After offering a concise picture of the raaga in a brief to average extent of time, the singer starts on the bandish setting the rhythmic cycle into motion. Unlike in a dhrupad, rhythmic support is invariably offered by a tabla. Bandish, or the cheez as it is called in Maharashtra, means a well-knit composition set to a specific tala, which portrays the prime features of a raaga. It illustrates an amalgamation of melody, rhythm and poetry. As the term indicates, words and rhythm are united or inextricably 'bound' within the framework of the raaga. S. K. Saxena fittingly calls the bandish a 'distinct incarnation' of the raaga. Different bandishes are thus discrete embodiments of the same raaga, disclosing its different tonal facets. This is so because each bandish structures the elements of the raaga in different aesthetic proportions with differing emphases. Thus versatile khayal singers are ever on the lookout for different bandishes set in the same raagas. For, having a methodical knowledge of many compositions in the same raaga is equivalent to mastering its many aesthetic features.
There is wide discrepancy in the way in which bandishes are treated in different gharanas. Again, traditional gharanas like Gwalior and Agra, incline to be systematic in their treatment of the component parts of a bandish; whereas Kirana, Jaipur-Atrauli and Patiala gharanas are, comparatively speaking, less rigid in their treatment of the components of a bandish. Unlike in Karnatic music, a khayal singer's emphasis does not fall on the words of the composition nor, many a time, on the literary or semantic content (there are exceptions). Rather he or she focuses on the melodic possibilities that can be unleashed using the vowel and phonemic possibilities in words and bunches of well-chosen phrases from the bandish.
As with dhrupad, the bada khayal too has a sthayi and an antara with an arc of progress along comparable lines. The singer, at first sings the shtayi in the lower and middle registers, starting with its mukhda. The word mukhda means 'face' and refers to the melodic verbal phrase or part of the line on which a good deal of the melodic thrust if the raaga falls. Like the face, it reveals the identity or 'trademark' of the raaga noticeably. It is repeated often, like a refrain, during the course of several rhythmic cycles to stress the basic melodic outline of the raaga. Rhythm, in the vilambit khayal, appears free and open to the listener. The final syllable of the mukhda is where the sam or the first beat of the tabla falls. The bandish is improvised within the framework of a theka or a beat-pattern adopted within a chosen tala cycle, like ektaal, teental, tilwadataal, or jhaptaal, which is reiterated time and again by a tabla player. The singer, of course, knows where the sam falls, given that he or she uses the mukhda to signal the end of a phase of improvisation. The tabla player is expected to play a steady and low profile theka while the singer improvises, the idea being that no external constraint should divert his/her attention from the melodic movement of the raaga.
The singer concentrates on specific phrases in the sthayi section of the composition and 'imbues' them with melodic ideas. Called sthayi-bharna or the 'filling of the sthayi', it is a prominent feature of the Gwalior gharana. The process of sthayi-bharna can be comparable to a sculptor sculpting a statuette on a block of marble. The chipping, scooping and carving are performed in order to make palpable the abstract aesthetic idea in his mind. Similarly, a singer moulds the melodic form and 'personality' of the raaga through systematic delineation of the sthayi, because it is in this part that its major notes get highlighted. Simply stated, the sthayi is the lasting melodic foundation of the bandish, on which singers build intricate melodic edifices.
After singing the sthayi for a while in the lower and middle octaves, the singer moves into the antara or the second part of composition. The switch to antara is signalled when he or she touches the taar Sa or the upper tetrachord (uttaranga) of the raaga keeping with its grammar. Skilled singers normally make the transition eye-catching and absorbing. However, not as much attention or time is assigned to the antara as the sthayi. The transition offers the singer an opportunity to explore the upper tetrachord in striking methods. Here, one needs to keep in mind that the singer treats both the sthayi and the antara not so much as separate sections as paired units which complement each other melodically. In fact, the two 'loop' into each other when the singer descends into the mukhda of the antara adroitly and smoothly. Together, the sthayi and the antara etch the melodic picture of the raaga in a holistic manner.
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