad Imdad Khan and Ustad Barkatulla Khan. Imdad Khan and his contemporary sitar players however used this technique very effectively and developed the same to great advantage. As we have noted earlier, the stylistic development of sitar with extensive use of right hand producing rhythmic patterns through bol-s, while the left hand was relatively stationary. Over the period, left hand started creating melody and gradually started being more active. It was during Ustad Inayat Khan’s time that both the right and the left hand had almost equal roles to play. It is therefore surprising that tan-s were added to gat presentation during this period. Sapat tan-s of Ustad lanayat khan are already very well known.

Another important development in the area of a gat playing during the 19th century was the presentation of both the Masitkhani and Razakhani gat-s one after the other in the same performance. Names like Ustad Imdad Khan, Ustad Inayat Khan, Ustad Illahi Bux of Delhi are mentioned in this context as they initiated the system of presenting the complete performence starting with alap, followed by jod alap, gat-s both Masitkhani and Razakhani, gat-toda, tan-s interspersed with tihai-s and concluding with jhala.

20th Century : During the 20th century or the present period, Indian classical music has achieved completely new dimensions. The changes are fairly radical. There are two distinct opinions about the developments. The old timers feel that music is going in a wrong direction, as its purity, scientific and established principles, systematic presentation etc. are being sacrificed at the alter of popular demand. They believe that musicians have commercialised their presentation and cater to public demand to retin popularity and financial gains. On the other hand, there is substantial group which believes that whilist commercialization of art has taken place, one can not generalize. Music has achieved highly intellectual and imaginative applications, whilst earlier, music was based on fairy rigid and precomposed expression. The element of improvisation has reached its zenith during the present period. It is heartening that younger people have started taking serious and keen interest in learning Indian classical music, both methodically and in great depth. Today’s seminar and the interest that it has generated is a vivid confirmation of this belief.

The stylistic evolution of Sitar is no exception to these prevalent trends. Dhrupad based compositions of the earlier period are gradually being replaced by khayal based compositions. To an extent, the importance of the Bandish of the Dhrupad style of singing has been eroded in the khayal singing, of course not in all gharanas. I am only speaking relatively. The gat-s in Sitar, both Masitkhani and Razakhani have therefore undergone quite some change. Let us enumerated them :

  1. The tempo or laya at which Masitkhani gat was played earlier has been reduced considerably. In other words, the modern versions of Masitkhani gat is played in much slower laya than in earlier period, undoubtedly an influence of slow tempo of khayal singing.
  2. In earlier period, bol-s and their methodical patterns were the basic ingredients of the gats, especially in the Razakhani gat-s. In the modern Razakhani gat-s the use of bol-s have beens considerably reduced. In fact in some of the gat-s based on khayal bandishes presented in the gayaki and, the use of bol-s is almost non-existent.
  3. As a corollary to the above, the left hand along with the highly developed right hand is evident in much greater measure. Meend, kan, murki, khatka, gamak. krintan, jamjama etc. are extensively used in development of gat-s, both Mastikhani and Razakhani.
  4. As melodic and rhythmic development have reached great heights and alap form has achieved great relative importance, gat-s have lost their individual significance to some extent. Whilst earlier sitar players treated the gats as the pivot around which the music presentation moved, in the context of contemporary sitar playing, alap, elongated taans, extensive use of tihai-s, sawai jawab with Tabla, super speed jhala etc. have reduced the relative importance and the primary role of the gat-s. So much so that some players do not even play gat-s in their complete form i.e. sthayi and antara.
  5. There is a distinct departure from the basic structure of the Mastikhani gat with set bol patterns dir da dir da ra da da ra, and a new structure and forms of vilambit, madhya laya and drut gat-s have been developed. I shall be subjective here as I am exposed only to Vilayatkhani gat-s, when I refer to these new forms. The mukhada does not necessary start from the 12th matra nor do the bol pattern follow the Masitkhani pattern. Some of these gat-s start from “khala” or offbeat and has a completely individual and distinct lilt. In the faster tempo gat-s once again, the gat-s do not follow the standard pattern of Razakhani gats, both in relation to bols and division.

