A rich tapestry of the musical tradition called Hori Thumris is an integral part of Holi, the fun-filled spring festival of colors. In the northern part of the country, the rather mad revelry of colors is often followed by sitting around in a group with the extended family or neighborhood and eating mithai, Namkeen, drinking Thandai (often laced with Bhaang), and singing Horis – songs related to Holi and colors, accompanied with a dholak.
This scene has been very frequently used in Hindi cinema to great dramatic effect. The famous Holi songs of Don, Silsila, Kati Patang, and Sholay come to mind. But Anu has asked me to ignore the filmi Holi songs in this piece since everyone is familiar with them.
Hori Thumris – Best Classical Holi Songs
I will instead focus on the Hori Thumris – the semi-classical songs based on Holi within the thumri sub-genre. The different types of Thumris are always based on flirtation, love, romance and, eroticism, even the sulking, jealousy, yearning, and heartbreak associated with romance.
Unlike “purer” forms of Hindustani classical music such as Khayal, thumri places a lot of importance on its poetry usually in Brij Bhaasha or Awadhi. The poetic play of words and their embellishment as the singer often repeats lyrical phrases in different emotive and melodic ways to emphasize the meaning and Alankaars (poetic ornamentation).
The ragas are usually of lighter moods, such as Khamaaj (a personal favorite), Kaafi, Des (a universal favorite), Piloo, Gara, Pahaadi, Bhairavi. Often, the melodic structure of the thumri is only loosely based on the specific raga, hence is referred to as “Mishra” (mixed) raga. The tempo could be slow, medium, or fast-paced. The rhythmic structure and improvisation play an important role. Roopak, Deepchandi, Dadra, etc are the commonly used Talas.
The Hori Thumris are most often based on the romance of Krishna and Radha. They talk about their play and pranks with colors during Holi. The gamut of emotions could vary to embarrassment, sulking, jealousy, and heartbreak as well, as noted before.
1. Colors of Holi in Holi Thumris
Let’s begin with a beautiful descriptive Hori by the Banaras Gharana stalwart, Pta Siddheshwari Devi, based on Raga Kaafi, Deepchandi Taal, Udat Abeer Gulaal, Laali Chhaai Re…
The lyrics charmingly describe the red color of Abeer/Gulaal flying around, turning everything red, from the sky, the Yamuna, and dark-skinned Krishna himself along with his ornaments, even his white pearls.
The same Hori Thumri, rendered by Pta Siddheshwari Devi’s daughter and disciple, Savita Devi. The style is similar, albeit their improvisations are very different.
The late Pta Girja Devi, a contemporary doyenne was perhaps the most famous thumri exponent of our times. Here’s her rendition of a lyrical and melodic variant of a very similar Hori in Raga Gara.
And by Pta Girija Devi’s talented and popular disciple, Malini Awasthi
This is a common theme and here’s another very popular Hori by the Banaras Gharana stalwart, Pta Shobha Gurtu. It describes the ambiance of Holi, Aaj Biraj Mein Holi Re Rasiyaa.
2. Hori Thumris describing Krishna’s Revelries during Holi
Begum Akhtar’s famous Hori in raga Zila Kaafi (?), Kaisi Yeh Dhoom Machaayi, Kanhaiyya, has Radha (or maybe a Gopika) addressing Krishna, describing his Holi revelries.
A longer & live version of the same Hori, with an introduction of Begum Akhtar by Pt Jasraj.
A similar Hori in raga Zila Kafi rendered as a duet by Pta Girija Devi and Ustaad Amjad Ali Khan (on Sarod).
3. Krishna approaching Radha
A personal favorite is this Hori by one of the stalwarts of the Jaipur-Atrauli Gharana, Surashree Kesarbai Kerkar’s elaboration in raga Khamaaj. Aaye Shyam Mose Khelan Holi, where Radha talks about Krishna approaching her to play Holi with a Pichkari.
4. Radha wants to go to Krishna’s Home
Begum Akhtar’s Hori Khelan Kaise Jaun based on Raga Piloo has Radha wondering to a friend if it would be appropriate for her to join the Holi with Krishna.
