A prodigious cultural heritage, this is what Dhrupad is. Brought to this century by an everlasting lineage led by tradition and worship, this art is an ethereal path leading to the infinite divine consciousness. Indeed, Dhrupad is much more than just music as it is a form of Naad Yoga (Naad meaning sound, and Yoga, union with the divine). It defines the power of sound, as when it flows, the whole surroundings are affected by it’s energy.
Dhrupad takes its origins from the Sama Veda, which scriptures were found from as far as 1000 BCE. Since that time, it has taken so many shapes, as Praband gayan, but it is during the 15th century that it has been named Dhrupad by Raja Mansing Tomar as an effort to help it survive the constant attack of outsiders who were destroying both the language and culture of the time. Praband gaayan being in Sanskrit, Dhrupad was made in madhyadeshi to make it more accessible to the people. Over the following centuries, many of the initial parampara of Dhrupad disappeared and now only a few are left, like the Dagar Bani, which dhrupaddhara is part of.
Dhrupad is a cyclic music by nature as it constantly returns to a fixed point. In fact, an important part of the learning of this art is to remain on a still note and focus on its precision and purity. The notes shall not be perceived as fixed only, but as fluid entities, blending with each other. Going even further, we find that one single note (swara) actually contains infinite shades of sound (shruti).
Dhrupad is, in itself, an exquisite form of spiritual activity, both for the artist and the listener. Stillness can sometimes let the mind wander, but the movements created in Dhrupad help in keeping at bay the disturbances generated by the senses (maya). It gives us a path to develop ourselves and reach the ultimate goal, the quintessential sound, the unstruck sound (anaahat naad), which takes us to the divine consciousness.
This art can be performed vocally, as well as on the Rudra Veena, Surbahar and Sursingar. Although less common, it is still possible to practice Dhrupad on any instrument that can produce micro-tones and slide through the notes. An essential part in the practice of Dhrupad is the accompaniment by the Tanpura, a drone instrument, which acts like a meter of sound and is revered as Guru, as it holds the infinity of sounds in its echo.
History of the Dagar tradition
Famous Dhrupad singer of 19th century, Baba Behram Khan was the son of Imambaksh Khan. Imambaksh had one more son, Haider Khan. Imambaksh Khan is the converted name of Benharam Khan’s father. His father’s earlier name was Gopal Das Pandey. His community had expelled him from society because he had accepted a gift of paan from the contemporary Mughal ruler of Delhi Mohammad Shah Rangeela. This was deemed as a decline in his religious faith. Hence from then this family accepted Islam, and even till date the family members of the Dagar family continue to embrace the faith of Islam.
Behram Khan was an exceptional person. In his youth, he roamed in the city of Varanasi to learn music. Sri Kalidas Dagar had taken him as his disciple. Before accepting him as a disciple he conducted a thorough scrutiny and made him take a very difficult Exam. Sri Kalidas Dagar taught him music and molded him into a great musician and music scholar. Sri Kalidas Dagar educated/taught him both, Sanskrit and Music. After this, Baba Behram Khan performed in many courts of several Rulers and earned many accolades.
Haider Khan, the brother of Baba Behram Khan, passed away in his early age and as a result of that Baba Behram Khan became the sole flag bearer of Dhruvpad. Baba Behram Khan devoted majority of his lifetime to protect the pure form of Dhruvpad singing and continued to maintain its tradition. Baba Behram Khan is revered for conserving the purest form Dagurbani. This is the legacy of Baba Behram Khan.
The Grandsons of Haider Khan, Zakeeurddin Khan (1845-1927) and Allahbande Khan (1840-1926) learnt Dhruvpad under Baba Behram Khan.
Allahbande Khan and Zakeeurddin Khan were famous for jugalbandi (a duet involving two musicians). Both of them were considered as impeccable singers from Dagar gharana (family). After Baba Behram Khan, Zakeeurddin Khan and Allahbande Khan continued the legacy and took Dhruvpad to new heights. They followed in the footsteps of Baba Behram Khan and provided eloquent commentaries on Dhruvpad singing style.
After this, four sons of Ustad Allahbande Khan namely, Naseeruddin, Rahimunddin, Imamuddin and Husainuddin and brother Ustad Zakeeruddin Khan shouldered the burden of carrying the legacy. All of them were exceptionally gifted and highly received respected Dhruvpad musician. Naseer Moinuddin Dagar (1919-1966) and Naseer Ameenuddin Dagar (1923-2000) were renowned as Dagar bandhu (brothers).
The jugalbandi of Naseer Moinuddin Dagar and Naseer Ameenuddin Dagar had enthralled people in India and across the world, more specifically in Europe. The credit for revival of Dhruvpad goes to Dagar bandhu. After the death of Ustad Naseer Moinuddin Dagar, his younger brother Naseer Zahiruddin (1932-1994) and Naseer Faiyaazuddin (1934-1989) had also earned great deal of respect and admiration. The tradition of Dhruvpad had been continued by their descendants. Further, Rahimuddin and Husainuddin, Rahim Fahiumddin and Husain Saiduddin along with ustad Zia Mohinuddin (1929-1990), ustad fariduddin dagar son of Ustad Ziauddin Khan, continued the tradition.
The heritage of Dagar tradition had been protected and continued by the Dagar family members. In the meantime, this tradition was also extended to people outside the Dagar family, in order for the Dagar culture and tradition continue to live on with the disciples. Special emphasis on alaap and purity of ragaa still continue to be pillars of Dagarvani Dhruvapad singing. Dhruvad gharana has embraced many people who were not part of the Dagar family and gave the world celebrated singers namely Ritwik, Sanyal, Padmashri Gundecha brothers, Uday bhawalkar, Nirmalya Dey, Pushpraj Koshti and many more.
It was initially taught only inside the male members of a family, but the members of the Dagar family helped into breaking this tradition.
Another tradition than solo and group singing which is very famous in India is known as jugalbandi. In this tradition, two persons perform a Raag together as leading singers by combining alternate and simultaneous singing. As a Raag is express through improvisation, both singers will build upon each other's thoughts throughout the performance. At the end, they will sing a composition together and then each present improvisations of it. That's why the presentation of jugalbandi is more difficult in comparison of solo or group singing, but when performed with full focus it reaches a level of high energy.
In Dagar parampara, jugalbandi tradition has been there from the start. Ustad Zamiruddin Khan
As said earlier, in a way, meditation on a single note can define Dhrupad, but there is also an important system of notes and movements that holds a crucial part in this art. Raags are a set of notes, each having their own temperament, like the members of a family. This means that the same note in two different Raags will not have the same essence. It can bear differences in shruti and will convey a different emotion. The movements that make up a Raag are composed of alaap, jhor and jhala and are not predefined as the artist will evolve freely in the structure of the Raag.