It is mainly a vocal tradition based on the practice of nāda yoga, but is also performed on instruments like the Rudra Veena and the Sursringār. For the past five centuries Dhrupad has mainly thrived under the patronage of Mughal and Rajput kings. The picture on the left shows Dhrupad singers Zākiruddin Khān, Allābande Khān, Ziāuddin Khān and Nasiruddin Khān  (clockwise from top left) the foremost Dhrupad singers in the beginning of the twentieth century. The descendants of Zakiruddin Khan and Allabande Khan adopted the name of the genre (The Ḍāgar Bānī of Dhrupad) as their family name and acquired renown as the Dagar brothers.

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ASHISH SANKRITYAYAN: Dhrupad Raga Miya Ki Malhar


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Fundamental concepts of Dhrupad

excerpts from an article by Ashish Sankrityayan

Dhrupad and khyāl are the two forms of classical singing that exist today in North India. Dhrupad, the older form, enjoyed wide popularity till the seventeenth or early eighteenth century, after which it gradually declined with the emergence of khyāl, a more entertaining style. The decline of dhrupad accelerated during the last two centuries, with many of its practitioners switching over to the new form, which progressively increased in popularity and attracted greater patronage. Dhrupad however remained the favoured style in a few imperial courts, mainly in Rajasthan and Bihar, where some dhrupad traditions continued till the late 1940’s, when these states were assimilated into the Indian republic. The period after Indian independence till the present times was a difficult one for this art, for it called into question its very survival in a society in which it was not popular, but needed the patronage of a new ruling class of bureaucrats and politicians who unlike its previous aristocratic patrons, did not understand it at all.

There are at present very few practitioners of dhrupad left in India, and as can be expected in such a situation, there is an enormous fragmentation and erosion of knowledge about the art, even among its few remaining practitioners. The whole body of composed work of the tradition has been practically decimated. It is a striking indictment of India's system of state patronage of the arts post- 1947 that the system failed to take up the task of recording the entire body of surviving compositions of Dhrupad on a war footing. Many relatively obscure Dhrupad singers who had a vast repertoire of old Dhrupad compositions eventually took them all to their graves. Lack of knowledge about Dhrupad has reached a point today where it is difficult, even in the literature of music and in musical circles, to find a proper definition of what it is, and what sets it apart from its modern derivative - the khyāl.  It is common in India now to find dhrupad described in terms of the language and the grammar of khyāl. Most descriptions list the obvious structural differences between khyāl and dhrupad and emphasize that in dhrupad, ornaments and melodic devices like murki, khatkā, phirat, and particularly fast passages called tāns, which are characteristic of khyāl singing, are strictly avoided.

The decline of dhrupad during the last two centuries coincides in my opinion with a paradigm shift in Indian classical music, in which it came to be accepted that music must primarily entertain. This is a concept that reigns supreme in India today, and therefore precludes any attempts to revive or even initiate a serious study of dhrupad. But the sophistication of the musical concepts underlying dhrupad, and its objective of creating a music that uplifts, but does not necessarily entertain, and that embodies the essence of Indian spiritual thought, has found for it a growing acceptance and admiration in the West. Since the visit of the elder Dagar brothers to the West in the 1960’s and the efforts of Alain Danielou kindled interest in dhrupad, many singers have given performances there, and the number of concerts, workshops and seminars of dhrupad in the West now significantly exceed those in India. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the interest of people in the West has made dhrupad singing, financially a more viable profession for its few remaining practitioners.

The complete article can be downloaded here

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Dhrupad is the oldest surviving form of Indian Classical music and traces its origin to the chanting of vedic hymns and mantras. Though a highly developed classical art with a complex and elaborate grammar and aesthetics, it is also primarily a form of worship, in which offerings are made to the divine through sound or nāda. Dhrupad can be seen at different levels as a meditation, a mantric recitation, a worship , a yoga or tantra based on the knowledge of the nādis and chakras and also purely as a performing art portraying a universe of human emotions.