Pta Shobha Gurtu has a different version of this Hori.
In Pta Shubha Mudgal’s Hori, Kanhaiya Ghar Chalo Mori Guiyaan, Radha tells her friend, let’s go to Krishna’s house to play Holi.
5. Radha plays Holi with Krishna
Pt Chhannulal Mishra of the Banaras Gharana sings Rang Daarungi Daarungi Nanda Ke Laalane Pe, describes Radha’s excited participation, challenging Krishna in the Holi revelries.
The same Hori rendered by Malini Awasthi
6. Radha is soaked in Color
Pta Shobha Gurtu sings this lovely Hori based on Raga Pahadi, Rangi Saari Gulabi Chunariya Re, where Radha describes herself being colored pink and is wary of being eyed by Krishna for more.
The amazingly talented, Kaushiki Chakraborty, also has a beautiful rendition of this piece, on the same Raga but with a completely different flavor.
Malini Awasthi’s version is folksy.
Shujaat Khan accompanies his own rendition of the piece on sitar in this live recording.
7. Radha Krishna Play Holi
Pt Ajoy Chakraborty sings his guru, Pt Gyan Prakash Ghosh’s bilingual composition based on raga Khamaaj. Saari Daar Gaye Mo Pe Rang Ki Gaagar, where Radha-Krishna’s mutual play with colors continues. Unfortunately, the recording ends a bit abruptly.
And the Bengali version, Keno Bhijaale Ronge, of the same Hori.
8. Radha Pleads Not to Color Anymore
Radha has had enough now and pleads with Krishna to not spray color on her any more!
This melodious Hori by Mehboobjan of Solapur was recorded in 1936. Na Maaro Pichkaari, Gopal is based on raga Khamaaj. Radha has had enough and pleads with Krishna to not spray color on her anymore.
Pta Siddheshwari Devi sings on a similar theme, Jee Na Maaro Pichkari Rang Ki.
And so does Pt Kumar Gandharva, but with very different lyrics and melodic structure in raga Bhairavi, Na Maro Bhar Pichkari.
9. Mohan Plays Holi
The late Pta Veena Sahasrabuddhe of the Gwalior Gharana has an electrifying Hori in raga Adana, Hori Hori Hori Khelat Nandalal.
Mewati Gharana’s Pt Sanjeev Abhyankar, possibly Pt Jasraj’s most famous disciple, sings another descriptive Hori based on Raga Tilang, Mohan Khelat Hori.
10. Hardcore Classical Hori Thumris
Ustaad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan Sahib, a doyen of the Patiala Gharana was as brilliant with his Thumris including Hori Thumris as with his Khayals. Listen to his amazing meandering taans in this brilliant Hori in Raga Des, Hori Khelan Jaaun.
Pt Bhimsen Joshi of the Kirana Gharana is known to everyone with the slightest familiarity with Hindustani classical music. His Hori Khelat Nandakumar is based on Raga Kaafi.
Bonus: Different Types of Hori Singing
Pt Chhanulal Mishra demonstrates different kinds of Horis in this video
There are many many more lovely Horis, but one can only list a few. Many aren’t even available on YouTube.
Listen to Pt Chhanulal Mishra sing Khele Mashane Mein Holi Digambar – Shiv ki Hori
Tell us about your favorite Hori Thumirs or renditions in the comments.
If you like this collection of Hori Thumris, please share them with your friends & family.
Bhagoria – The Holi of Bhil Tribals
Shigmo – How Goa celebrates Holi
Barsana – Radha’s village in Braj
This is a guest post by Aditya Sengupta. Aditya is a friend and a fellow enthusiast of books, music, food, history, heritage, and travel. In his other avatar, he is a scientist based in Bangalore.
Thank you, Prash.
No words to thank you Madam! I am looking to get some of these on LPs, but not able to get them. 🙁
Navin – Glad you liked the Hori post. Incidentally, I have heard most of these on youtube only.
Wow. What a great collection. Only you could come up with this. I have played Holi all my life but never came across these gems. ABout time to check them out!
