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Organized Indian music owes its origin to Samagana -
the chanting of the Samaveda scriptures set to musical patterns. The
oldest form of Indian classical music that exists today is Dhrupad. It
is said to have originated from an even more ancient religious music
form, Prabandha (2nd to 7th AD). The language of Prabandha was
preeminently Sanskrit, whereas Dhrupad used mainly medieval Hindi or
Brijbhasha (known as Madhyadesiya between the 14th and 16th centuries).
Today, modern Hindi is also used. The word Dhrupad is the Hindi form of
the original Sanskrit, Dhruvapada, a combination of Dhruva
= structured or rigid and Pada = word.
The birth of Dhrupad coincided with the Bhakti movement of Vallabh
Sampradaya and resultantly was devotional in nature. Dhrupad was sung in
temples, the singer facing the divinity or it was sung by Vaishnav
mendicants in their wanderings. This was the genesis of the Haveli
Dhrupad. From this early chanting, Dhrupad evolved into a sophisticated,
classical form of music. About six centuries ago, Dhrupad came to be
patronized by the royal courts. However, its complex rendering became
too highly sophisticated for royal audiences and the nature of the
compositions became more secular. Some were written eulogizing the
emperors; others were elaborations on the music itself, while still
others were about heroic deeds or even elegant poetry in admiration of
female beauty, especially Radha. In particular Raja Man Singh, king of
Gwalior and a musician and a great lover of music gave Dhrupad immense
encouragement and introduced many refinements. This came to be known as
the Darbari Dhrupad. On account of his contribution, he is known as the
originator of the Dhrupad style that is followed even today. However,
the pristine nature of Dhrupad survived and even today we hear this
majestic form of music performed like it was more than 500 years ago in
the royal courts of the emperors and kings of India.
The distinctive quality of Dhrupad is the emphasis on
maintaining the purity of the ragas and the elegance with which the
swaras are used. It is also known for its austere quality and its
extended presentation style is marked by precise and orderly elaboration
of a raga and strict adherence to the tala. This exposition preceding
the composed verses is called alaap, and is usually the longest portion
of the performance. This aspect of dhrupad has been the most
influential, and is reflected in other North Indian musical formats,
especially in instrumental music and even khayal singing. Dhrupad has a
very masculine style and was traditionally performed to the
accompaniment of the pakhawaj (mridang) and the veena. In modern times
however, the veena is no longer an accompaniment to this genre.
Dhrupad is also the first form of Indian music where due to its literary
excellence and poetic quality, the text or lyrics rose above being
merely a vehicle of expression of the notes and rhythm. It is in fact
the fine blend between the melody and the poetic qualities of dhrupad
that gave its uniqueness.
little known fact is that dance was till recently the usual
accompaniment to Dhrupad. Alongside vocal music, the ancient instrument
rudra veena is associated quite strongly with this genre. The
performance exhibits the same wealth of melodic nuance and sophisticated
development. The dhrupad usually adheres to a four-part structure of
sthai, antara, sanchari and abhog.
Dhrupads are sung in four styles called Banis –
Gaurhar, Dagur, Khandhar and Nauhar – initially named after the language
or dialect in which the verse was written and mentioned in Raja Man
Singh Tomar’s treatise on the subject, Raga Darpan. The four banis, in
later years, came to signify stylistic differences.
Today there are only three major schools of Dhrupad: Betia, Darbhanga
and Dagar. The Dagar family is the oldest, having kept this tradition
alive for generations.
The Dagar Gharana took firm roots under the adept supervision of Ustad
Behram Khan (1753-1878), who was associated with the royal court of Jaipur. Ustad Behram's father was Baba Gopal Das Pandey who was
ostracized by his fellow brahmins for having chewed a pan offered to him
by the then Mughal ruler in Delhi, Muhammad Shah Rangile, for his
excellent rendition of Dhrupad. Haider and Behram were his two sons.
Haider Khan died early while Behram Khan spent the best part of his long
life in establishing the purity of the gayaki not known before. The
entire credit for keeping alive and passing down to posterity the pure
form of dagarvani goes to him. A superb teacher, his disciples included
his sons, Haider Khan’s sons and their sons. Particularly famous were
his nephew’s sons, Zakiruddin Khan (1840-1926) and Allabande Khan
(1845-1927), well known for their jugalbandhi (duet) performances.
