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THUMRĪ A vocal (or sometimes instrumental) genre, thumrī (Hindustani, thumaknā "to walk with a jerky, mincing, or wanton gait"; possibly an onomatopoeic imitation of the sound of a stamp of a dancer's foot against the floor [thumuk]) features so-called light-classical rāgs and (in the case of vocal music) romantic texts. Most musicians associate the origins of the thumrī with the court of Wajid Ali Shah, the mid-nineteenth century ruler of Oudh, although the genre has numerous stylistic predecessors. Roughly parallel to the romantic storytelling genre padam of bharata natyam (dance idiom), thumrī has associations with the classical dance of northern India—kathak—and in a kathak program, dancers often mime their movements to thumrī.

Poets of thumrī texts have often drawn upon the legends of Krishna, particularly his amorous relationships with the milkmaids of Vraj. The gender of the voice of the text is usually feminine, although both men and women perform. Praise of the beloved, lament of the beloved's absence, and anticipation of the arrival of the beloved are among the favorite topics of thumrī, although explicitly erotic and obscene themes occasionally occur in special contexts. The dominant rasas (emotions) of thumrī are shringāra (the erotic) and karuna (the pathetic).

Musical Characteristics

Musicians apply a select repertoire of rāgas and tālas in thumrī. One characteristic of thumrīrāgas is the affective use of alternative notes to emphasize the rasa of the rāga. Thumrī singers also often temporarily introduce other rāgas in their renditions. As with most North Indian musical genres, the melody has two musical parts—sthāyī and antarā—in contrasting registers, each having two lines of poetry.

Musical ornaments in thumrī are generally quicker and lighter than in khayal. The principal type of elaboration in thumrī is the boltān, an improvised melodic rendering of the words of the song. These melismatic improvisations commonly function as "word-painting." Singers repeat text lines often, each time with new elaborations. At the conclusion, the singer returns to the first line and repeats it, while the drummer briefly solos in a sped-up section described as laggi. A laggi is often in a fast binary meter such as kaharavā (8 mātras) or tintāl, even though the thumrī itself is in another tāla (such as the 14-matra Dīpcandī or the 6-mātra Dādra). At the end of the solo, the drummer returns to the original tāla. Instrumentalists often perform thumrīs toward the end of their programs, in which context performers choose rāgas and tālas typical of the genre. The mood of such performances is decidedly lighter than the more elaborate approach taken in ālāp and gat-torā, although devices such as sawāl-jawāb may still be part of the performance.

Gordon Thompson


Bhatkhande, Visnu Narayan. Krāmik Pustak-Mālika, edited by Laksminarayan Garg. Hathras: Sangit Karyalay, 1969–1970.

Manuel, Peter. "Thumrī in Historical and Stylistic Perspective." Ph.D. diss., University of California, Los Angeles, 1983.