It was a cold winters
evening in Delhi. A dense cloud of mist enveloped the land. The
human warmth of the large gathering dissipated the mist ensuring
better visibility. The tanpura, (a four stringed instrument)
droned in the background. The musicians voice cut across the
cold, mist filled air, giving it a surrealistic tone. This was
Dhrupad, the mother of all Indian music. The music which
reverberated in the courts of the Mughal empror, Akbar, lost for over
four centuries and recovered less than two decades ago. And the main
architects who gave it another lease of life, the Dagar brothers,
were on stage.
In Indian tradition,
music was equated with truth and truth with god. From this rich lore
originated Drupad, 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 colour to Dhrupad.
Consequently, Dhrupad was devotional in nature, an invocation to the
gods, sung exclusively in places of worship.
Over 15 centuries ago,
Jainism and Buddhism held sway over India. Hindusim began to lose
ground. But, Dhrupad sung to the Hindu gods, Shiva and Parvathi and
sometimes even venerating the art of music itself, still held sway.
It soon assumed the position of a yoga nad (sound)
yoga. A yogic meditation was pursued by the rishis to attain
purity of sound.
Sound in Indian tradition
is equated with Brahma (supreme cosmic spirit). Music therefore is
interwoven with religion and Dhrupad still retains this relationship.
All sound is not music.
Only sound pleasing to the ear is music (madhur nad). Nad
has been further classified into seven swaras (notes) and
twenty two srutis (micro notes). Notes are arranged into ragas
are which melodious in structure. Raga actually means to evoke a
mood. Sruti musically points to the interval between notes.
At the time of its origin Dhrupad had only three notes. Earlier
music was referred to as chanda and prabandha
metre and arrangement respectively. The metric arrangement of
musical notes prepared the ground for Dhrupad.
Like the previous stormy
periods of political instability, the days when Muslim rulers overran
the country also could not extinguish the flame of Indian music. In
fact, Dhrupad blossomed in all its glory and splendour in the courts
of Akbar, as it had never before or ever after. The Bhakti
(devotion) period was the phase when amalgamation of religions
occurred and dhrupad found great patronage in the courts of kings.
The music of the dhrupadiya (dhrupad singer) Tansen,
reverberated in the court of Akbar, appeasing the gods and providing
tranquility to human minds. Many musicians including the ancestors
of the Dagar brothers were converted from Hindusim to Islam. Yet,
they never lost sight of their music.
But, Dhrupad which had
withstood many stormy periods in history withered away during the
period when the British conquered the subcontinent. In the ensuing
period when patrongs were not forthcoming, dhrupad whittled away. So
much so that, by beginning of the 19th century this form
of music had all but died in the sub-continent. Other forms of
music, a lot more lyrical than dhrupad obliterated the very vestiges
of the mother of Indian music. Dhamar, a parallel form of music
shorter in composition yet with the same style, sung to Lord Krishna,
held sway over the land. Khayal, which was more lyrical and
emotional won over many of the musicians of the country. Soon thumri
and ghazal held audiences spell-bound, as Dhrupad had at one
time. In turn, dhrupad, which is a very difficult form of singing,
became more iconoclastic and orthodox. Dhrupad means a steadfast
song. True to this the singer remained steadfast to the style. And
not a whimper of this music was heard during the time. Its patrons,
those who were still affluent, switched to other lyrical forms of
Yet Dhrupad survived. It
survived in the minds of musicians, in their homes. It survived as
it had survived for over 20 centuries, pining for the day of its
revival. In the 1970s Dhrupad recouped its lost glory and
splendour. The renaissance of dhrupad regenerated four vanis
(the family tradition in music an equivalent of gharanas
in Hindustani classical music), the Dagar vani, Khandhar vani,
Navahar vani and Gobarar vani. It has kindled such
immense enthusiasm in India and abroad that people flock not only to
listen to the dhrupadiyas but to learn from them.
Dhrupad is performed in
three parts alap, vedang and dhrupad proper. Most
westerners refer to alap as prelude. In fact alap is
yoga, pure and free. It is a delineation of raga exhibiting each not
so as to shed light on the different angles. Great emphasis is laid
on arousing a feeling appropriate to the raga by the singers.
Hence alap helps to create the right atmosphere. It presents
the essential features of the raga.
During the time of
Mohammed Shah Rangila, an avid patron of Dhrupad, the music moved
from the temple to the court. In his court, the ancestor of the
Dagar brothers, Baba Gopal Das Dagar was converted to Islam and took
up the name of Imam Khan Dagar. The untimely death of their father
in 1936, deprived the Dagar brothers of not only one of the greatest
exponents of Dhrupad, but also of financial help. Yet, they strived
on under the guidance of their elder brothers, Moinuddin and
Aminuddin dagar. Shelter and succour came from their uncle,
Rizauddin Dagar. The Dagar family ahs set up dhrupad societies in
Jaipur, Delhi and Paris. A Dhrupad centre was opened in Bhopal which
trained students from 1981 to 1985. The revival of the international
interest in Dhrupad is evident from the number of long playing
records of Zia Fariddudin Dagar produced form Sweden, France and the
In 1972, the centenary
year of the dhrupadiya Behram Khan who adorned the courts of
Bahadur Shah Zafar and Ranjit Singh, his great grand children, the
Dagar brothers organized the first Dhrupad Samaroh, (festival) in
Jaipur. Ten years later, the samaroh took root in Delhi and
became the homecoming of dhrupadiyas of exceptional ability.
Dhrupad had come to stay.
It was February 14, 1988.
the fourth Dhrupad Samaroh was in progress. Abhay Narayan Mallick
had ehntraptured the crowds with his singing. Mallick was a song of
the Senia gharana, (tradition) who claim their ancestry to
Tansen, who sang in the court of Akbar. His family has kept up the
tradition in music for well over two centuries. Fascinatingly
Dhrupad still retains the unadulterated verses first written by
Tansen, Swami Haridass and Baiju Bawara over five centuries ago. It
is a music with roots and music with a future. The long alap
rhythmically unstructured on a tala beat sung by the Dagar
brothers rendered the air.
Dhrupad is now going
places. It is finding sponsors like the Indian Council for Cultural
Relations and private companies. It is figuring as a major item in
music festivals in Great Britain, Switzerland and Sweden. Like a
true form of art, this music knows no political boundaries and
overflows geographical barriers.