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Gharana in Hindustani Classical Music

Music | 2021-06-22


Shriya Perumal

Hindustani Classical (Vocal) student

Level 1

Excellence Academy of Indian Music

A gharana is “a community of performers who share a distinctive musical style that traces to a particular instructor or region”(Raval, H. 2018). There are 10 prominent singing gharanas. The word itself was introduced in the 19th century, when musicians became tired of royal patronage. They wanted to introduce their own identity with their music instead, so they used the places they were from as their gharana. Due to this fact, even now, some gharanas still refer to different places, like Agra or Kirana. There are two major categories when it comes to gharanas, Khayal and Thumri, based on the style of singing. In the 20th century, the word was official.

History of the Gharanas

The concept of gharanas was introduced during the time of the Mughal Empire. During this time, Emperor Aurangzeb put a ban on music. Due to this, artistic patronage was less prominent in the empire. Gharanas emerged in the late 19th century, during the end of the Mughal Empire, as a type of “sociological transformation” that music went through during the time. Scholars write that during this transformation Hindustani Classical Music spread from central North India to other cities.

Favoritism and Jealousy still did play a part in this new system. With the gwalior gharana there was an intense rivalry between two brothers, who were descendants of the founder of the gharana, and this led to many instances of “treachery” and “revenge”. There was a fierce musical competition between the two brothers, which is believed led to the death of one of the descendants.

Gwalior Gharana

The gwalior gharana is one of the oldest gharanas in Indian music. This gharana came to be during the reign of Mughal emperor Akbar. The favorite singers of the patron were both from the town of Gwalior. Gwalior is sometimes referred to as the “land of music”. People even say that the children in Gwalior cry musically. This gharana is known for its simplicity, like the fact that it uses well-known ragas that are easily identifiable to the listener. It places the Bandish at the center of the presentation, because they believe the full melody of the raag is represented by the Bandish.

Agra Gharana

The Agra gharana has a history which we can never be sure is true, but it is believed that the founder of this gharana is Nayak Gopal of Devagiri. Nayak Gopal established a music system in Delhi, which eventually became known as Nauhar Bani. The gharana combined three diverse influences to become a whole gharana, which starts from dhrupad, dhamar and kayal. The singers that use this gharana are typically very capable in singing layakari or the “rhythmic component”. Some famous singers of this gharana are Faiyaz Khan, and Khadim Hussain Khan. In today’s world two singers of this gharana are, Waseem Ahmad Khan and Bharathi Prathap.

Kirana Gharana

The kirana gharana is called the “most prolific” gharana in Indian classical music. The gharana was founded by Ustad Abdul Wahid Khan, and his cousin, Ustad Abdul Karim Khan in the late 19th century. Kirana is a small village where many musicians took refuge after floods. The gharana itself is a combination of many parts sung in the Sarangi baaz, or style of playing. It focuses mostly on the perfect pronunciation of the “Swaras”. The most notable singers of this gharana are Bhimsen Joshi, and Firoz Dastur. In modern day, two notable singers are, Sumitra Guha, and Sanhita Nanda.

Patiala Gharana

The patiala gharana was founded by Mian Kallu, the great-grandfather of Ustad Fateh Ali Khan. This gharana is one of the most prominent gharanas in Hindustani classical music. Its origins are from the city of Patiala. It was initially sponsored by the Maharaja, and is known for the thumri, ghazal and khayal styles of singing. This gharana comes out on top when it comes to melodies. A few notable people that sang in this gharana are Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, and Malika Pukhraj. There are “two streams of the gharana” which represent the “Patiala style of Khayal vocalism”. One is represented by Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Barkat Ali and Muawar Ali Khan, and the other by Amanat Ali, and Fateh Ali.

Sham Chaurasia Gharana

The sham chaurasia gharana is the most modern gharana in Hindustani classical music. It was founded by Chand Khan and Suraj Khan back in the 16th century and is known for its vocal duets. It originated in the small town of Sham Chaurasi, which is near Hoshiarpur, Punjab. This gharana is named after King Shaam. This king had 84 villages under him. It is represented by brothers, Nazakra, and Samanat Ali Khan in the modern times.

Mewati Gharana

Mewati gharana was founded by Ustad Ghagge Nazir Khan of Jodhpur, and only became prominent after Pandit Jasraj rose to fame, using his classical renditions. It was formed in the 19th century, and as of the 20th century the gharana is under the patronage of royalty. Its name originated from the region between Delhi, Jaipur, and Indore. This was where Ghagge Nazir Khan and Wahid Khan’s family lived and was called Mewat.

Indore Gharana

This gharana’s style is a combination of multiple styles, and essences of singing by different legends such as, Abdul Wahid Khan and Rajab Ali Khan. It was founded by Ustad Amir Khan. It has a very slow tempo, and melody, along with a rare use of Tihai. A feature of this gharana is that the followers have to have settled in places like Indore, Dewas, Jawra, and Jabalpur. However, many other musicians came from other places, and were still influenced by the traditions of this gharana. Some famous musicians that were part of this gharana are Sultan Khan, Singh Bandhu, and Pandit Amarnath.

Bhendi-Bazaar Gharana

This gharana came into play in 1890 and is one of the oldest gharanas in Indian Classical Music. The singing style includes the “use of ‘Merukhand’ system of extended ‘alaps’”(Raval, 2018), and was founded by the three brothers, Chhajju Khan, Nazir Khan, and Khadim Hussain Khan. They were inspired by the big city and were welcomed by the musical system in Mumbai. The three brothers earned the title of “Bhendi-Bazaar-waleys”. The gharana originates from the “Bhendi Bazaar” area of Mumbai. The second generation of the gharana is known as the most “prolific”. It is said that Aman Ali Khan, Chajju Khan’s son, composed 400-odd bandishes, on the Bhendi Bazaar gayaki.

Jaipur-Atrauli Gharana

This gharana is also known as the Jaipur Gharana or Atrauli-Jaipur Gharana or Alladiyakhani gharana. It is mostly focused on Khayal singing and was founded by Alladiya Khan in the late 19th century. It is famous for its ragas and Layakari, as well as the fact that it’s singing style is different from other gharanas. This gharana diverts from the path of simple notes, as most gharanas are usually written, to instead have very complex notes. It originates from Dagar Bani of Dhrupad, but also showcases an improved version of Gauhar Bani and Khandar Bani. Most of the songs presented by this gharana are in Vilambit Teen Taal. As this gharana has a Vakra and “extensive” Taan, singers from this gharana are very skilled in breath control.

Rampur-Sahaswan Gharana

This gharana originated from the town of Rampar and Sahaswn, both places founded by Ustad Inayat Hussain Khan. The style of singing is similar to the Gwalior gharana with its “medium-slow tempos, a full-throated voice, and also intricate rhythmic play”(Raval, H. 2018). The most famous singers of this gharana are Pandit Ganpat Rao, and Arun Bhadari. In these modern times, Hariharan, Sonu Nigam, and Shaan, are a few people who have done renditions with this gharanas’ characteristics.


Gharanas are a major part of Hindustani classical music as they introduce individualism into the music. This way artists are not solely connected to their patrons, and can also represent their different home cities. Even though, just like many other things, gharanas also include politics, it is still a vital part of music, and is appreciated by everyone that hears the music. Each gharana is different, and focuses on different parts or types of Hindustani Classical Music. For example, the gwalior gharana, puts the bandish at the center of the presentation, and the Agra gharana starts with a dhrupad, dhamar and khayal. Gharanas are essential to Hindustani classical music.


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