Dhrupad – Ek Vichar - An Article by Pt Uday Bhawalkar

Dhrupad – Ek Vichar

The direction given by my Gurus and my own experiences has prompted me to share my thoughts about Dhrupad in this article.

The music of India was, in the past, broadly classified into two streams, Margee (Rag-Sangeet) and Desi sangeet. Dhrupad is a musical form prevalent since the early evolutionary stages of Indian classical music (Margee sangeet) and derives from the sound of Omkar, considered to be the origin of nad (sound). Lord Shiva, believed to be the first Dhrupad musician, also inspired many rishis (saints) and munis(ascetics) to follow suit. Some well known Dhrupadiyas (Dhrupad musicians) are Swami Haridas, Baiju Bawra, Tansen, Nayak gopal, Nayak Bakshu.

Through the ages, Indian classical music has always been a path for seekers of Self Realization. Dhrupad is deeply rooted in this tradition of introspection. It diverges in its thought process and presentation from other forms of classical music, while the concepts of swar (note), raag, taal, niyam, spontaneity and expression are identical. Indian culture has been embraced in multitudinous ways resulting in numerous musical traditions. Consequently it would be unsuitable to confine Dhrupad to a strict definition. The variety lent to the genre by the manifold gharanas has enriched it.

Vocal and instrumental Dhrupad musicians, have invariably leaned on the subtle detail and sensitivity of the Tanpura and Pakhawaj. Vocal rendition has developed hand in hand with Dhrupad on the Veena. An instrument unique in its capacity to produce subtle microtones, it has been largely relied upon in understanding the concepts of meend (slide between notes), ghumara (resonance), shruti (particular shade of a note) and swarasthaans. So central is the Veena to Dhrupad, that the vocalist is sometimes referred to as the GatraVeena (the Body Veena).

Dhrupad singers and Veena players have thrived in a symbiotic relationship, inspiring as well as complementing each other’s creativity. Vocal and instrumental presentation is very similar and both use the multi dimensional medium of Aalap and Bandish (composition).

Dhrupad aalap is sung by combining sound syllables such as Aa, Ra, Na, Naa, Ree, Noom, Tey, Ta, systematically to produce a meaningful dialogue with the notes of the Raag. These syllables come from Vedic chants and lend great beauty and structure to aalap phrases. The aalap expresses the texture of the swar (note) and its many feelings (ras and bhav) paves the way for the journey from swar to nad.

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.

These constructs, usually faster in pace, deliver a perspective on the raag and note usage, distinct from the aalap. The same notes as used before, appeal to different sensibilities. However the increased pace is not the only defining idea behind the jod and jhala.

Dhrupad compositions are traditionally set to one of Chautal (12 beats), Dhamar (14 beats), Jhaptal (10 beats), Sooltal (10 beats) or Tevra (7 beats) taals (rhythmic cycles). 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).

Dhrupad gharanas are known as ‘banis’, from the Sanskrit word for speech - vani, and refer to the style of performance. Most Khayal gharanas have been parented by Dhrupad musicians.

Over the last century Khayal has largely represented the classical music of Northern India. A misconception I have often come across is the idea that Dhrupad is a rigid genre that limits scope for the individual’s creativity. While any art, inclusive of its rules will always be an oceanic domain that none can conquer, it is the genius of the artist that pushes the limits of this universe. Hence, considering any artform to be rigid is passing a parochial judgement on it. That Dhrupad is something other than classical music, is fallacious. Other such misguided ideas include:

* It is a masculine art form and cannot be practiced by women.

* The mood of all Dhrupad compositions is limited to courageous overtones (Veer ras).

* Dhrupad performance is primarily about the playing with complicated rhythms. This technique maybe part of a performance. It may also be characteristic of some gharanas, however it cannot be applied to the genre as a whole.

* Raags Kafi, Khamaj, Bhairavi etc. are not part of this genre.

* It is limited to certain raags

* Dhrupad aalap is only sung using the syllables Nom and Tom.

* The syllables Te, Ta, Ra, Na, Ree, Na etc. derive from the tradition of Tarana.

* Every Dhrupad composition is required to have four parts, the Sthayi, Antara, Abhog and Sanchari.

* Dhrupad literature (sahitya) covers a narrow range of subjects.

The aim of this article is to bring light to the understanding of Dhrupad music. Dhrupad is verily a royal path, delving deep into the study of the swar (note) and Raags. The endeavor, on this illimitable journey, is to understand the strength behind the swar and its multiple facets and to recognize its divinity.

Uday Bhawalkar

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