The gat-s conform to the gayaki based chota khayals. Many of these gat-s include even the amad taan which is a relatively recent trend of the Khayal Bandish-s. At this stage it may not be inappropriate to categorically state that whilst the Mastikhani gat-s are in vilambit laya, all the Razakhani gat-s are played in drut laya but all the drut laya gat-s cannot be called as razakhani gats.

I admit that my entire paper is sitar orinted. there are two reasons. Firstly, my personal study has been in the field of sitar and I could obtain valuable historical data from the thesis on sitar of my student Rekha Nigam from Lucknow, And secondly, I have not succeeded in obtaining any detailed information of Bandish or gat-s played on instruments like sarod or for that matter sarangi or flute, However, as far as instrument like the sarod is concerned, remarks regarding gat-s on sitar would perhaps equally apply, barring some unique features. As far as sarangi is concerned, on listening to contemporary sarangi players, one can safely conclude that the Bandish-s presented are actually the vocal music Bandish-s. In other words, there is no special or individualistic features that could be referred to, in describing gat or bandish on bowing instruments. It is difficult to generalise and make any definite statements regarding the presentation of gats on the instruments. Some flute players of the present times follow sitar style of gat-s fairly faithfully. In fact the raga development as well in many cases follow the sitar. Other flute players of slightly earlier period used to compose their own gats-s and frankly I find it difficult to determine any definite qualifications or features of such gat-s.

May I therefore take the liberty of surmising that what I have started in respect of Bandish or gat-s of sitar could by and large apply to other plucked stringed instruments as well. One thought however, comes to my mind regarding an interesting difference between sitar and sarod gat-s in drut laya. We have noticed that sarod gat-s are relatively longer in structure than sitar gat-s. In other words sarod gat-s are usually spread over 2/3

” avartans” while sitar gat-s are relatively shorter and basically cover one avartan. Could this be because sarod playing is spread over 3 to 4 strings while sitar uses only one melodic string?

What will happen in future is an interesting question. We have seen that in earlier times i.e., in 18th and upto middle of 19th century, gat-s had pivotal role in sitar performances. Based on bol-bant, tar-paran, krintan, etc., gat-s were embellished and formed the main part of the performance. No wonder that great and serious attention was paid to the composition, the structure and the execution of gat-s. It is not surprising, that the gat-s were epitomes of unique beauty and fragrance.

We do say “Purani Bandish ki khusboo Nai Bandish me nahin Milti”.

The technique of sitar playing today has four major and distinct divisions viz-alap, jod, gat and jhala. All of these have their importance. Alap has achieved an extremely important place in the presentation of raga on instruments which was absent in the 18th and 19th century. As these four major segments of raga presentation have achieved significant individual importance, gat has naturally lost its special position. Gat presentation has become incidental and not the mainstay. If this is the case even in the vocal music Bandish-s-especially in some gharana-s, the impact in instrumental music without the element of Sahitya is even greater. There are sitar players who demonstrate gat-s of great masters in their presentation and an attempt is made to highlight the beauty of such compositions. Frankly such instances are few. In other words, most unfortunately the gat-s have become of incidental value and in the process the quality has suffered. Serious sitar players do jealously guard the gat compositions they have learnt from great masters but unfortunately in modern times, sitar taleem in the Gurushishya parampara is not possible nor sought after. Added to this, is the phenomenon of the modern jet age when aspirants wish to learn everything like instant coffee. When the basics of music have suffered, bandish which require both serious and sustained efforts to learn and understand, will naturally lose its value by and by. But then our music which is called classical music is meant for classes and not massess. Some efforts have been made successfully to establish Gurushishya parampara and it is heartening that there is a gradual realization that unless this system is revived, our music will lose its celestial value. Let us hope therefore that the Government, media, artists, the students of music, will all put their shoulders to push the wheel of our music in the right direction, so that in the end, we are able to retain the ancient purity along with the modern imagination.

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