this discussion, we will explore some themes related to Dhrupad,
which are in circulation today, and enjoy varying degrees of
popularity amongst different categories of audiences.
such discussions begin with its origin. In my opinion, it is
not proper or valid to associate the word "origin"
with the emergence of any musical form. Musical forms are a
cumulative result, a
progressive crystallization, of certain tendencies, and this
process takes generations, even centuries. Therefore, the specific
attribution of origination to an individual, or a period in history,
the two tendencies in Indian music -- Nibaddha (pre-composed)
Sangeet and Anibaddha (improvised) Sangeet -- Dhrupad is a
crystallization of the former tendency i.e. Nibaddha Sangeet. In
Nibaddha Sangeet, we accept the possibility of pre-composing all
the important elements of music making.
strategy certainly has its advantages. If all important elements are
pre-composed, the resulting whole can be esthetically very tight,
and coherent. Very little is left to chance. It is a perfectly
crafted totality. Whenever musical forms crystallize this kind of
tendency, all elements -- the Swara, the Laya , the Tala , the
thematic element, the poetic , and the orchestral -- have a very
significant and purposeful relationship with each other. In this
sense, it becomes a very well structured piece of music.
Sangeet was a very important phase in Indian music making. It also
suggested that music had a larger relationship with other
facets of life.
it would have had no need to be pre-composed.
music in general -- not merely art music -- distinguishes itself by
its ability and intention to relate to three important cycles
governing human life -- the cycle of birth and death, the cycle of
night and day, and the cycle of the six seasons. I am suggesting
that if you want to have a system of music that responds to all
these three cycles, then music
will inevitably tend towards being pre-composed.
would appear that, at one stage, Nibaddha Sangeet, of which Dhrupad
is one manifestation, was interested in responding to all the three
cycles. And, that is why you find compositions for birth, death,
marriage, birth of the first son, initiations, coronations, and
every conceivable landmark. This suggests the pre-composed,
structured attitude to music, leading to a consolidation
in this particular form of Nibaddha Sangeet.
have expressed an interest in imagining a relationship between the
Dhruvas, as described in Bharata's Natya Shastra, and Dhruva-Pada
(Dhrupad) as we know it. We know that the word "Pada"
always refers to the textual/linguistic aspect of the music. We know
that Dhruvas are totally pre-composed. They have been placed in a
very specific dramatic context. Their musical parameters have also
been defined -- the tempo, the meter, the Tala, the language --
we accept continuity between the two, Dhruva of Bharata's Natya
Shastra emerges as the pre-composed music in a dramatic context. And
Dhrupad, as we know it, represents a continuity of that tendency
towards pre-composed music outside the dramatic context. By removing
it from its original context, you are not necessarily altering its
us speculate upon the situation in the 15th or 16th centuries. This
is the time when , Jatigayan has disappeared from the scene,
Moorchhana has faded away, the
principle of Swaragrama had been established and we are led to
tonality as the basis
of Raga-based music. You have all the musical intervals within one
octave. This was the state of evolution of the melodic ideas.
far as rhythm is concerned, the Mridanga, the two-faced drum,
continued to be the prototype of the language of all the other
avanaddha & ghana instruments,
just as the veena remained the prototype of the language for all
melodic instrumental music.
this period, I surmise that Nibaddha Sangeet continued to dominate
music making. But, music had begun to step out of the ritualistic
context. A part of it could have remained anchored in the
ritualistic context; but an independent stream had certainly begun
to flow .
have no reason to believe that this was caused by court influences
because the forces of secularization need not necessarily work
through the instrumentality of power or patronage.
is suggested to us by the emergence of the Dhamar form, as an
adjunct to the Dhrupad form. Dhamar is related to the Holi festival,
a secular festival, and has nothing to do with either the
ritualistic context or the feudal aristocracy. Also, notice that the
name itself is the name of a Tala. Dadra is the only other musical
form which carries the name of a Tala. You will find that no major
musical form carries the name of the Tala.
me, it appears significant that, in more recent times, Dhrupad and
Dhamar have evolved as a pair. In Dhrupad, you might have themes
that deal with courtly life or theological themes. But, alongside
Dhrupad, you have Dhamar, which deals with secular themes. Even
tempo-wise, Dhamar is a very different kind of music making.
