Dhrupad claims the distinction of being the oldest form of Indian Classical music heard today, its origin can be traced back to the chanting of vedic hymns and mantras. It is said to be a form of the Gandharva Veda, the Vedic science of music, which is a branch of Sama Veda. The Sama Veda  was chanted with the help of melody and rhythm called Samgana. Gradually this developed into other vocal styles called ‘Chhanda’ and ‘Prabandha’ with introduction of verse and meter. The fusion of these two elements led to the emergence of Dhrupad.

The birth of Dhrupad as we know it today coincided with the Bhakti movement (particularly that of the  Vallabh Sampradaya) and consequently was more devotional in nature. It was rendered in temples facing the the Divinity full of devotion and bhaav, this was the genesis of what became known as Haveli Dhrupad/Sangeet.  

Famous proponents of this style-  Ashta chaap (8 primary poets of the Vallabh Sampradaya), Swami Haridas (Nimbarka Sampradaya), Gurbani (Sikh Tradition)

This then evolved into a sophisticated classical form of music and in the 1500's came to be patronized by the royal courts. Raja Man Singh (King of Gwalior) in particular gave Dhrupad immense encouragement and introduced many refinements, being a musician himself. This style came to be known as the Darbari Dhrupad.  

Famous proponents of this form - Tanna Mishra (Miyan Tansen), Baiju Bawra both of these received guidance from Swami Haridas. 

Here the nature of the compositions changed with some eulogizing the emperors; others were elaborations on the music itself, while  others still described heroic deeds or even elegant poetry in admiration of female beauty, especially Shrimati Radharani. Given its roots the original language of the music was Sanskrit  but later transitioned to being primarily in Brij Bhasha (a dialect Hindi). The pristine nature of Dhrupad has survived to this day and both majestic forms can be heard just as it was more than 500 years ago, the Haveli form in Temples and the Darbari form can in concerts.

Below is a famous painting of Swami Haridas teaching Miyan Tansen in the presence of Emperor Akbar.

The word Dhrupad is the Hindi form of the original Sanskrit, Dhruvapada, a combination of;

  1. Dhruva = structured/unmoving
  2. Pada = word/poem.

Conceptually, however, it has a different meaning: it refers to and emphasises the cyclical construction of the music. It implies the return of the Swara (tonal), Kala (time) and Shabda (textual) trajectories to a fixed point. 

As the Haveli form is only practised in temples, for the remainder of this we will primarily focus on the Darbari tradition as this is what is performed on the concert circuit

As with most Indian classical music the artist is accompanied by a tanpura (drone), which can be seen in the image above in Swami Haridasji's hand as well as beside Miyan Tansenji. The tanpura enables the singer’s voice to be precisely pitched. 

For rhythmic accompaniment the pakhawaj is tradtionally used and is a barrel shaped drum from which the tabla originated (See image below). 

Maestro Bhavani Shankar created magic on a morning of September 2011 at India's first festival dedicated to Rhythm. Accompanied by a tabla player, he started with the bols of the Tandav Dance and moved ahead mesmerising the 5k strong audience with his unique style and energy.

Other than vocal the Dhrupad style is also performed on stringed instruments such as the Rudra Veena,  Surbahar, Sursringar and can actually be performed on any instrument that is able to produce micro-tones and slides between the notes of a scale. 



There are two main components to a Dhrupad (Darbari) performance; the alaap and composition.

1. Alaap

One of Dhrupad's distinct characteristics is its long elaborate alaap which can last up to an hour. It is generally broken up into 3 sections; alap (unmetered), the jor (with steady rhythm) and the jhala (accelerating strumming). Here specific syllables are used rather than Aakar (Aa) or sargams (SRGMPDNS).

“The exclusive use of aakar (producing an “Aa” sound while singing) and sargam (singing notes by their names: Sa, Re, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha, Nee) is avoided. Aalap calls for a subtle and delicate treatment of notes in the raag, while also allowing them complete freedom of expression. Different shades of the raag manifest in the renditions of the jod and jhala following the aalap.” - Uday Bhawalkar - Ek Vichar

The main syllables used in Dhrupad alaaps are : Aa  - Ra Na - Naa, Ra Naa, Num Na, Te Ta - Ra Na Na, Ri Naa Ra NaNa, Ta Ra Ra Na, Ri Ra - Ra Na Na, Num - Ra Na Na, Naa - Ra Na Na, A Na Na, Te Ta - Ra Na Na, Taa Ra Na Na, Ri Naa Num - Ra Na Na, Ta Na, Tum Na.

