Thumri, a captivating vocal genre in Indian music, derives its name from the Hindi verb "thumuknaa," meaning "to walk with a dancing gait in such a way that the ankle-bells tinkle." This delightful form of music is intricately connected with dance, dramatic gestures, mild eroticism, evocative love poetry, and folk songs, particularly hailing from Uttar Pradesh. While Thumri exhibits regional variations, it is predominantly characterized by sensuality and a flexible approach to raga.
Thumri is not only confined to its own form but also serves as a generic name for several other lighter forms, including Dadra, Hori, Kajari, Sawani, Jhoola, and Chaiti. Each of these forms possesses its own unique structure and content, either lyrical or musical, often drawing inspiration from folk literature and music.
Significance of Thumri in Indian Classical Music
As the most important "light classical" genre of North Indian Classical music, Thumri holds a prominent position in various performance contexts. It finds expression in dance, vocal concert stages, and instrumental performances alike. Thumri is labeled as light classical due to several factors. Firstly, the melodies are not always composed in a strict Raaga, and they may even break the rules governing their rendition. Additionally, simpler talas and lighter raagas are often employed in Thumri. The absence of alap-type improvisation, which is considered the true test of musicianship, further contributes to its classification as light classical.
Moreover, traditional Thumri performances are accompanied by a harmonium, which, although adding to the charm, restricts melodic flexibility with its fixed pitches. Despite these distinctions, Thumri remains an enjoyable and soothing form of music, often serving as a delightful conclusion to vocal or instrumental concerts.
Origins of Thumri
Thumri is believed to have originated in the 15th century, although historical references to the form are scarce until the 19th century. It was primarily cultivated in Lucknow and Varanasi, with distinct regional styles emerging, including the Punjab style. Thumri was initially associated with the classical dance form Kathak, particularly the bandish ki thumri or bol-baant, which evolved in the court of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah in Lucknow.
During its early stages, Thumri was performed by tawaifs or courtesans and accompanied by Kathak dancers. However, in the late 19th century, a new form of Thumri known as bol-banav emerged in Varanasi. This version of Thumri was independent of dance and had a slower pace compared to the earlier style. The distinction between the Lucknow and Varanasi styles of Thumri can be discerned in their respective musical characteristics.
In contemporary times, Thumri has gained popularity as a vocal genre, and audiences often prefer to hear female vocalists perform it. A typical Thumri ensemble includes instruments such as the harmonium (usually played by the vocalist), tambura, tabla, and occasionally the sarangi. Despite its somewhat ambiguous origins, Thumri has evolved into a distinctive and cherished form of music, known for its emotive melodies, poetic lyrics, and expressive renditions.
Romantic Essence of Thumri
Thumri is distinguished by its romantic and devotional lyrical content, predominantly sung in the Uttar Pradesh dialects of Hindi known as Awadhi and Braj Bhasha. The essence of Thumri lies in its ability to evoke emotions through its expressive and poetic verses. While some compositions refer to Lord Krishna and his amorous escapades, others focus on the experiences of lovers, showcasing the various stages of love, including unison and separation.
Text and Structure of Thumri
Thumri emphasizes the importance of the text, with clear pronunciation of each word and the heartfelt expression of the underlying emotions. This distinguishes Thumri from Khayal, another vocal genre in Indian classical music.
A Thumri composition consists of a sthai (main phrase) and one or more antaras (additional phrases) with room for improvisation. While some Thumri compositions contain additional text set to the same antara melody, others comprise only the sthai and antara. Gradually, as the performance progresses, the improvisation on the sthai text intensifies, exploring the middle and upper registers. This segment of the performance resembles the medium-speed khayal style. The antara is introduced when the upper register has already been explored in the improvisation, and it is initially presented partially, akin to a Khayal antara.
A distinct feature of Thumri performances is the inclusion of a section where the singing momentarily ceases, allowing the accompanying harmonium to take the melodic lead. This section, known as "laggi," highlights the virtuosity of the tabla player. Following the laggi, the singing resumes at the same tempo as before, typically with a second antara. The performance concludes with a return to the sthai and a final rendition of the main verse. Unlike the accelerating pace found in Khayal, Thumri maintains a relatively constant speed, providing a soothing and enjoyable musical experience.
Musical Elements in Thumri
Thumri is predominantly performed in "lighter" raagas such as Khamaj, Kafi, Tilang, Desh, Piloo, and Bhairavi. These raags offer greater flexibility and allow for emotive improvisations, enabling the artist to infuse the composition with rich nuances and variations.
The tala most frequently used for thumri are dipchandi (14 counts), jat (16 counts), Panjabi (16 counts), kaharva (8 counts), and dadra (6 counts). (Dadra tal is usually associated with a light classical genre that is also called dadra.) The 16-count talas jat and Panjabi have the same structural subdivisions as 16-count tintal, but the thekas with which they are drummed are very different, They can easily be distinguished in performance because the drummer keeps primarily to the theka.
Dipchandi of 14 counts is the same as jat tal, with one count removed in each half of the cycle (as indicated by the boxes in Example 7-10) so that the structure is 3 + 4 + 3 + 4. Bracketed strokes are played in one count. Since this tala has such a brief cycle, the singers go through several cycles of it before singing a cadence. The principle of keeping the text at the same points in the tala cycle and singing the full sthai phrase for cadences is kept more consistently than it is in khayal mukhra.
Language and Subject Matter in Thumri
Thumri compositions predominantly employ regional dialects of Hindi such as Awadhi, Bhojpuri, and Mirzapuri. However, Thumri also encompasses compositions in other languages, including Rajasthani, Marathi, and Bengali. The language of Thumri allows for a deep connection with the audience, as the lyrics often touch upon universal themes of love, longing, and the human experience. The verses of Thumri are filled with poetic imagery, metaphors, and vivid descriptions, enhancing the emotional impact of the performance. The lyrical content, combined with the melodic and rhythmic elements, creates a mesmerizing and immersive musical experience.
Evolution and Modern Interpretations in Thumri
Thumri has evolved over time, adapting to changing musical tastes and incorporating influences from various regional styles and artists. Traditionally, Thumri was performed in a semi-classical manner, passed down through oral tradition from one generation to another. However, with the advent of recorded music and the influence of popular culture, Thumri has also found its way into contemporary adaptations.
Contemporary artists have experimented with blending Thumri with other genres like jazz, fusion, and world music, resulting in innovative and eclectic interpretations. These interpretations have not only expanded the reach of Thumri but also brought it to the attention of a wider audience. While purists may argue about the authenticity of such experiments, they have undoubtedly contributed to the preservation and revitalization of Thumri as an art form.
Prominent Thumri Artists
Thumri has been nurtured and enriched by numerous legendary artists over the years. Some notable names include Siddheshwari Devi, Rasoolan Bai, Girija Devi, Shobha Gurtu, Begum Akhtar, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Abdul Karim Khan, and Pandit Jasraj. These artists have not only mastered the technical aspects of Thumri but have also brought their unique styles and interpretations to the genre, making significant contributions to its development and popularity.
Thumri, with its evocative melodies and soulful poetry, continues to captivate audiences with its expressive and emotive nature. Rooted in the rich cultural heritage of India, Thumri offers a glimpse into the depths of human emotions and experiences. Whether performed in its traditional form or through contemporary adaptations, Thumri remains an enchanting genre that celebrates the beauty of love, longing, and the power of music to touch the soul.