am suggesting that Dhrupad, being a Nibaddha form, wanted to relate
to a wider
area of human experience. In that search, it gathered, under its
rubric, other forms like Dhamar. But, its own central shaping force
was Nibaddha Sangeet.
us consider the context in which Raja Mansingh Tomar functioned as a
major force in shaping the secular tendencies in Dhrupad. At that
time, there was Haveli Sangeet. And, you had the parallel tradition
of Vishnu Pada. Within these different musical forms, secular or
otherwise, there was something happening which was seeking a
different direction. But, the basic tendency of all of these forms
was Nibaddha Sangeet.
seems reasonable to conclude, therefore, that Dhrupad, as we know
it, has the tendency to imitate prototypes created in earlier times
within the tradition of Nibaddha Sangeet. As its predecessors were
more drama oriented and ritualistic, Dhrupad was an attempt at
extending the area of operation for this strategy/tendency of music
making. We should also therefore resist the temptation of
attributing the origins of Dhrupad either to any single person or to
a particular period in history.
us now consider the present corpus of musical forms. We have
Dhrupads as such, then we have Dhrupads which are slightly
liberated, and then we have Khayals which are akin to Dhrupads. And,
of course, we have Khayals. All these forms are interacting with
each other. The moment a form tends to get too rigid, there is bound
to be a reaction.
we had Dhrupads which had four stanzas. Later on, one stanza
disappeared, and then you had three left. Then, you had Khayals
which had three stanzas. But, in today's Khayal, the manjha has
disappeared, and now Dhrupad and Khayal both have only two left.
the Khayal genre, we have a form called sadra, which is akin to
Dhrupad; actually, it is called langda Dhrupad. I have myself been
taught, by Prof. BR Deodhar, a composition in Lalit Pancham which is
a Khayal version . I have also learnt the same from Pt. Ganu as a
dialectic process will work in the other direction also. When we
find the tendency of the form becoming too loose or amorphous, we
move to give it a more
definite shape. This is, therefore, a dynamic process. Every
decision to impose or loosen the form will automatically activate
its reaction in the opposite direction.
is therefore to be understood as the a crystallization of one of the
reactions against Nibaddha Sangeet. Historically, even if we
take Sadarang as a landmark figure in the history of Khayal, Dhrupad
and Khayal co-existed for at least two centuries before Dhrupad
began its decline. And, this is the way musical forms co-exist, with
different degrees of popularity, acceptability and
expressive power at different stages in the life of a society.
believe that there is nothing like the death of any musical form.
Forms, when in decline, tend to go underground for a while, and
resurface in some other
form. Therefore, to talk of art-music in the context of art-music
alone does not make much sense. Unless you have all the five
categories of music in view -- primitive music, folk music,
religious music, popular music and art music -- you cannot speak
intelligently about any of them. In India, this is even truer
because all these are living traditions.
we speak about India's traditional music, which tradition in
particular are we talking about ? We can talk about art music. But,
the same tendencies have prevailed in religious music. For instance,
take Haveli Sangeet. Why is it that certain compositions in Haveli
Sangeet do not permit melodic or rhythmic elaboration
? The reason is, obviously, their
tie-up with religious rituals which prohibits freedom of
moment we come to Khayal, we are moving from Nibaddha to Anibaddha
Sangeet. The name itself signifies imagination. This does not mean
that Dhrupad does not have imagination. It means that imagination is
the primary moving force in Khayal while in Dhrupad it is
co-existing strategy. In Khayal the priority is accorded to
imagination or the improvisational process overriding other
music-making strategies/ techniques etc.
you notice that even in Khayals, you have not isolated yourself from
the wider aspects of human experience. Why, for instance, why do you
have Mubarakbadi ? Why do you have seasonal songs ? This is because
we feel that if music becomes too abstract, it may forfeit its
moorings in the totality of human life, and might cease to be
contemporary with it.
is interesting evidence of this. In 1904 or thereabouts, the Rampur
Nawab published five volumes of his own compositions with notations.
