Kheyal is the second branch of classical music. It is lighter than dhrupad and allows the artist to play freely with various ornamentation. Kheyal does not follow the rigid rules of classical music.

While opinions differ about the origin of kheyal, it is generally accepted that it originated from kawali, the devotional songs sung by the wandering Kawal tribe of the vicinity of Delhi. Amir Khasru (1253-1325) is believed to have modified kawali and turned it into kheyal.

Kheyal may be fast or slow. Amir Khasru introduced the fast kheyal and Sultan Hussain Shah Sarki of Jaunpur (15th century) the slow kheyal. Both types have two parts: sthayi and antara, each containing two to three stanzas.

The fast kheyal has a swift tempo. Its two sections are usually composed of two stanzas each. The bandish, or exposition, is in trital (three beats) or quick ektal (one beat). It begins slowly, but increases in tempo. The song is ornamented with short and strong beats, words and rhythm. Slow kheyal has a long-drawn movement. Its alap (literally dialogue, the opening lines) are rendered at length. The sthayi and antara are also drawn out.

Kheyal reached the peak of its glory with the famous vina maestro, Niamat Khan (Sadarang), at the court of Emperor Muhammad Shah in the 18th century. Niamat Khan composed numerous kheyals and extended its scope by applying new words and rhythm. The kheyal he taught his disciples became very popular. His son 'Firoz Khan' (Adarang) also helped in the further development of the genre.

Kheyal's subject is generally romantic and expressed with great musical artistry. It may also be used for devotional themes. Kheyal is composed in Hindi and urdu. Apart from ektal and trital, other common metres are adachautal and jhumra. If it is sung correctly and with an appropriate rhythm, it creates a sense of profound joy in the minds of listeners. It occupies a unique place in the tradition of gharana music in Bengal. [Mobarak Hossain Khan]