There are few forms of Indian classical music that have the power to evoke devotion among humans and move the Divinity itself.
Dhrupad, the oldest surviving form of Indian classical music, originally sung in temples and spiritual gatherings, is the only form of music which can boast of having the power to move both humans and Gods alike.
Dhrupad’s origin can be traced to the chanting of Vedic hymns and mantras. Over the centuries it found its place primarily as a form of worship, in which offerings were made to the divine through sound or nāda.
Dhrupad can easily be called the voice of the soul, as it is never played or sung to entertain, but to take the listener on a journey of contemplation and experiencing inner peace.
Having been around for ages, and practised as the highest form of music, with time it developed into a classical art with complex and elaborate grammar and aesthetics. The emphasis is always on maintaining the purity of the ragas and the swaras (notes).
It is not surprising then to see that the experience of listening to Dhrupad is often seen as being akin to doing meditation, reciting mantric chants, worshipping, performing yoga or practising tantra based on the knowledge of the nādis and chakras. An art, portraying a universe of human emotions, trying to strike a perfect balance.
A vocal Dhrupad performance begins with a meditative Alap in which the artist develops the Raga, note-by-note, with purity and clarity, without any instrumental accompaniment or words. The philosophy behind not using words is that words may distract and thus lessen the chance of floating in a spiritual plane.
According to Ustad Zia Fariduddin Dagar, one of the greatest exponents of the Dhrupad tradition, “Alap entails the search, to get a perfect pitch of every note. So it takes you into a sort of meditation in which you are lost in the waves of sound and forget everything, there remains only sound.”
This is followed by Dhrupad or Dhamar (The fixed composition part), which is sung with the accompaniment of a two headed barrel drum called Pakhawaj. The other instruments used in Dhrupad are Tanpura, Pakhawaj, Rudra Vina and the Seni Rabab.
About six centuries ago, Dhrupad music came to be patronized by the royal courts and its complex rendering became intended for highly sophisticated royal audiences. Several compositions were written in praise of emperors. Dhrupad music has survived so far, due to the persistence and dedication of the masters who refuse to give up, despite financial hardships and adversity.
Prominent Gharanas or Traditions of the Dhrupad in existence are The Dagar family, Talwandi Gharana, Darbhanga Gharana and the Bettiah Gharana.
This persistence seems to be paying off now, as we see a new generation of Dhrupad artists such as Wasifuddin Dagar, Bahauddin Dagar, Gundecha Brothers, Nancy Lesh, Uday Bhawalkar, Prem Kumar Mallik, and others, taking on the onus of keeping the sanctity and purity of Dhrupad music alive.
The West embraced Dhrupad in the 60s and it gained its place as a popular art form. The credit for introducing the West to this most ancient form of Indian classical music goes to none other than the Dagar brothers.
The growth in its popularity has given a new lease of life to this art form, which many believe was on the brink of extinction. The growing interest has made it financially viable for those who want to spend their life mastering Dhrupad.
If not, it would have been tragic to see music that could impress the mortals and the immortals alike, not lasting forever!