For these, the composer has taken themes from folk music to turn
them into Khayals. In the introduction to that publication, he
specifically mentions that compositions composed especially for
different occasions were going out of circulation, and that he was
making an effort to bring back music appropriate to special
occasions by composing and publishing these volumes.
is clear that this was a man who had seen the era in which art-music
was bound closely to different facets of human life, and felt that
contemporary art music was becoming too formalistic, too much of an
abstraction. I believe that Indian music finds it difficult to drift
too far away from such a reference point.
instrumental music which has made great "progress" in the
last five decades. If you discuss his music with any
instrumentalist, he will speak in terminology of gayaki.
Instrumental music has developed its own forms, but musicians remain
wedded to the concepts of vocal music.
is because they feel that to formalize the independent idiom of
their music through its own terminology would abstract their music
from the mainstream of music. They might see the relationship with
the totality of human experience as belonging to the territory of
the poetic form, because it is explicit there. One might say that
there is some guilt associated with the process of abstraction. But,
this might equally well be pure and simple nostalgia.
are, of course, other, more general, trends that support nostalgia.
For instance, the loss of intimacy between the performer and the
audience in the modern auditorium. This is also a form of losing a
sense of connection with the world. But, the loss of the explicit
meaning of poetry is certainly a contributor to the
back to the transition, Khayal is often playing hide-and-seek
between explicit meaning in poetry, and the abstraction of the
melodic form. Can you imagine the incongruity of a Mubarakbadi,
related to greeting a person on his marriage, composed in Darbari ?
The textual and musical contents are totally incompatible. But,
there it is. We Indians are not very comfortable about dispensing
with explicit meaning, even when we wish to make a statement
contrary to it.
I came across the writings of DL Roy, who had heard all the leading
Dhrupadiyas in the 1920's and 1930's. He has strongly criticized
them for the total absence of either emotional or esthetic appeal in
their music. On this basis, he came to the conclusion that Dhrupad
had no chance of survival as a dominant musical form.
has been argued that Dhrupad drifted towards being an excessively
cerebral, rhythm-obsessed, and even unpleasant, form of music in a
desperate effort to counteract the growing influence of the Khayal
form. But, considering the way Dhrupad was structured, there was
little else it could do.
musical form has its own genetic plan, by which its maneuverability is
determined. Dhrupad was genetically handicapped in meeting the
esthetic forces it had to contend with. It was limited in its range
of ragas, talas, instrumental accompaniment, thematic content,
compositional variety, and improvisational freedom.
was also constrained by the Pakhavaj,
whose language rules out the rendering of a theka, and whose
sonorous acoustics would drown any melodic subtleties. And, notice
how closely the language of the pakhavaj and the melodic idiom are
tied up with each other. There is a tal-paran, and there is a
sur-paran. They go hand in hand.
same can be said of the Rudra veena accompaniment. Its acoustics are
rich in sustain and the harmonics they deliver. Every time the
string is struck, the resulting sound has a long shadow, which again
tends to drown out melodic subtleties in the vocal rendition.
issue of accompanying instruments becomes even more critical in the
contemporary environment of amplification acoustics. Unless this is
very astutely controlled, the rhythmic contours of the Pakhavaj and
melodic contours of the Rudra veena can create a blurred, and even
confusing aural experience.
finds itself, esthetically, in a dead-end street. Given this
reality, how else, other than an accentuation of rhythmic dexterity,
could Dhrupad have even tried to counteract the growing Khayal
also the interesting fact that Dhrupad has had no female singers,
until recently. All these are, no doubt, offshoots of the
socio-cultural environment at a certain stage in history. But, they
are inter-related. If you develop an excessively masculine style of
music which does not attract women, you are not only restricting
your pool of talent, but also your audience profiles.
were clever. They started picking up elements of Dhrupad. This is
how the sadra form in jhaptal came into being. And, they created
Langda Dhrupad which is part-Dhrupad, part non-Dhrupad. In this
form, they could introduce tans, bol-tans, sargams, any form of
improvisation, which Dhrupad would not permit.
the same logic holds for the future of the Rudra veena and the
surbahar, instruments associated with the Dhrupad-dominated era. Or
even to the Pakhavaj in relation to the tabla. They are in a
dead-end street because the Sitar and Tabla have taken over their
music, and extended it into a territory they cannot enter.
was setting up an alternative model of music making which
accentuated tendencies which were not allowed to prosper in Dhrupad,
and it acquired a following because of its appeal to the cultural
and social environment of the modern times.
