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Ancient Tradition of Dhrupad Music- Origin Evolution and Presentation

Dhrupada is possibly the  oldest surviving musical form of North India. The  word Dhrupada is a combination of the two words Dhruva & Pada. Dhruva  which means structured fixed or rigid, that does not alter its course, and  pada, means word or syllable, a metrical foot, denoting the composition. The  word Dhrupada therefore means a composition in which the padas or words are set  in a definite structure or pattern.  

If one searches for the roots of  this form, one would definitely go back as far as the Sama Veda chants. The chhandas and the prabandha modes of composition are believed to have originated in  the rhythmic Vedic chants. Of the two, chhandas have rise to verse and  prabandha to meter. The historical evidence suggests that there must have been  a gradual evolutionary process which resulted in the emergence of Drupada from  its progenitors “Prabandha”.

In Indian tradition, music was  equated with truth and truth with God. From this rich lore originated Dhrupad,  whose roots can be traced to the Vedic scriptures in Sama Veda. It is also said  that the chant of the epics, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana by  the rishis, ascetics of yore, gave the intonation and color to Dhrupad.  Consequently, Dhrupad was devotional in nature, an invocation to the gods, sung  exclusively in places of worship.

It soon assumed the status of a  yoga – nad Brahma (sound). A yogic meditation was pursued by the rishis to attain purity of sound. Dhrupada seems to be related to the tradition of  religious hymns which were sung in the temples since when Prabandha gave way to  Dhrupada. Dhrupad probably evolved from the earlier chanting of Om the sacred syllable, which is believed  to be in the Hindu canon, to be the source of all creation. Om is said to have a spiritually  purifying effect on the person chanting it and the phrases like Om, Ananta Narayana Hari or Hey Anant Hari were a kind of invocation  to God. However later on, these phrases disappeared but were left with nom tom as a vestige.

Bharata`s Natyashastra makes  reference of Dhruva as the song sung  before the commencement of a play, whereas 11th century music texts, such as ‘Sangeet Makarand’, and 14th century  texts like ‘Raagatarangini’, discuss  both the dhruva and the dhruva-prabandha forms. About Prabandha we get  references in ‘Mansolesa’ written by  Somesvara ,‘Sangit Ratnakar’ written  by Sharangdeva and ‘Sangitaraja’  written by Maharana Kumbhakarna.Someshwara tells us that Prabandhas were mostly  hymns in praise of Gods & Goddesses namely Brahma, Vishnu, Shankara,  Saraswati, Gauri, Mahalaxmi and so on. There were also Prabandhas in laudation  of human beings of great beauty, sublimity and power.

Various scholars like Bhavabhatta  of the 17th Century have given descriptions of the Dhrupadas and the  ragas sung at that time. The Dhrupada style of singing was gaining ground in  the 14th century. The Dhrupadas had a strong classical base as they  evolved from Salag Suda Prabandha,  since it was this type of prabandha that the Dhatu(divisions) ‘antara’was sung. The salag suda Prabandha had  five Dhatus namely Udgraha, Melapaka,  Dhruva, Antara and Abhoga. Of these, the Abhoga, being very long was split into two sub parts the Sanchari and the Abhoga. The Dhruva was  also dropped. The Dhatus of the Dhrupavaprabandha thus became Udgraha, Melapaka, Antara,  Sancari and Abhoga. Later Udgraha and Melapaka were combined into one division called the Sthayi.

Thus the modern Dhrupada came  into four divisions: Sthayi, Antara,  Sancari Abhoga.

During (1486-1516) Raja Mansingh Tomar gave Dhrupada  immense encouragement and introduced many refinements in it. He presented  Dhrupada in a new form which began to flourish from the 16th century  onwards thanks to Tansen (born Tanna  Mishra or Ramtanu to Makarand Pande) and other eminent musicians. These  musicians brought a rare beauty, elasticity and dignity to Dhrupada. Dhrupada  became the most prominent feature of music culture of that time. Being  unfamiliar with Sanskrit Persian musicians could not get the bhavna (feeling)  right even though they mastered our music. Conversion of many Hindu musicians  to Islam also had the unfortunate effect of their moving away from the Sanskrit and Sastrika traditions.

When the dhrupad form migrated to  the royal courts, between the 14th and 16th centuries, its nature and content  underwent several alterations. Simplicity yielded to sophistication, devotional  feelings to the romantic and, at times, to amorous ones since music had to  satisfy and amuse regal patrons. Group singing of the dhrupad also yielded to  individual style of singing, where display of skill was necessitated.

