Dhrupad is the oldest style of Classical Music in Northern India. Believed to have evolved from temple hymns called Prabandha, It reached its apogee under the Mughal emperors, whose court musicians turned it to a highly refined art form. The most renowned of those musicians was the legendary Miyan Tansen (1506 - 1589), one of the 'nine jewels' of emperor Akbar's court.
With the advent of the freer, more ornate Khayal style in the 18th and 19th centuries, Dhrupad gradually fell out of favour, although it survived as a musicians' music. Certain older Khayal traditions have kept Dhrupad as an essential part of their musical training.
The survival and subsequent revival of Dhrupad as a living art form can be credited to the members of one family of former court musicians. The Dagar family trace their musical lineage back to Haridas Dagur, Tansen's teacher. According to that reckoning the present generation of musicians is the 20th generation of unbroken musical transmission within the family. Other Dhrupad traditions also exist and have benefitted from the recent rise in Dhrupad's popularity. The most notable among those is the Mallik (Darbhanga) tradition.
Dhrupad is either sung or played on the deep, sonorous Rudra Veena (also called Been). It starts from silence, with only the constant hum of the Tanpura (a drone instrument) in the background. Then, sound comes, seemingly out of nowhere. The singer (or Veena player) intones the tonic, the main sound emitted by the Tanpura. Music then begins to stir very slowly, exploring the various pathways traced by the Raag, the melodic entity chosen by the artist. Expanding by gradual degrees from this central locus, The artist is in search of the precise expression of each note in the Raag, of that moment when the note fills with light and reveals itself. It is a symbiosis whereby the right turn of phrase reveals the note, and that revelation reinforces the sense of truth emanating from the phrase.
Being, in essence, a meditative process, this exploration, termed 'Aalaap', has no use for ornamentation as such. Instead, microtonal variation expresses the movement inherent in the notes and in the space between them. Voice resonates by turns in different parts of the body - the navel, chest, nostrils, forehead, top of the head, along the spine, all the while enriching and deepening the musical meaning inherent in the Raag.
After reaching its apex in the high octave, the pulse of the music quickens, and movement begins again, in free and flowing rhythm, adding a rhythmic sense to the music. This is called Jor (pair). The next quickening of pulse brings us to the Jhalla (sparkling), and to the realms of fast flowing, cascading music, leading to a trance-like climax.
Here the percussionist joins in. Dhrupad is usually accompanied by the deep sounding Pakhawaj drum, but in its absence may be accompanied by a Tabla. The composition is usually set to the stately Chautal (12 beat rhythmic cycle), The undulating Dhamar (a 14 beat cycle), the faster Jhaptal (10 beat), or the fast Tivra (7 beat) or Sultal (10 beat). The content of the compositions is usually devotional. After presenting the composition, the main artist engages in Upaj (rhythm play), consisting of Bol-Bant (redivisions of the words to highlight the poetic content). Both the percussionist and the vocalist dissect and reassemble the rhythmic cycle in various ways, contrasting and complementing each other by turns, bringing the performance to a close.
I had already been learning to play the Sitar for a few years in Israel, when Osnat Elkabir returned to Tel Aviv after having spent 10 years in India, learning, well, most everything. I was fortunate enough to run into her and start my way down the Dhrupad path. Here you can see her dancing, which she also excels at. Osnat is a gifted vocalist who has been learning with Professor (and Pandit) Ritwik Sanyal of Benares Hindu University, a consummate musician and academic. As you can see, she also dances a special form of Kathak called Brahmari Kathak, taught to her by the late Pandit Buddhadeb Chattopadhyay of Calcutta. When in Tel Aviv, she teaches and performs both music and dance, writes books, directs theatre, and probably more.
Thanks to Osnat I also had the chance to learn from Sanyalji and from Ustad M. Bahauddin Dagar on their visits to Tel Aviv. Needless to say, both are stellar musicians and teachers.
It was in 2003 that I started to learn from Ustad H Sayeeduddin Dagar. His singing is the epitome of perfectionism in music. Everything - the bridge of the Tanpura, The lowest depths and highest reaches of his voice, the very emotions he explores through singing, must always be worked on and be made more perfect and refined: he will settle for nothing less, and what he achieves is very often nothing less than perfect. Ustad (variously known also as Sayeedji, Dagarji, Guruji, Sayeed Saheb) is one of the three (out of seven) surviving musicians of the 19th generation of the Dagar family. Luckily, both his sons, Nafeesuddin and Aneesuddin Dagar, are set to carry the tradition to the future. He lives in Pune, India, but makes frequent trips abroad, for teaching his many students and for performing.
Finally, this is me. I now live in Vancouver, teach Dhrupad music and perform both pure Dhrupad and more Fusion inspired music. I continue to make regular trips to my teachers and learn from them.
You can hear some samples of my music.
Feel free to contact me at (david_tsabar at yahoo dot com) for information about future performances or studying Dhrupad