are not saying that Dhrupad and Khayal are contrasting forms. What
saying is that the two epitomize two distinct tendencies -- Nibaddha
and Anibaddha -- in Hindustani music.
we look at the emergence of Khayal as the dominant form, we should
look at how any musical form achieves and sustains its dominant
it attracts all kinds of performers towards it. Second, it tries to
assimilate the musical tendencies of other forms. Third, it allows
individuals enough freedom to express themselves, especially in the
initial stages. Fourth, it makes allowances for a distinction
between the larger disciplinary model of a gharana, and the style of
an individual musician.
these factors can bee seen in the case of Khayal, when Dhrupad and
Khayal were both active in the field of Hindustani music, and Khayal
was overtaking Dhrupad.
Dynamics of a Multiple-Genre Environment
the present context, we are not looking at just this pair of
competing musical forms. You have other forms contending.
we have the Thumree, which you may not consider to be a major
contender at the moment. But, Thumree is also a fairly recent
development. The Nibaddha/ Anibaddha formulation had become well
consolidated by late-16th/ early 17th century. So, even the Thumree
can be considered, in dialectic terminology, as an anti-thesis to
the dominant Nibaddha form of Dhrupad. Its content was attractive
enough. So, Thumree came into being.
you have the evolution of Persian influences. It entered through
poetry. The ghazal form evolved from a purely recitative expression
(tarannum) to its contemporary song form.
we could, at one stage, look at Thumree and ghazal the same way as
looking at Dhrupad and Khayal; Thumree representing the Anibaddha
form, and the Ghazal representing the Nibaddha form. So, whenever
you have an Anibaddha form, you will find a Nibaddha form parallel
our understanding of the phenomenon can not stop there. The Ghazal,
sensing that Thumree has greater freedom, has started picking up
elements from the Thumree. You have heard Beghum Akhtar introducing
the practice singing "shers" in a Thumree. Poetically, you
are not talking of an independent unit. But, musically, you have
created a slot of freedom, and are interpolating poetry into it
merely to validate its presence.
is interesting to observe that the bol-banav Thumree is now becoming
expansive. It is also no longer being sung only in light ragas. In
effect, the bol-banav Thumree might be doing to the bada Khayal
precisely what the Bada Khayal did to Dhrupad more than two
the other hand, the chhota Khayal consists almost totally of
compositions from the bandish-ki-Thumree genre. In the process, it
has almost destroyed the bandish-ki-Thumree form altogether. Thus,
you find that all musical forms are vying for supremacy by
borrowing elements from each other.
would appear that the Khayal form provides the esthetic satisfaction
that Dhrupad delivered, and in addition, it provides those
satisfactions Dhrupad could not provide. Only such a formulation can
validate the present status of Khayal in relation to Dhrupad.
also appears that, progressively, Dhrupad distinguished each element
to such an extent, that they had become almost segregated, and even
isolated from each other. They had acquired a purely sequential
relationship with each other without any degree of coherence between
believe that Dhrupad declined also because it progressively lost the
richness of its multi-faceted personality.
us consider the textual or poetic element of Dhrupad. There is a
general impression that Dhrupads were written in a very limited
range of themes -- either in praise of God or emperors, and at best,
to describe seasons. The evidence suggests otherwise. Dhrupads have
a very wide thematic coverage. Obviously, the width reflects a
certain quality audience.
the evidence that Nayak Bakshu is rated, in contemporary texts, as
being superior to Tansen. One of the reasons mentioned for this
assessment is that he never used a vocal accompanist. Secondly, he
used to accompany himself on the Pakhavaj. Thirdly, he used to sing
in a very high pitched voice.
you analyze the textual content of Nayak Bakshu's compositions
covered in Sahasarasa, you will be surprised to find that there are
many esoteric musicological themes, along with general themes. My
contention is that if Bakshu was popular during his lifetime, and
the King ordered a compilation of his compositions a hundred years
after his death, Bakshu’s listeners must have been of a very high
intellectual level. The textual sophistication of his compositions,
many of which deal with esoteric aspects of esthetics, Raga and Tala,
is truly amazing. .
