Khayal literally means ‘a stray thought’, ‘a lyric’ and ‘an imagination’. This is the most prominent genre of Hindustani vocal music depicting a romantic style of singing. Khayal originated as a popular form of music in the 18th century AD and was ultimate in the blending of Hindu and Persian cultures. Its origins are a mystery. Some people trace its origins to ‘Sadarang’ Nyaamat Khan, a beenkaar in the Mughal court of Muhammad Shah ‘Rangila’. Others believe that Khayal singing was the invention of Hussein Shah Sharqi.
The most important features of a Khayal are ‘Tans’ or the running glides over notes and ‘Bol-tans’ which distinguishes it from Dhrupad. Khayal is dependent to a large extent on the imagination of the performer and the improvisations he is able to incorporate. Khayals are of two varieties: Vilambit (slow tempoed) and Drut (fast tempoed). A Khayal is also composed in a particular Raga and Tala and has a brief text. The Khayal texts range from praise of kings or seasons, description of seasons to the pranks of Lord Krishna, divine love and sorrow of separation. The texts contain rhyme, alliteration and play on words.
Generally composed in the archaic Hindi dialect known as Brij Bhasha, Khayal songs are also found in languages like Bhojpuri, Punjabi, Urdu, Rajasthani, Marathi and occasionally Sanskrit. Essentially, the tanpura and tabla accompany Khayal performances. Other ensembles include the sarangi, harmonium, violin and swarmandal. There are six main Gharanas (schools) in Khayal: Delhi, Patiala, Agra, Gwalior, Kirana and Atrauli¬-Jaipur. Gwalior Gharana is the oldest and is also considered the mother of all other Gharanas. The Agra Gharana was founded by Haji Sujan Khan, the Jaipur-Atrauli Gharana was founded by Ustad Alladiya Khan and the Kirana Gharana was pioneered by Ustad Abdul Wahid Khan and Ustad Abdul Karim Khan.
Among the other eminent Khayal singers, mention may be made of Faiyaz Khan, Amir Khan, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Kishori Amonkar, Bhimsen Joshi, Pandit Jasraj, Sawai Gandharva, Sureshbabu Mane, Balakrishnabuwa Kapileswari, Roshanara Begum, Hirabai Barodekar, Feroz Dastur, Gangubai Hangal, Manik Verma, Saraswati Rane and Prabha Atre. Some of the renowned khayal singers are C.R.Vyas, Rashid K.han, Shubha Maudgalya, Ajoy Chakraborty, Shruti Sadolikar, Ashwini Bhide Deshpande, Mukul Shivputra and Meeta Pandit.