Sreekar – do listen to these Hori Thumris and come back and tell me how did you find them.
Some of the very rare performances have been saved courtesy Youtube or are available in the archives of the All India Radio. Sometimes we get to enjoy them which are pure bliss. Thanks a lot for compiling these gems at one place.
Navin, the idea behind this post was to make the current generations aware of this genre of music. It was very tempting to pick up the Bollywood songs on Holi – that was easy but this is our heritage & treasure.
Wow! It must have been hard to find all these videos on Youtube, but great job! If only we understood the language… so to understand what they’re singing. 🙂 India is not on our bucket-list (mainly because we’re not fan of Indian food), but we’re wondering what the colorful Holi festivals mean. Now after hearing these songs, we can imagine how people get into the mood during those festivals. 🙂
Ah, I suggest you try different types of Indian food and maybe you will change your opinion. Holi is the festival of colors. Once everyone is colored, we sit with food and sing. These are of course classical songs sung by the best singers of Indian Classical Music.
If there is one thing I love of India are the unmatched colourful compositions. You have done a great job here in compiling all the Holi colourful music. It’s a pity I don’t understand a word of it, but the melody says it all.
Michela – they usually have simple lyrics that talk about the joy of Holi. It is the melody that matters.
This is a much calmer side of Holi that I didn’t know existed. What has come to Europe about Holi is just a big party with lots of colour, so we have no idea what it really means. The music all sounds much more spiritual than I had imagined, it’s beautiful! Thank you.
Claire – this is a whole genre of music for Holi. It is spiritual but it is a celebration, so it is playful and it talks about Radha and Krishna playing Holi and the emotions associated with it.
I love the colour of Holi and the dancing to go with it. I dont understand the songs but love the tune.
Danik – this is a whole genre of semi-classical singing that is associated with Holi festival. Glad you liked the tune.
Very interesting compilations and a good introduction to this genre of music. The explanation of the explanation at the start is very useful especially for someone unaware of the intricacies of this music.
Thank you, glad you liked the post. Hope you heard a few of those Thumris.
Fantastic selection and compilation! Approaching and enjoying Holi through priceless music is a great idea.
Thak you Jagadish Ji. Very happy that you enjoyed the post on Hori at IndiTales.
Fantastic selection and compilation! Approaching and enjoying Holi through priceless music is a great idea.
I love the diversity of Indian culture and this is a great roundup. I’d love to visit India during Holi too although I suspect it would be too busy for me
Anne – You can come to India anytime, there would be some festival or the other going on.
I can’t remember if some of these had been played on a holi festival I attended in Manila back 3 years ago. I love Holi, it’s one of the most colorful festivals I’ve seen and joined to! What a great collection of traditional music and song. India is such an interesting country in many aspects!
It is unlikely that you would have heard these in Manila. These are traditional songs sung in the Braj and Awadh regions of North India.
I had no idea that there was traditional music set to Holi – thanks for introducing me to Hori Thumris – Holi is a festival which I really want to get to at some stage 🙂 I love the different renditions of Hori, and how they reflect each artists personal experiences with Holi. Thanks for this playlist!
Megan – We made an attempt to introduce this genre of music to our audience. If you understand the lyrics and rhythms of these songs, you would know they create the environment of Holi through music.
Celebrating Holi is one of the top things I want to do on my bucket list. Thanks for showing us some great Holi songs. Now I can listen at home and pretend that I’m there celebrating with everyone.
Anita – pretend till the next Holi & plan to come here next year – it is the most fun festival you will ever attend.
Anuradhaji, another gem is a non-film song by the immortal K L Saigal – Hori ho brajraj dulare recorded perhaps in 1933-34. This is based on Raga Kafi. In case, you get it on Youtube, you may like to add.
Thanks, Navin, will definitely look out for that one and ask Aditya to put it in one of the categories he created.
Anuradha ji, what a commendable job brining in so many of holi based classical and semi classical music together….this gives a different perspective to festival. Great work…
Thank you, Sudhanshu Ji. Glad that you enjoyed this lovely compilation by our friend Aditya.