In a dhrupad performance the exposition of the Raga through the abstract syllabic alap is followed by the singing of a composed melody with lyrics, set to a tala or a cycle of beats accompanied by a barrel drum – the pakhāwaj. Strictly speaking it is the composed melody, which usually has four parts, that bears the name dhrupad, although the term is now used to identify the entire genre including the alap. A Dhrupad Composition actually embodies within it all the principles of the music, and serves as a model of the exposition of the raga, composed by a master dhrupad singer not only for his own performance, but as a musical statement for subsequent oral transmission to succeeding generations. Compositions represent the fixed repertoire of Dhrupad and encapsulate the musical knowledge and wisdom of many generations of Dhrupad singers. Compositions were often created to illustrate specific aspects of the grammar of music. The lyrics of compositions contain a wealth of information about history, folklore, mythology, philosophy and the conceptual framework of music. In an oral tradition compositions of course mutate with time and one finds many different versions of the same composition prevalent in different traditions in different parts of the country.

Efforts to notate and publish books of Dhrupad compositions started in the 19th Century when mechanized printing came to India. Before the age of mass printing, singers had attempted to notate and keep their repertoire of compositions from being forgotten or distorted. However such works were mostly kept for personal reference and use, and access to them if at all permitted to others, was restricted to the closest disciples or relatives of the author. The compilation Sangeet Samuccaya done by Beenkar Shivendranath Basu in 1924 mentions that Dulahsen or Budhprakash – a descendant of Tansen wrote a work notating compositions of his tradition which remained with his descendants. Many such works remained in private hands zealously guarded from the public and eventually it may be presumed that many such works were lost or destroyed. I personally know of a handwritten manuscript of Radheshyamji Sharma, son of Sitaramji Sharma- the pre-independence court musician of Tikamgarh, with notations of about 400 compositions of Dhrupad, which I briefly saw some years ago in the zealously guarded possession of a relative, which is now completely untraceable.

Most works were published with the support of wealthy patrons like Maharajas and Zamindars – like the Sangit Kaladhar of 1901 published by the Maharaja of Bhavnagar written by his court musician Dahyalal Shivram.

Many works were only partly published or could never be published at all because of a lack of funds. Like the Sangeet Sudha Sagar of Prankrishna Chattopadhyaya with compositions in uncommon Ragas, of which only a fraction of the first volume was printed by the author at his own expense in the 1950’s. The author a student of Tansen descendant Nihal Sen of Jaipur and of Dagar tradition singer Abban Khan of Pratapgarh, mentions in the preface that he has applied for State funding and hopes to publish the entire work with 240 compositions of the tradition of Tansen in the first volume. Since the author’s teacher Nihalsen was a descendant of Dulahsen it is quite probable that his work contained many of the compositions notated by Dulahsen in his manuscript.

My enquiries have revealed that the handwritten notes with his descendants got destroyed by termites. However the author did manage to get some State grants towards the end of his life and there is a small chance that a copy of the manuscript survives somewhere. The first volume of the Sangeet Samuccaya mentions that the second volume with 200 compositions is being printed and the author mentions that he has managed to collect notations of more than a thousand compositions. However the second volume never actually got printed. The work was being published by the Nagri Pracharini Sabha the predecessor of Bharat Kala Bhavan Varanasi which underwent major changes and a shift of venue in the late 1920s. It is a major task now to locate the unpublished parts of of works like the Sangeet Sudha Sagar and the Sangeet Samuccaya if they still survive.

With most of the repertoire of compositions of Dhrupad now lost or fragmented and distorted, it is a work of great importance to try to save whatever survives of books and unpublished manuscripts. Manuscripts of unpublished works that still survive have to be found, digitized and published. One can see from studying works written decades ago how ragas have gradually changed over time. Dhrupad singers who are traditionally trained and steeped in the knowledge of tradition can then use their training to reconstruct repair and restore compositions that have been distorted or lost and bring them back to life.

These works contain not only compositions but sargam and prastara exercises, instrumental gats, pakhawaj bols and a wealth of information on the concepts and grammar of music. They reveal unique insights into the concepts of music. For instance the Sarod Rasa Chandrika of 1938 written by a student of Tansen descendant Sarod player Amir Khan gives numerous instrumental compositions classified according to the four banis of Dhrupad. One of the rare instances of classification of compositions according to banis.

The complex charts and diagrams and the cryptic terminology in the handwritten Laya Prashna of Kudao Singh the originator of the Kudao Singh style of pakhawaj are scarcely intelligible to pakhawaj exponents today, yet similar diagrams and explanations in the Tala section of the Nad Vinod Granth of 1896 of Pannalal Goswami might give us the key to understanding Kudao Singh’s methods.

Texts like the Rag Prakash and Raga Kalpadrum give listings of texts of Dhrupad compositions and are invaluable for removing textual distortions in compositions as also reconstructing lost parts from fragments that survive in the oral tradition or in recordings.

I have over the last 30 years tried to find and digitize published and unpublished works with my own resources and hope that sometime soon a well funded systematic initiative can be launched to carry out this task on a war footing. Along with the digitization what needs to be done is a detailed indexing and creation of a database of all available material including audio and video recordings which dhrupad practitioners could use to regain lost knowledge.

On this link can be found a partial list of works that I have managed to digitize – Rare Books on Dhrupad. In the videos below are several examples of Dhrupad compositions that I found in such rare books and developed using my knowledge from tradition to use in my performances and teaching. – The main cost involved in the work of looking for rare books and manuscripts is of course travel. Many of the rare books have been found in the dusty shelves of old libraries and private collections in small towns. There are many places I need to go to – Lucknow, Baroda, Dhar, Ujjain, Calcutta to follow up leads.

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