Sung in a Sensual Style

Rekha Surya

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Hindustani light classical music primarily encompasses Thumri, Dadra, Kajri, Jhoola, Hori, Chaiti, Sawan and Ghazal. Once associated only with courtesan–singers, this genre of music has a mystical dimension, enabling the absorption of Sufi poetry.

Contemporary ideas seep into traditional genres, like leaves from trees on a river-bank fall and float on the river to become with it. This document chronicles such changes within the genre and illuminates all its facets, taking the reader through its history, philosophy and practical aspects.

“Rekha Surya’s writing is like her singing—captivating and intense yet touchingly simple. She writes about her musical genre with familiarity, ease and authority in a lucid, succinct style. This book serves to help the reader understand the genre’s intrinsic connection to Sufi poetry and is a pleasure to read for all lovers of Indian classical and semi-classical music.”

— Shabana Azmi

Rekha Surya MUSIC AWARD 2012

One of the few practitioners of the Lucknow Gharana of North Indian music, Rekha Surya has kept alive traditional ghazal-gayaki and preserved the legacy of her legendary guru Begum Akhtar by propagating this art at prestigious concert and lecture venues in India and abroad. Having also honed her skills under the tutelage of another legend, Girija Devi of the Benaras Gharana, she has combined both styles of singing into an individualistic style.

The infusion of spirituality into an essentially romantic genre is a unique part of her repertoire. The ancient literary traditions she draws from have both South Asian Muslim and Hindu cultural references. By clearly explaining the poetry before singing, Rekha Surya demystifies Hindustani Light Classical Music for uninitiated audiences.


1. Introduction
2. Preface
3. A Brief History of North Indian Music
4. The Concept of Raga and Tala
5. Thumri’s Characteristics
6. Improvisation
7. Differences, Commonalities between Thumri and Khayal
8. Thumri’s Gharanas
9. The Allied forms of Thumri
10. Thumri’s Relationship with Ghazal
11. Ghazal’s Literary Aspect
12. Thumri and its Ilk Viewed from a Feminist Perspective
13. Begum Akhtar and Girija Devi as Mentors
14. The inclusion of Sufi Poetry in Light Classical Music
15. Performances as Novel Experiences
16. The Antecedents and Origin of Thumri
17. Thumri’s Association with Kathak
18. Poets of Thumri-texts
19. The Effect of Modernity on Light Classical Forms
20. The Future of Light Classical Music



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