evidence emphasizes the stable chain of expectations and familiarity
which binds a musician to his audiences in Nibaddha Sangeet. Every
element of the music can afford to be stable and predictable,
because audience profiles are also stable and predictable.
the reasons for the textual impoverishment of Dhrupad, the truth is
that it did shrink in terms of its thematic coverage. At the same
time, you find that Thumree, ghazal, and Khayal are conquering new
territories, whether thematically or not. If poetry, which was the
mainstay of Dhrupad, starts getting weaker, the locus standi of the
genre itself starts slipping.
suggestion of history is that, with the Khayal form, the individual musician was coming to the fore. The argument
for the distinction of Nayak Bakshu -- that he sang without vocal
accompaniment -- suggested that traditionally Dhrupad was not as a
solo a performing art as Khayal has been.
today, you find that several leading Dhrupad musicians perform in
pairs. But, you do not come across as many Khayal singers singing in
pairs. This is because Khayal is Anibaddha, and demands greater
individual freedom. Dhrupad, being in the Nibaddha tradition, does
not require individual freedom.
same tendency is visible in the role of percussion. In Dhrupad, the
Pakhavaj has a major share in the music making. But, in Khayal you
want merely an accompanist, playing only a supportive role.
Likes What Kind of Music?
original audience for Dhrupad was a homogeneous, sophisticated,
The audience for Khayal was probably not as highly initiated, but
perhaps a more heterogeneous, with a more diverse set of
expectations from the process of music making. One of the aspects of
this expectation would be not only that of intellectual
satisfaction, but also emotional satisfaction. Khayal, I believe,
started delivering this emotional satisfaction, and hence scored a
point over Dhrupad.
an extreme expression of man's needs for emotional satisfaction from
music, Rabindranath Tagore complains about this handicap of
Hindustani music. He says that he wants to sing about his own
individual sorrow; but the moment he breaks into Hindustani music,
he finds himself singing about universal sorrow. Where, he asks, is
the place for his personal joys and sorrows in Hindustani music ?
This is why he says that he wanted to write his own poetry, to
compose his own music, and also to sing it.
therefore come to the notion that every society has certain musical
needs. At one stage, we needed music to provide primarily
intellectual satisfactions. Then, we realized that we also required
music to provide emotional satisfactions.
fulfill this need, there was either religious music, which did not
allow an individualized expression, or folk music, which had the
same problem. Then came the growth of popular music.
you will observe that in every region which has witnessed a growth
of popular regional genres after the advent of British rule, the
music tends to be of a strongly emotional nature, and outgoing to
the extent that some of it even became obscene. There was a general
impetus towards liberating the mind.
evidence, notice the thumrees in the north, the tamasha lavnis in
Maharashtra, the jatra in Bengal. Imagine, at one stage, Nidhu
Babu's tappas were considered obscene, much as the waltzes of
Strauss were considered licentious in the Europe of his times. If
you look at the texts of these tappas, there was nothing obscene in
it. They were only singing of individual love, instead of the leela
of Radha and Krishna. This became sufficiently titillating for the
cultural environment of that time.
this context, Khayal has the flexibility to handle personalized
emotional statements as well universalized emotional statements.
Thus, Khayal is capable of a much wider appeal than Dhrupad. And,
the converse is also valid. If there are segments of society which
have musical needs narrower than those that Khayal satisfies,
Dhrupad is there to fulfill those needs.
when we observe that Western audiences favor Dhrupad on a larger
scale than Khayal, it is easy to understand why. They are getting a
structured form of music which is comprehensible. It is also solo
music, and also melodic music, these being the points of divergence
from the Western classical tradition. For them, Dhrupad probably
fulfills, in a very broad sense and at a different level, the same
needs that pop music does.
audiences probably also find Dhrupad tonally more cohesive than
their own classical music. It may lack tonal color; it is
monochromatic in a way. But, it is one single color presented very
addition, the Western mind values a musical genre that is broadly --
even if wrongly -- described as ancient music. It creates a kind of
nostalgia. Nostalgia need not necessarily be evoked by a cultural
affinity with the object of the feeling; it can also be a more
universal sense of loss, in purely historical terms. I am capable of
feeling very nostalgic when I visit the monuments of ancient Greece
or renaissance Italy because, somewhere deep within myself, I have
been through the phases of evolution that they represent.
am willing to grant that the very features that make Dhrupad
appealing to Western audiences, might also explain its growing
popularity with the younger, less initiated audiences in India.
