Saturday, May 3, 2008

Tarana Singing - Ustad Amir Khan

Tarana is an Hindustani vocal music genre in which the texts of the compositions are constructed using syllables such as na, ta, dar, tanom, yala, yali, instead of verses of poetry.  The expert tarana singer, an Indian Classical musician or a Qawwal, can sing taranas in a wide variety of raags and taals (beats), with the delivery usually set to medium or fast tempo.

The genre is the invention of Hazrat Amir Khusro.  It's generally believed that the words (bol) used in taranas are unintelligible sounds.  Ustad Amir Khan (1912 - 1973) dedicated a large part of his musical career to the study of taranas.  In his assessment, however, the words comprising tarana expressions come from Persian and Arabic.  In one of this research articles [1] he explained their meanings as follows:

Tanan Dar Aa - Enter my body.
O Dani - He knows
Tu Dani - You know.
Na Dir Dani - You are the Complete Wisdom.
Tom - I am yours, I belong to you.
Yala - Ya Allah
Yali - Ya Ali

In this recording of the Tarana in Raag Darbari, 1.5 minutes into the clip, he explains the meanings for the benefit of the audience.[2]

Other musicologists have also tried to explain their meanings along the same lines as Ustad Amir Khan. For instance, we have the following translation lexicon [3]:

Dar – Bheetar, Aandar (inside)
Dara – Andar Aa (get in or come inside)
Dartan – Tanke Aandar (inside the body)
Tanandara – Tanke Aandar Aa (Come inside the body)
Tom – Main Tum Hun (I am you)
Nadirdani – Tu Sabse Adhik Janata Hai (You know more than anyone else)
Tandardani – Tanke Aandarka Jannewala (One who knows what is inside the body) 

One may naturally wonder how these words come to be connected with the tarana genre.  Ustad Farid Ayaz Qawwal, leading performer from the contemporary generation of the Qawwal Bachche, has offered an interesting explanation.  In some of his tarana performances, such as this rendition in Raag Des [4], he has pointed out that, first, the some of the tarana syllables were derived from Turkish language and, secondly, the genesis of the tarana genre has its inspiration in one of Khusro's Persian quatrains (رباعی), the complete version of which is as follows [5]:

آن روز که روح آدم آمد به بدن
از بیم گناه نمی شد اندر تن
خواند مــــلایکان به
لحن داؤد
در تن در تن درآ درآ آمد در تن

The quatrain speaks of the creation of Adam and the day his soul encountered the body.  Fearing the sinful nature of the flesh, Adam's pure spirit hesitated from entering the body.  To make the task easier for him, the angels intervened and using the sweet melodies of the prophet David sang to him the words Dar tan, dar tan, dara dara (inside the body, inside the body, come inside, come inside).

Hence, from the above interpretations we learn that tarana bol are in fact words and phrases which carry meaning in a certain mystical context.  The question naturally comes to mind as to why some experts have contested this opinion by claiming the words as being meaningless.  To solve the puzzle we have to take into account the historical fact that in Khusro's era there was a prevailing musical tradition of combining meaningless syllables with instrumental sounds.  Musicians used these pronounceable sound-syllables for structuring and shaping their songs [6].  Experts who claim that these ancient sound-syllables were the direct antecedents to the tarana appear to have overlooked the theory of the Perso-Arabic-Turkic derivation of the tarana words.  And it's likely that in drawing their conclusions these experts were misled by the preponderance in modern tarana compositions of instrumental sound-syllables (tabla sounds for example).  According to Ustad Amir Khan, the existence of the instrumental sounds in modern tarana was the result of innovations of later generations of musicians.  Through years of research and recital, Ustad Amir tried to set the record straight and to take the tarana back to its pure form as originally dictated by Hazrat Ameer Khusro [3]. 

* * *

We leave you with this lovely Tarana in Raag Hamsadwani [7] by Ustad Amir Khan.  Not surprisingly the rendition is a perfect example of the use of pure tarana bol.  As an aside, it's worth pointing out Ustad Amir's use of this lovely inserted Persian couplet about union with the beloved, a theme that underlies tarana phrases:

Etihaade-st miyaan e man o tu
Man o tu neist miyaan e man o tu

There's a unity between you and I
(Such that) there's no "You" and "I" between you and I.

[1]  The Tarana Style of Singing by Amir Khan.
[2] ; link to mp3.
[3]  "Indian Music of the 78rpm era - Amir Khan". (link)

[4]  YouTube link ; link to mp3.
[5]  Speech by sufi scholar and poet Syed Nasiruddin Nasir (link 1 , link 2)
[6]  A Concise Dictionary of Hindustani Music by A. D. Ranade.


Asifmamu said...

Mashallah, what a lovely beginning. Your posting on the tarana is a revelation. The explanations of the meaning of words in the Tarana are perfectly consistent with Sufi philosophy, which often seeks the hidden meaning behind things. Hence the use of word contractions, double meanings. Double meanings are epitomized in depictions of the relationship between the lover and beloved in all of Arifana poetry which, although described in temporal terms, is meant to connote spritual love between the follower and the followed. Also, the double meaning in descriptions of the relationship of the poet to wine... But that will be the subject of another discussion.

I love the rendition of Hamsadhwani by Ameer Khan.

Unknown said...

Thank you. This is a wonderful post, I am happy to have stumbled upon it. Your explanations are great.