With Holi round the corner, it would be apt to usher in the celebrations with holis or horis, song-forms pertaining to the Festival of Colours. These song-forms describe the play of colour and the banter that are inseparable from the festival. Krishna, the Hindu deity, and his consorts are often the main protagonists in these descriptions.

Folk renditions of these song-forms have originated in the Gangetic basin and neighbouring areas, but have been incorporated by practitioners of Hindustani art music from across the country. Given their training in elaborating musical ideas, they either expand on the melodic, rhythmic and poetic framework provided in the folk songs, or create new compositions on similar lines.

As part of our ongoing series on raag Kafi, we had heard a hori sung by the senior Dagar brothers and another sung by Begum Akhtar. This week, we include a hori thumri in raag Kafi by Girija Devi, one of the senior-most exponents of thumri-dadra today. She demonstrates the characteristics of the Purab style as she proceeds with the bol banaav or free melodic elaboration using the words of the song-text, stretching out every word to enhance the drama contained in the narrative. Introducing a very brief komal dhaivat or flat sixth around 8”, she moves to the upper tonic. Her sharp-edged voice accentuates the emotive quality created by the precise intonation of the upper tonic. This can be experienced more so after the antara or the second section of the composition, when the rhythmic canvas changes from Jat, a cycle of 16 matras or time units, to the eight-matra Kaherva.

The text accompanying this video mentions Mahapurush Mishra as the tabla player. He plays a number of laggis or short rhythmic patterns that involve permutation and combination of minimal strokes, all of which evoke a sense of footwork employed in Kathak dance. Indeed, the laggi section was originally related to footwork that the singer-dancer would display against the melodic refrain maintained by the ensemble. Despite the separation of the roles of singer and dancer over several decades, the laggi section continues to be an inseparable part of thumri renditions heightening the magic of the moment.


The charismatic Shobha Gurtu sings a hori thumri based on Pilu, a raag closely associated with Kafi, in a Doordarshan recording. The composition is set to Deepchandi, but moves towards the end to Kaherva, an eight-matra cycle for the laggi patterns from the tabla. Although a short rendition, Gurtu masterfully creates the languor and meandering quality that is so integral to the thumri form.

Tabla accompaniment is provided by noted tabla player Shashikant alias Nana Muley. Iqbal Ahmed plays the sarangi and Baburao Neskar accompanies on the harmonium.

Gurtu’s disciples Sarla Bhide and Shubha Joshi provide vocal support.