Classical music is being projected now as the voice of culture, an
expression of the Indian identity. And, Dhrupad is being projected
as ancient, as the authentic voice of the Indian tradition.
character of Dhrupad and this configuration of images cannot have
much appeal for those who are exposed to thumrees, or Khayals, or
taranas or even folk music. It is more likely to have an appeal for
those who are exposed only to other kinds of music, like film music,
or popular music -- contemporary music, not necessarily rooted in
the so-called Dhrupad revival in India be a backlash against
declining standards of musicianship in Khayal ? Might the freedom of
Khayal have allowed it to decay to such an extent, that even
initiated audiences are beginning to feel safer with Dhrupad ? The
structure at least guarantees a certain minimum degree of aesthetic
is a distinct possibility. We might have started doing to Khayal,
precisely what Dhrupad did to itself over the last three centuries.
We are chopping off some of its assets.
instance, in the 19th century, people stared saying that the poetic
form has no importance in Khayal music. Look at the corpus of Khayal
music. You will find a tremendous variety of themes. But, look at
the Khayals in circulation. Very few people sing traditional
compositions. New compositions have no literary value; they are
diluted versions of earlier prototypes.
know that many Dhrupads were transformed into Khayals. Those
Dhrupads were high in poetic value. How many people sing those
Khayals today? That variety has gone.
the Khayals which, for instance, form Bhatkhande's compilation of
1800 compositions. You find Khayals in Marwadi, Brijbhasha, Sindhi,
Punjabi, Persian, Maithili, Bhojpuri, and several other dialects.
Analyze what is being sung today. So, even the linguistic variety is
same can be said of variety in talas. Tilwada, which was called the
Khayal Theka, associated with the Khayal just as Dhrupad is
associated with Chautal, has become a rarity now. Then, there were
Ada Chautal, Roopak, and several other talas.
What remains in circulation today is only Ektal.
there is the issue of significance in Khayal compositions. The great
composers used to write poetry and compose it into its
rhythmic-melodic frame on special occasions. In the olden days, it
was customary for a musician to narrate the history of the
composition, which put all the facets of the composition in a
hardly any musician knows the compositional context of his
compositions. As a result, the composer's intention ceases to guide
the presentation, the poetic content is often mauled by ignorance of
its context, and the Khayal is expected to make sense in a
important aspect of the decay is that because you are now projecting
the individual singer and his talent, the quality of the voice has
become more important. This trend was, of course, aided by the
growth of amplification technology.
you consider the generation of giants who emerged in the
pre-amplification era -- Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Faiyyaz Khan,
Kesarbai, Abdul Kareem Khan, Vaze Buva, Omkarnath Thakur -- all of
them had very distinctive voices. None of them was similar to any of
the others, and their voices were their respective individual
responses to the dissemination environment of their times.
Khayal singers have not yet realized that with amplification
electronics, the pitch and volume of their voices has ceased to be a
major issue in audience appeal. And, unless they work on the
distinctiveness of the timbre in their voices, and the nuances
created by the manipulation of the timbre, they will all begin to
sound the same, and fail to hold audience interest. In achieving an
appealing timbre, today's Khayal vocalist is competing with the
fantastic variety and richness of the timbres being offered by
instrumental music, which enjoys greater popularity than vocal
you look at the totality of this perspective on the contemporary
Khayal scene, Dhrupad might seem like a safer esthetic package,
especially to uninitiated audiences.
Ashok Ranade is a distinguished musicologist and a prolific
writer.He holds a Ph.D in music from the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya, an
MA in literature and a Law degree, both from the University of
Bombay. He was trained in Hindustani vocal music under maestros of
the Gwalior, Jaipur, as well as Agra gharanas. He
has been a recipient of numerous academic awards, has
occupied several prestigious academic positions in India, England
and authored several books on music and the performing arts.
Raja is a sitar and
surbahar player of the Imdad Khan/ Etawah gharana, and an occasional
writer on music. He holds an MBA from the Indian Institute of
Management at Ahmedabad, and is a Management Consultant by