These syllables were derived from Sanskrit mantras for example  Ri- Hari , Narayana - Na Ra Na Naa, Num - OM. This syllable construction has been attributed to Behram Khan Dagar (Dhrupad Gharanas section) 

The alaap is a skilful unfolding of the raga, where the artist slowly reveals its form, carefully rendering each note in a progressive fashion whilst also working in its key phrases.  Much emphasis is placed on note purity and clarity in Dhrupad and this takes a lifetime of dedication and practice to develop.

"Application of right pitch. Every note has a correct placement ( ‘sahi jagah’) , a specific distance (‘shrutiantar’) from the ones preceding and following it and a specific movement (‘meend’) by which it arrives. It is only when these very subtle conditions are met that the combination of notes creates a certain raga: their beauty and true character emerge and the intended mood or ‘rasa’ of the raga is established." - Understanding Dhrupad by Pandit Ramakant Gundecha Bhopal, March 3rd to 6th  2009.

The artist can also playfully tease by deliberately delaying the revealing of some aspects of the raga,  leaving the listener often on edge eagerly awaiting it. This concept is called Tirobhav - concealed aspects of the raga and the opposite being Avirbhav - exhibiting aspects. 

This slow and deliberate melodic development gradually introduces a rhythmic pulse which slowly increases in pace. When a steady pulse is introduced into the alap, it is called jor; when the tempo has been greatly increased, or when the rhythmic element overtakes the melodic, it is called jhala also sometimes refered to as nomtom.

2. Composition

The climax of a Dhrupad performance is the composition which traditionally consists of 4 main sections (although there are some with just 2):

  1. Sthaayi (Base) - Named as the artist returns back to it after rendering each component  
  2. Antara (Different / Intermediate) - This comes between Sthaayi  and Sanchari.
  3. Sanchari (free flowing) - In this section the singers has freedom to sing it in any register, hence its name.
  4. Aabhog (Completion) - This feature the poet/writers name. 

The Tālas or cycles of beats commonly used are Choutāla (12 beats), Dhamāra (14 beats), Jhaptāla (10beats), Sūltāla (10beats) and Tīvrā (7 beats).

"The predominant themes are Bhakti (devotion), Shringar (love) or descriptions of sangeet shastra. Performance of the bandish, comprises largely of spontaneous improvisations within the taal framework, called upaj. 

Upaj gives the musician plenty of scope to creatively paint the mood of the Raag and composition using the lyrics, notes and rhythm. It is hence not limited to doubling or tripling the rhythm, or even just finishing on the sam (first beat of the taal)."

Uday Bhawalkar - Ek Vichar

There is  also a more playful form called Dhamara, as it is set to the 14-beats taal Dhamara. The compositions are associated with the play between Lord Krishna and the Gopi's of Vraj during Holi , the Spring Festival of colours celebrated in India.


The Guru- Shishya Parampara

The teaching of Dhrupad is very closely tied to the ancient system of guru-shishya parampara (the teacher-disciple tradition). It is an oral tradition that dates back thousands of years, where the students lived in the home of their Guru and devoted themselves to riyaz (practice) of music. The lives of students were focused on learning music and helping with the household chores of their teacher. This is what has 

Classical texts mentioned four branches of Dhrupad sangeet are famous:

  • Gobarhani bani - according to Krishna tradition. Associatedwith Haveli Sangeet
  • Nauhaari bani - according to Shankar tradition.
  • Daguri bani - according to Bharat tradition.
  • Khandaari bani - according to Hanumat tradition.

Dagar Gharana

The Dagar lineage began with Baba Gopal Das Pandey in the 18th century.  After a performance in Delhi he was ostracised by his Pandey Bramin community, for accepting a 'paan' given to him by the then Emperor of Delhi - Muhammad Shah Rangile, following a brilliant rendition of Dhrupad. As a result he moved to Delhi, where he embraced Islam and was rechristened Baba Imam Khan Dagar. Baba Gopal Das Pandey is said to have some connection back to the great Swami Haridas. He has two sons  Haider Khan and Behram Khan, it was the latter who is credited with establishing the gayaki and passing down the pure form of Dagarbani. Dagarbani is known for preserving the purity and spiritual/devotional aspect of the raga. It's alaaps are deep and meditative, whilst the compositions showcase intricate rhythmic patterns.

