Limitation of The Lyrics of Hindustani Classical Bandishes

Posted by Charbak Dipta in Art, Culture-Vulture, Specials
February 9, 2018

In the context of Hindustani classical khyal, Bandish, (etymologically, which is in Bandhan i.e. tied) is a fixed melodic composition around which the singer/musician improvises with vistaar,sargam,taan and so on and present a complete kheyal of his/her choice of temporal extension. North Indian classical music, as it is a Raga based system, all bandishes are composed in particular Ragas and are complete with Swara, Pada and TaalaBandishes can be of three types — Vilamvit (composed in slow tempo),Madhyalaya (of medium tempo) and Drut (Fast tempo). There can be maximum four stanzas in classical bandishes– Sthayee/Asthayee,Antara, Sanchari and Abhog. In khyalmusic generally it is limited to the first two.

The romantic and religious themes-

Now, coming to the lyrics of the Bandishes of Khyal (literally means Imagination),a comparatively a new genre in Hindustani music, which used to be sung in royal courts, darbars.

The lyrics are mostly based on the love-stories of Radha Krishna or others or on some religious theme. Some composers insert their names in the lyrics (e.g.- Sadarangand Adarang) in a way to keep copyright of the bandishessomehow.Not only in pure classical, but in semi-classical compositions too, (Thumri,Dadra,Chaiti,Bhajan etc) the lyrics mostly switches between love stories (predominantly of Radha Krishna) and religious themes (Hinduism and Islam). Here too, composers like Meerabai or Haridas Swami inserted their names in the lyrics.

The limitation-

Take for example a bandish, composed in Raga Bihag in Teen Taala which goes like- ‘Pyari Pyari Ankhiyaan Raadhe Ki mana’, a description of Radha Krishna leela. Another bandish in Raga Malkauns, goes like- ‘Mandara Dekhe DareSudama’,which again revolves around the friendship between Lord Krishna and Sudama. The lyricists of these bandishes never went beyond these fixed subjects. The importance of lyrics is so ignored in India that an entire genre of Indian classical music ,namely Tarana has lyrics without any meaning. It’s lyrics goes with meaningless words like -‘Tana Dere Na Ta Dare Dani Dhum Tana Dere Na’.

It is norm to sing the traditional bandishes, and even when a composer ventures to write a new bandish today, he/she seldom goes beyond these fixed themes, sometimes in fear of breaking the tradition as Hindustani classical music is known to be conservative. In new bandishes , we do not see reflections of today’s issues. There are no bandish lyrics ,say for example, on topics like the current India-Pakistan turmoil, on the Internet, on the Amazon rainforest or on smart phones! There are bandish lyrics on Akbar or Radha Krishna, yet we do not have lyrics on the current ruling government or online dating respectively. A few attempts has been done here and there but they sound so comical, they have not been accepted in mainstream khyal gayaki. The discussion of it, or doing it practically ,sounds funny and bizarre but this is a deep rooted limitation of Indian classical music.

Not only modern issues, we are reluctant to incorporate non-Indian issues in our bandishes. Thus we do not have bandishes on the Trump government or the IS attacks or any other international themes.

Popular music in the west is far advanced in this case. Lyrics of popular genres like Rock,Pop and even Folk sometimes, have changed with time and embraced modern issues. Popular music, at times, has become the arms of protest, social revolution and at the same time it did not ignored eternal love or religious themes either. Hindustani classical music lagged far behind in this case.

Personal interests of the singer-

The lyrics are based on Hindu or Islamic themes but never on Christianity or any other religion. For example the famous bandish in Raga Bhairavi goes like- ‘Bhawani Dayani Mahavakyavani’ and another in Raga Bihag is- ‘Chinta Na Kara Re,Bechinta rahu mana mein Allah Karam Kar…’ .

If a singer is an atheist, he/she is forced to sing Allah or Bhavani (a Hindu goddess) every time he want to sing a raga. Again, if one has nothing to do with Radha Krishna , is sick of ‘Koyelia’ or –‘Piya ki nazariya’,(the words that repeatedly comes in classical bandishes without fail), he is compelled to sing exactly these things.

Problem of translation-

Most bandishes is composed in North Indian languages that are spread across Delhi,Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Punjab and Rajasthan. Some experimented by composing bandishes in other Indian languages like Bengali and Oriya. But there is a huge language barrier. We do not have Bandishes in English and other foreign languages. It sounds hilarious if we convert any bandish into English.It may be argued that it is so pure and original, Bandishes cannot be translated as it has its deep root in Indian culture. But it cannot be accepted. We have rock and pop songs in Indian languages everywhere but we fail when it comes to cater our Bandishes to west in their languages.Even western classical opera songs sounds suitable in Indian languages. In that case we can argue it is the merit of the language that is able to absorb the western melody. On the other hand Indian classical music is poor and not flexible in this case.


Sometimes these complaints comes afloat that after ruling India for so many centuries the Britishers have learned nothing from us. They generalise all Indian dishes to curry, cannot pronounce Indian names and alters Kolkata to Calcutta, Bardhaman to Burdwan. In return we have learned and accepted and used their culture into ours. Unlike Indians, who play western instruments like guitar and piano successfully and vastly in their music, the westerners seldom plays sitar and sarod in their songs. It is their failure. But when it comes to translation of Bandishes into French or German, we Indians cut a sorry figure.The only way out of this problem is the re-invention of the bandish lyrics.

Illustration by Charbak Dipta