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 (b. 1927) 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 (b. 1932).
rich heritage of the Dagar tradition lives on in the remaining Dagar
brothers and their sons and well-groomed disciples from outside the
The Dagarbani dhrupad rendition is characterized by meditative and
leisurely development of alap. The purity of a raga is usually
maintained all through and in spite of intricate rhythmic patterns,
there is a profound sense of devotion.
Ram Chatur Malik
Kartaram, the court musicians for the Nawab of Darbhanga in the mid
eighteenth century, are considered to be the founders of the
Darbhanga tradition of dhrupad. The gharana is continued in the two
lineages formed by their descendants.
Originally, this gharana maintained branches of veena and pakhawaj
playing too. 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. The distinctive feature of the gharana is powerful and
expressive vocal delivery, combined with a lively style of
performance. Prominent singers include the late Ram Chatur Mallik
(1906-1990), who was court musician at Darbhanga, Vidur Mallik,
Abhay Narayan Mallik, and Prem Kumar Mallik.
Abhay Narayan Malik
The Betia gharana associated with the erstwhile royal court of Betia in
Bihar primarily flourished during the 19th century. Stylistically, the
gharana’s influence extended over entire eastern India. It became
particularly strong in Bengal because of the close links of the
Vishnupur gharana in Bengal with Betia, since masters of the latter
trained most musicians of the former.
The genesis of Dhrupad in the Betia tradition is associated with the
arrival in Betia of Pandit Shivdayal Mishra, a prominent disciple of
famous musicians, Rahimsen and Karimsen of the Nepal court. He trained
the royal brothers Anand and Nawal Kishore Sinha, who, in course of time
, became composers of a very high order.
Dhrupad in Betia style is signified by the apparent simplicity of vocal
delivery coupled with emphasis on the composition. Betia Gharana has
compositions available from all the Banis, though more emphasis is
placed on Gaurhar and Khandar Banis. As a result, the ornamentations and
rhythmic variations are strictly applied during a rendition.
Compositions of the Betia gharana are based on the poetry of the
maharaja-poet-dhrupadiyas, Anand and Nawal Kishore. Pyar Khan of Seni
Gharana and Haider Khan are considered to be the major influence on this
gharana. Eminent musicians such as Hasan Ali Khan (father of sarodiya,
Fida Hussain), beenkar Sadique Ali Khan and Kale Khan frequented the
Betia court and learnt compositions of this gharana.
After the demise
of royal patronage, the Betia tradition continued in Varanasi in the
hands of stalwarts such as Shivrahal Mishra, Guruprasad Mishra,
Jaykaran Mishra, Bholanath Pathak, beenkar Shivendra Nath Basu and
Shib Mitra. It is claimed that Jaykaran Mishra, who had an excellent
repertoire of dhamars and khayals, had committed to memory over
nearly 2000 dhrupads in different banis. He passed on this cherished
legacy to his deserving disciples, the most prominent among them
being Bholanath Pathak. In addition to Varanasi, the Betia tradition
prevailed in Bengal as well when several musicians moved to the
Vishnupur court and is upheld today by prominent musicans of Bengal
like Falguni Mitra. The tradition has a presence today in the place
of its origin as well - in the form of Indrakishore Mishra.
The Talwandi tradition is associated with north -western India,
specifically, Punjab. Presently, the tradition has very few singers, all
living in Pakistan. Prominent singers of the tradition claim that the
Talwandi gharana represents Khandar Vani. It is claimed that Nayak Chand
Khan and Suraj Khan were the founders of Talwandi Gharana, which
flourishes today in Pakistan. The Talwandi Gharana evolved independently
of and remained unaffected by the Hindu tradition of devotional music.
In fact the entire performance is regarded as an offering to Allah.
Nevertheless the Talwani repertoire includes compositions on both
Muslima nd Hindu themes. The gharana style appears to have similarities
to the Darbhanga Gharana. A few recordings exist that show extremely
fast concluding portions of the alap. The compositions display highly
complex rhythmic variations.