Such changes, brought about by a  fusing of historical, social and cultural factors which contributed to the  emergence of the dhrupad as a classical form. During the 12th to 16th  centuries the language of composition changed from Sanskrit to Brijbhasha/Avadhi. Most of the  compositions sung to this day are drawn from Brij compositions, composed during  the 15th and 16th centuries and thereafter.

The teaching of dhrupad is very  closely tied to the ancient system of Guru-shishya  parampara (the teacher-disciple tradition). This is an oral tradition that  dates back thousands of years. The students lived in the home of their guru and  devoted themselves to riyaz (practice)  of music. Musical treatises refer to different Vanis. These were different  styles or schools of dhrupad presentation that existed during the 16th century.  They themselves were supposed to have evolved out of five Geetis, or styles of singing, referred to by the scholar Matanga during the 17th century. From  these styles, came four dhrupad vanis - Gauhar,  Nauhar, Khandar and Dagar. Many of the existing dhrupad gharanas trace  their origins back to one or the other of these vanis.

With the passage of time, the musical aspect of  Dhrupad became so sober and complete in itself that instrumentalists started  solo performances of Dhrupada on instruments like Been & Rabab, Surbahar and sitar with no less grandeur as the vocalists. The Dhrupad music played on  the instruments has adopted portions of vocal music which can be accommodated  by instruments and is called as ‘gayaki’. Misri Singh, son in law of  ‘Tansen’ accompanied him on Been when Tansen Performed Dhrupada. Tansen’s son Bilas  Khan accompaniment of vocal music with the instrument called Rabab

In ancient times Veena used to accompany Dhrupad singers. But later on Veena adopted  itself to the style of Dhupad and Alaap which preceded a Dhrupad recital that was  prevalent in those days. There were many dhrupadiyas who were fairly good Veena  Players. Amongst them was Niyamat Khan  (Sadarang) who popularized veena as a solo instrument. According to the  famous veenkar Ustad Asad Ali khan, “his ancestors Rajab Ali Khan and Musharaff  Khan followed the khandahar vani which was perfected to suitably apply to veena”.

The dhrupad style of singing  evolved as result of an attempt to relax the rigidity of prabandhas. The  dhrupad contains of two phases Nibaddha and Anibaddha. One of the chief strengths  of the dhrupad is that, it gives importance both to the free exposition and  development of the raaga through the initial alaap (anibaddha), as well as to  the rhythmically framed composition (Nibaddha). A performance in dhrupad will  start with a detailed Alaap in a  preferred Raga wherein the singer tries to evoke the mood, tone and spirit of  the chosen Raga. The nibaddha or the closed form comprises of a  rhythm-bound composition in a raga, which embarks, develops and concludes  within the outline of a fixed rhythm pulse. Thus, Dhrupad establishes  co-equivalence of swara and tala, thereby meeting the listener’s  demand for aesthetic attention to the subtleties of the Raga, as also its  energetic illumination through rhythmic play.

A vocal dhrupad performance begins with a  meditative Alaap in which the artist  develops the raga, note-by-note, without any instrumental accompaniment except  the drone of the tanpura. The emphasis is on developing each note with purity  and clarity. To quote the famous Dhrupad stalwart Ustad Zia Fariduddin Dagar: "Alaap entails the search to get the  most perfect pitch of every note. It takes you into a sort of meditation in  which you are lost in the waves of sound and forget everything. There remains  only sound." The alaap evokes a mood in the audience that coincides  with the mood of the raga that is chosen. The singer, many a time, begins with  an inventive chant of the Omkara in the chosen raga. The contemplative character of the alaap is amplified  by the prayerful manner in which the singer articulates these syllables in the  lower, middle and upper registers. As the alaap follows no fixed text, the  singer is free to use words like re de ti  ri li na nom ta, collectively called nom  tom, to emphasize and expatiate the notes. It is supposed that these  `nonsense` syllables possess a semantic and mystical effect. The philosophy  behind not using words is that words may distract and thus lessen the chance of  floating in a spiritual plane. Without the distraction caused by words, what  one hears in the alaap is the sound of pure music, ideally leading to divine  fusion.

There are a total of four sections in the  dhrupad- sthayi, antara, sanchari and  abhog. Following a series of improvisations, in the sthayi section, the singer moves on to the antara (intermediate) section, designated by his transition from  the lower octave to the middle and high octaves - i.e., from ma or pa, to taar sa. Further  improvisations take place in these two octaves, after which the singer returns  to the sthayi, to attempt improvised variations in a rhythmically oriented  manner. The first section which is sung is the sthayi (meaning steady). The weight of  the raga and of the composition falls on this section. The first phrase of the bandish, which carries the  characteristic melodic intonation and weight of the raga, is sung first.  The three components of this section are song-text,  melody and rhythm, all of which are evenly accentuated. The pakhavaj player joins the singer at count one of the tala cycle, providing accompaniment with beats from this point on, thus setting into  motion the rhythmic cycle. Generally the dhrupad compositions are sung  in chautal (a 12 beat rhythm cycle).  Other Tala cycles that are used are sula tala (10) and tivra tala (7 beats), and dhamar (14 beats). While delivering the sthayi, the  singer is free to pick the speed he wishes to.

