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Dhrupad Music

Concept of Swara and Raga in Dhrupad

Dhrupad singing requires the practice of nada yoga, which is a form of laya yoga. The sadhana of nada yoga produces a resonant voice that comes from deep within and seems to permeate the very being of the singer. The voice is different from the throaty voice that is ideal for khayal and thumri singing. It is a voice that is very rich in overtones.

The author of this article can say from his personal experience of training under various Ustads of the Dagar tradition, that this sadhana involves shifting the source of sound gradually to the base of the throat (kanth mool), and further down to the heart (hriday), and the navel (nabhi) till a stage is reached when the entire region from navel to head (murdhanya) vibrates as one.

There is a shloka in the Sangit-Ratnakar of Sarangdev, which describes the method of producing nada. In the voice of a Dhrupad singer who has achieved siddhi (expertise) in nada yoga, the intonation of a sa produces very prominent overtones of pa and ga.

A similar prominence of overtones is seen in the rudra veena and the sursingar, which are regarded as the ideal instruments for Dhrupad alap, and also in the instrument of percussion accompaniment, the pakhwaj. This prominence of overtones enforces a consonance or samvad between the notes and the pace of Dhrupad alap must necessarily be slow, because consonance cannot be experienced without lingering on the notes.

The prominence of overtones that is achieved through the nada sadhna of Dhrupad also creates a consonance between the voice and the tanpura, and it is this consonance that produces a dense and meditative atmosphere that is so characteristic of the singing of the Dagars.

Ustad Nasiruddin Khan was especially renowned for his accomplishment in nada yoga, and it is said that the prominence of overtones in his voice sounded like the tanpura and appeared to blend with it. This quality can also be seen in the voice of his younger brother Ustad Rahimuddin Khan Dagar, in some of his old recordings. Consonance or samvad is especially important in Dhrupad because a raga in Dhrupad is identified by its swarup or characteristic ambiance, and is not seen to be merely a certain sequence of notes.

The concept of the swarup of a raga comes from the fact that the sa is itself a variable and undergoes microtonal shifts from one raga to another. The two centre strings of the tanpura establish the sa, and the sa of the raga varies in relation to this. Each raga employs a distinct shade of sa, which uniquely characterises its swarup, and all other notes employed are merely overtones of this sa.

The re of the Megh has a lower pitch than the re of Miya Malhar, and that is a consequence of the sa of the two ragas being different. The swarup concept in the Dagar tradition enables the tanpura or the veena to be tuned differently for different ragas, so that the instrument itself, by its very tuning, can establish the swarup of the raga to be performed.

The raga in khayal is essentially a certain sequence of notes, and the ambiance of the raga in khayal is maintained by frequently repeating its characteristic phrases. In the Dagar tradition of Dhrupad, the swarup concept enables a treatment of ragas in which a characteristic note sequence need not be constantly repeated.

The correct shade of a sa (or of re or of any other note of the raga) is sufficient to establish the swarup of the raga. It is therefore possible to linger on the notes, and explore the relationships between just a few notes at a time without losing the characteristic ambiance of the raga.

This can be experienced in the recording of Megh released by the Mewar Foundation, in which with the very first low and subtly modulated re, Ustad Nasir Moinuddin Dagar establishes the swarup of Megh. The fact that the tuning of the tanpura and the very first sa can establish the swarup of the raga, can be experienced in the recordings of Darbari kanada and Asavari of the elder Dagar brothers that were released in the 1960s.

It is often heard that Dhrupad employs just plain notes, and all ornamentation is avoided to produce a very austere and rigid kind of music. There is actually a whole world of ornamentation in Dhrupad, but the ornamentation is essentially microtonal, employing the notes in their subtle microtonal shades.

To give an example, an accomplished Dhrupad singer can sing raga Jaijaiwanti without employing komal ga but can create an illusion or aabhas of komal ga by making a minute microtonal inflection on re. Several demonstrations of this treatment of komal ga in Jaijaiwanti are observed in performances of Usatd Rahim Fahimuddin Dagar, Ustad Zia Mohiuddin Dagar and Ustad Zia Fariduddin Dagar. This subtle and microtonal ornamentation of Dhrupad seems to be lost on listeners who are used to ornamentation on at grosser level that occurs is other forms.

In the recording of Mia ki malhar by the elder Dagar brothers released by the Maharana of Mewar Charitable Foundation, this concept of microtonal ornamentation can be seen in the interplay of the two nishads and dhaivata, with the patterns showing the subtle microtonal gradation of the notes.

The meends seem to actually progress through the various microtonal shades, and the transitions from ni to sa seem to occur in stages through subtle gradations. The stays on the nishads seem to touch several shades of these notes.

The Dagar Dhrupad tradition sees the notes as fluid entities with endless shades that seem to flow and merge into each other. They somehow seem to elude a definite grasp. Birendra Kishore Roy Choudhary has mentioned this in his book on the musical heritage of Tansen.

He has written about the atmosphere of mystery and strengthness that is created when the notes are not touched or grasped as definite points, (Hindustani sangeet mein Tansen ka sthan by Birendra Kishore Roy Choudhary translated by Madanlal Byas, published by Vani Prakashan, New Delhi).

indian classical music has today reached a stage, where the very mention of a variable sa or pa should be greeted with derision. Yet there still survives a musical tradition which recognises that a whole world of musical possibilities opens up when the notes cease to be mere points. But this is a world that cannot be accessed easily.