The main representatives of the present-day Dagar gharana are the descendants of Ustad Zakiruddin Khan as well as of Ustad Allabande Khan’s four sons, Nasiruddin, Rahimuddin, Imamuddin and Husseinuddin: all of them extremely gifted and highly respected Dhrupad musicians. Nasir Moinuddin Dagar (1919-1966) and Nasir Aminuddin Dagar (1923-2000), now referred to as the Senior Dagar Brothers, were the elder sons of Nasiruddin and grandsons of Allabande Khan. Their jugalbandhi captivated audiences all over India and even in Europe bringing about a major revival of the dying genre. After the death of Moinuddin, their younger brothers, Nasir Zaheeruddin (1932-1994) and Nasir Fayyazuddin (1934-1989) also gained fame as a duo. Major contributions to the upkeep of this tradition also came from the sons of Rahimuddin and Husseinuddin, Rahim Fahimuddin (1927-2011) and Hussein Sayeeduddin respectively, as well as the grandsons of Zakiruddin Khan, Ustad Zia Mohiuddin (1929-1990 - who revived the majestic Rudra Veena as a concert instrument) and Zia Fariduddin (1932-2013).

The rich heritage of the Dagar tradition lives on in the remaining Dagar brothers and their sons and well-groomed disciples from outside the family.

Wasifuddin Dagar, Uday Bhawalkar, Bahauddin Dagar, Gundecha Brothers, Ritwik Sanyal, Pushpraj Koshti and Nancy Lesh

Darbhanga Gharana

Darbhanga tradition is one of the two main living Dhrupad gharanas, besides Dagar tradition. The Mallik family represents Darbhanga gharana of Dhrupad. Radha Krishna and Karta Ram, the court musicians for the Nawab of Darbhanga, are considered the founders of the tradition. A link to the musical line of Tansen is traced through Bhupat Khan, the teacher of the founders of the family. The performance of the Darbhanga Gharana of Dhrupad singers can be distinguished mainly by the way compositions are sung after the alap. A major emphasis is placed on the rhythmic aspect of the singing. According to Abhaya Narayan Mallik, the Darbhanga tradition is associated with Gauhar Bani. The family has a rich stock of compositions to draw upon. Prominent singers include (late) Ram Chatur Mallik, Vidur Mallik, Abhaya Narayan Mallik, and Prem Kumar Mallik.

Talwandi Gharana

The Talwandi tradition is associated with the western parts of India, specifically, Punjab. Presently, the tradition has very few singers, all living in Pakistan. Prominent singers of the tradition include Muhammad Hafiz Khan and Muhammad Afzal Khan. Hafiz Khan claims that Talwandi gharana represents Khandar bani. Dilip Chandra Vedi, who learnt from Talwandi Gharana members in 1920's, claimed that Nayak Chand Khan and Suraj Khan were the founders of Talwandi Gharana. Contrary to other opinions regarding Dhrupad, Hafiz Khan places Islam at the center of Dhrupad philosphy. The mantra sung by him during the alap is "nita tarana tarana Allah (Almighty in Islam) tero nam. The talwandi gharana appears to have similarities to the darbhanga gharana described above. A few recordings that exist show extremely fast concluding portions of the alap. The compositions display highly complex rhythmic variations.

Bettiah Gharana

According to Falguni Mitra, the main proponent of Bettiah Gharana, Bettiah Gharana has compositions available from all the Vanis, though more emphasis is placed on Khandar Vani. The ornamentations and rhythmic variations are strictly applied during the rendition of Dhrupad. He states that the Gharana originated in the royal state of Bettiah in Bihar. Pyar Khan of Seni Gharana and Haider Khan are considered to be the major influence on this Gharana.


Sources -

Nad: Understanding Raga Music - Sandeep Bagchee

Dhrupad: Traidtion and Performance In Indian Classical Music Vol 1 - Ritwik Sanyal, Richard Widdess

Singing the Praises Divine: Music in the Hindu Tradition By Selina Thielemann