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Dhrupad classical North Indian temple and court music




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They kept this art alive in the difficult period after 1947 when it lost the patronage of the royal courts. Zakiruddin and Allabande Khan were brothers and disciples of their granduncle Baba Behram Khan , and served respectively in the royal courts of Udaipur and Alwar. They were the foremost Dhrupad singers of their times (late nineteenth and early twentieth century) and were greatly respected for their singing and erudition. Their performances are still remembered with awe and reverence. (please see more details about Zakiruddin and Allabande and their descendents the Dagar Brothers on maestros.htm).
Although Dhrupad originated in the chanting of vedic hymns and mantras, it gradually evolved into an independent art form with its own complex grammar. Dhrupad was originally sung in temples and later thrived under the patronage of Mughal and Rajput kings. Fundamental to Dhrupad singing is the practice of Nāda Yoga, in which, through various yogic practices, the singer develops the inner resonance of the body, and can make the sound resonate and flow freely through the entire region from navel to head. This enables the singer to produce a vast palette of subtle tone colours and microtonal shades. The processes of Udātta, Anudātta and Svarita play the same fundamental role in Dhrupad singing as in Vedic recitation. (For more detailed articles about Dhrupad please see Articles) . A Dhrupad performance starts with the alāp which is a slow and elaborate development of a Rāga (mode) using free flowing melodic patterns. The elaboration of Dhrupad alāp is done using the syllables of a mantric phrase 'om antaran twam, taran taaran twam, ananta hari narayan om' . The phrases of Dhrupad alāpa are very slow and contemplative in the beginning, but the tempo increases in stages, and in the faster passages playful and vigorous ornaments predominate. The audio and video samples on this site and Myspace give examples of different facets of Dhrupad. Dhrupad Alap is followed by the singing of a composition with rhythmic improvisation, to the accompaniment of a barrel drum called the pakhawaj (ancestor of the tabla). The Tālas or cycles of beats commonly used are Choutāla (12 beats), Dhamāra (14 beats), Jhaptāla (10beats), Sūltāla (10beats), Tīvrā (7 beats). In the videos on this page can be heard examples of Chowtal and Dhamar. Dhrupad portrays a vast range of human emotions: serenity, compassion, sensuality, pathos, strangeness, anger and heroism and subtle shades of them all. In Dhrupad of the Dagar tradition the notes are not treated as fixed points, but as fluid entities with infinite microtonal shades.The music is deeply spiritual and meditative. The Dagar style of Dhrupad is defined by 52 musical concepts or Arkaans (12 basic alankaras and 40 more). These include concepts like Udātta, Anudātta, Svarita, Sapta Gupta, Sapta Prakata, Sakārī etc. which have all but disappeared from Indian classical music and even from Dhrupad . In the various audio/video files on this site can be heard all these concepts as they are used in practice in Dhrupad performance.

Ashish Sankrityayan is an exponent of the Dagar Tradition of Dhrupad. He has trained for twenty years under three maestros of the Dagar family and is well known for his frequent concert appearances and teaching.Ashish Started his musical training at an early age, first learning the sitar and subsequently vocal music. While studying mathematics at the University of Bombay he was inspired to take up Dhrupad when he heard a recording of the senior Dagar brothers Nasir Moinuddin and Nasir Aminuddin Dagar, and met Rudra Veena maestro Ustad Zia Mohiuddin Dagar. He later trained under several maestros of the Dagar family Ustad Rahim Fahimuddin Dagar, Ustad Zia Fariduddin Dagar and Ustad Hussain Sayeedudddin Dagar for twenty years and was awarded the National Junior Culture Fellowship by the Indian National Academy of Music, Dance and Drama ( the Sangeet Natak Akademi). Ashish has given numerous public performances of Dhrupad and has given lectures and workshops in institutions like the Anton Bruckner University in Linz, The Free University of Berlin, Hochschule für Musik Hanns Eisler Berlin, Hildesheim University, University of Copenhagen. He often perfoms with European medieval, renaissance and contemporary musicians.