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Dhrupad Music

Dhrupad as in Dagar Gayaki

"The Origin and Grammar of Dhrupad" by Ashish Sankrityayan

Dhrupad singing evolved from the singing of prabandhas in the medieval period, and like the writings of the bhakti saints of the time, it is suffused with a mystical devotion to God. It later receives the patronage of the Mughal court, and its survival to the present times owes much to the support of its various royal patrons.

Despite a decline in its popularity over the last two centuries, Dhrupad is still considered to be the purest of all classical forms, and its testament of ragas is still taken to be the ideal one. A Dhrupad performance starts with the alap, which in its initial stage, is a slow and elaborate delineation of the raga using free flowing melodic patterns.

Usually starting with the sa of the middle octave, the alap pattern gradually descend to the lower octave, and then returning to the middle octave they rise to the highest register in a gradual succession of melodic patterns. A final return to the middle octave sa concludes the first part of the alap.

In uttaranga pradhan ragas like Bahar or Adana, the alap is done mainly in the higher register. The singing of a Sanskrit shloka, which is set to the same kind of free flowing melodic patterns, sometimes precedes the alap. This shloka serves as a prelude to the alap.

In this methodical note-by-note elaboration, the melodic patterns at any stage seem to be focused on some individual note or resting point of the raga. The patterns take up the different facets of the raga one by one, and their gradual succession creates an impression of the raga slowly unfolding itself.

In some ragas with a vakra roop like Shankara or Hem Kalyan, this kind of a note-by-note elaboration cannot be done. The alap employs variations of traditional melodic patterns that the musician has to assimilate through years of training and practice.

It is essentially exploratory and improvisational, and through it the musician explored the relationship between the notes, their mutual consonances, and all the melodic variations that are possible within the framework of the raga. Dhrupad alap is syllabic, because it employs the syllables aa, ra, na, naa, noom, na, te, ta, ra, na, na ...which are abstractions of the mantric phrase Om antaran tvam, taran taaran tvam, anant hari narayan om, the words having been broken down to their syllables to facilitate melodic improvisation. The syllabic nature of the music actually adds to the melodic possibilities, because shifting or changing the syllable can alter the character of any melodic phrase.

As the use of the syllable ‘Hari Narayan Om’ suggests, Dhrupad is in its essence a spiritual pursuit. It can be seen to be a form of meditation in which nada is used to attain liberation or the realisation of Brahma.

Dhrupad alap, with its succession of free flowing patterns, produces a deeply meditative atmosphere, and although the raasas karuna, shringar, adbhut and, at a later stage, even veera raasa make an appearance, the overriding predominance is tat of bhakti. The great masters of the Dhrupad tradition Ustads Zakiruddin Khan, Allabande Khan and Nasiruddin Khan were especially renowned for their serene and meditative alap singing.

Once the elaboration of the raga through free flowing patterns is completed, the alap enters a phase in which the patterns are set to a rhythmic pulse, with a moderate tempo in the beginning, which is increased in stages later. In this portion, the presence of a rhythmic pulse combines with the syllabic character of the music, and alters the nature of the melodic patterns. This enables a melodic elaboration different from the one achieved with free flowing patterns. The patterns in the later part of this stage are embellished with ghamaks.The alap is followed by a composition sung to pakhwaj accompaniment. The talas that commonly occur here are the choutaal, jhaptaal, sultaal and dhamar taal.

Although the word Dhrupad refers to the composition (Dhrupad means a composition that is immutable) there is a commonality between the alap and the composition since they both employ the same kind of melodic patterns.

The techniques, meend, ghamak, lahak, kampit, andolit etc. that occur in the alap patterns, and Dhrupad musicians of the Dagar tradition actually use the composition patterns as models for alap patterns.

The composition with its four parts sthayi, antara, abhog and sanchari summarises everything that preceded it and brings the exposition of the raga to an end.