In the sthayi section only the poorvanga (lower tetra-chord) of the  raga is stressed. The words of the composition are broken and sub-divided  rhythmically into their basic syllabic units and then re-organised, in order to  create brilliant syllable-beat and  word-beat synchronic patterns. This part is known as bol-baant (word-divisions). The meaning of text in composition is  very important and the artists must pay careful attention to the enunciation of  words. Even during improvisation, care is taken not to mispronounce the words. Using  the sthayi, the singer attempts to sing the words in a different tempo, known  as dugun (twice), trigun (thrice) and chaugun (quadruple). The tempo would be in multiples of the basic  tempo, set by the singer. The singer and pakhawaj player engage in a lively  dialogue, but do not attempt to compete with each other. After this synchronization  with the percussionist for a while, the singer slows down the tempo severely,  returns to the first line of the Sthayi and  concludes the recital. Thus unlike the alaap,  the dhrupad section is short and structured. It follows a strict sequential  pattern. A full-fledged dhrupad recital is normally followed  by a Hori-dhammar or a Sadra.

Dhrupad singers belonging to the Dagar Gharana style do not use melodic  accompaniments, like the harmonium or sarangi, during their recitals. Only the drone of the tambura is perceptible in the background. However, those belonging to the Darbhanga tradition, resort to the sarangi. A dhrupad alaap normally occupies the  longest duration in a recital and normally take not more than 45 minutes to one  hour to go through all the phases systematically.

Pandit Bhatkhande`s collection of hundreds of  Dhrupad-Dhamar bandishes is a very good reminders of our rich tradition. However,  only the practice of the art can revitalize the style. To this day the temples  of Vrindavan, Nathdwara, Puri and Dwarka use a simple Dhrupadi as a part of their devotionals with an elementary  rhythmic accompaniment provided by cymbals and hand-bells. It is believed that  the association between dhrupad and ritual worship was amplified when the Bhakti Movement gathered momentum during  the medieval period. The relationship between dhrupad and worship thus, has a  long history, dating back at least seven centuries. The survivor of this hymnic  form is the haveli dhrupad, which  recourses to a highly abbreviated alaap.

Prominent  Dhrupad Gharana of today is the Dagar Gharana. It represents the  Dagarbani Dhrupad rendition and is characterized by meditative and leisurely  development of alap. The Dagar style of Dhrupad is defined by 52 musical  concepts or Arkaans (12 basic alankaras and 40 more). These include concepts  like Udātta, Anudātta, Svarita, Sapta Gupta, Sapta Prakata, and Sakāri etc. which have all but disappeared from Indian classical music and even from  Dhrupad .The Dagar family claims  lineage through Swami Haridas (fifteenth century), a renowned singer of that  time and teacher of Tansen. Besides Swami Haridas, Behram Khan (1753-1878) was  the most renowned dhrupad artist in the Dagar clan. He was associated with the  royal court of Jaipur. Other famous artists were Ustad Zakiruddin Khan  (1840-1926) and Allabande Khan (1845-1927) who were well known for their Jugalbandi (duet) performances. The  famous Dagar brothers are the grandsons of Allabande Khan, whereas Ustad Zia  Fariduddin Dagar and Ustad Zia Mohiuddin Dagar are the grandsons of Zakiruddin Khan. Dagar family has contributed  significantly to preservation and spreading of Dhrupad. They have helped keep  this art alive even though this music was losing popularity in a time of  changing tastes.

Dhrupad music has survived so far due to the  persistence and dedication of the masters. They did not give up inspite of financial  hardships and adversity. Their persistence seems to be bearing fruit as  we now see a new generation of dhrupad artists such as Wasifuddin Dagar,  Bahauddin Dagar, Gundecha Brothers, Nancy Lesh, Uday Bhawalkar, Prem Kumar Mallik, Ashish Sankrityayan and many other promising performers. The Dhrupad Kendra in Bhopal i.e. based on  this ancient tradition has produced several outstanding vocalists. However lot  more needs to be done to ensure the survival of this ancient tradition i.e.  an intrinsic part of Indian culture.

The author is a trained  Hindustani Classical Vocalist and is M.Phil in Indian Classical Music from  Faculty of Music & Fine Arts, Delhi University.

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