Dhrupad: History: Part 1

Dhrupad is accepted to be the oldest existing form of North Indian classical music. The Dhrupad tradition is invariably a major heritage of Indian culture. The origin of this music is linked to the recitation of Sama Veda, the sacred Sanskrit text. The Yugala Shataka of Shri Shribhatta in the Nimbarka Sampradaya written in 1294 CE contains Dhrupad lyrics. The Bhakti saint and poet-musician Swami Haridas was a well-known dhrupad singer with songs dedicated to Krishna. Swami Haridas was the guru of Tansen. The latter is famous, among other things, for his Dhrupad compositions. The earliest mention in Persian texts of Dhrupad is in Ain-i-Akbari of Abu Fazl (1593). Dhrupad is the oldest vocal and instrumental style, and the form from which the extant Indian classical music originated. The continuity of Dhrupad, a contemplative and meditative form, has been sustained by traditions of devotional music and worship.

Indeed, the leading Dhrupad maestros remark that rather than to entertain the audience, Dhrupad’s purpose is Aradhana (worship). The nature of Dhrupad music is spiritual, seeking not to entertain, but to induce deep feelings of peace and contemplation in the listener.

Dhrupad – The yoga of sound and music

Dhrupad is a genre in Hindustani Classical Music. It is one of the oldest forms of compositions in the classical Indian music and a form that is also found in its Carnatic tradition. 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 nadis and chakras and also purely as a performing art portraying a universe of human emotions. It is a Sanskrit name, derived from the words dhruva (immovable, permanent) and pad (verse), a combination that means “pillar”. The term denotes both the verse form of the poetry and the style in which it is sung. Dhrupad portrays a vast range of human emotions: serenity, compassion, sensuality, pathos, strangeness, anger and heroism and subtle shades of them all.

It is mainly a vocal tradition based on the practice of nāda yoga, but is also performed on instruments like the Rudra Veena, Tanpura and the Sursringār. For the past five centuries Dhrupad has mainly 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.

A Dhrupad performance starts with the alāp which is a slow and elaborate development of a Rāga using free flowing melodic patterns. The alap evokes a mood in the audience that coincides with the mood of the raga that is chosen.The singer uses certain syllables (Om, Num, Re, Ri, Na, Ta, Tom) that have a very peaceful and meditative effect. These syllables are taken from a Mantra and denote various Hindu gods. The philosophy behind not using words is that words may distract and thus lessen the chance of floating in a spiritual plane. Without the distraction caused by words, what one hears in the Alap is the sound of pure music, purportedly leading to Divine Fusion. The phrases of Dhrupad alāp are very slow and contemplative in the beginning, but the tempo increases in stages, and in the faster passages playful and vigorous ornaments predominate. Dhrupad Alap is followed by the singing of a composition with rhythmic improvisation, to the accompaniment of a barrel drum called the Pakhawaj. The Tālas or cycles of beats commonly used are Choutāla (12 beats), Dhamāra (14 beats), Jhaptāla (10beats), Sūltāla (10beats), Tīvrā (7 beats).

Like other great sciences of old India, it is a powerful tool for life improvement.