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This article is about Dhrupad,[1] the genre of Indian classical singing. For the character in the Mahabharata with a similar name, see Drupada.

Dhrupad (Hindi: ध्रुपद) is a vocal genre in Hindustani classical music, said to be the oldest still in use in that musical tradition.[2] Its name is derived from the words "dhruva" (fixed) and "pada" (words). The term may denote both the verse form of the poetry and the style in which it is sung.[3]

Abul Fazl, courtier and chronicler at the court of the Emperor Akbar, defines the dhrupad verse form in his Ain-e-Akbari as "four rhyming lines, each of indefinite prosodic length." Thematic matter ranges from the religious and spiritual (mostly in praise of Hindu deities) to royal panegyrics, musicology and romance.[4]



There is no reference to Dhrupad in Bharat's Natya Shastra, commonly dated to the 1st Century AD, nor even in Sangit Ratnakar, a 13th Century text, taken as authoritative. Ravi Shankar[5] states that the form appeared in the fifteenth century as a development from the prabandha, which it replaced. Under Mughal ("Mogul") rule it was appropriated as court music.

However the musical background of dhrupad is commonly thought to have a long history, traceable back to the Vedas themselves. The Yugala Shataka of Shri Shribhatta in the Nimbarka Sampradaya, written in 1294 CE, contains lyrics of similar fashion. Swami Haridas (also in the Nimbarka Sampradaya), the guru of Tansen, was a well known dhrupad singer.

The 18th Century saw the beginning of a great decline of dhrupad singing. A newer genre, khyal, gained popularity at dhrupad's expense, placing fewer constraints on the singers and allowing displays of virtuosity rare in dhrupad. Also, new instruments were being developed – the sitar and the sarod – that were not suited to the slow tempo and low register favoured by dhrupad so that dhrupad instrumental also began to lose ground. Only a few families carried on the tradition.

In 1960 the French ethnomusicologist Alain Daniélou invited Nasir Moinuddin and Nasir Aminuddin Dagar[6] (the senior Dagar Brothers)[7][8][9] to perform in Europe. Their concerts were successful and, upon the untimely demise of Nasir Moinuddin in 1966, his younger brothers Nasir Zahiruddin and Nasir Fayazuddin continued. The Dagars toured widely and recorded. Coinciding with growing foreign interest in Indian music, the Dagarvani-revival helped breathe new life into a few other families of dhrupad singers.[10] Today, dhrupad enjoys a place as a well-respected but not widely popular genre, no longer on the brink of extinction.

Nature and Practice

Dhrupad as we know it today is performed by a solo singer or a small number of singers in unison to the beat of the pakhavaj or mridang rather than the tabla. The vocalist is usually accompanied by two tanpuras, the players sitting close behind, with the percussionist at the right of the vocalist. Traditionally the only other instrument used was the Rudra Veena. Some artists have used other instruments. Preferably, such instruments should have a deep bass register and long sustain.

Like all Indian classical music, dhrupad is modal and monophonic, with a single melodic line and no chord progression. Each raga has a modal frame - a wealth of micro-tonal ornamentations (gamaka) are typical.

The text is preceded by a wholly improvised section, the alap. The alap in dhrupad is sung using a set of syllables, popularly thought to be derived from a mantra, in a recurrent, set pattern: a re ne na, té te re ne na, ri re re ne na, te ne toom ne (this last group is used in the end of a long phrase). Dhrupad styles have long elaborate alaps, their slow and deliberate melodic development gradually bringing an accelerating rhythmic pulse. In most styles of dhrupad singing it can easily last an hour, broadly subdivided into the alap proper (unmetered), the jor (with steady rhythm) and the jhala (accelerating strumming) or nomtom, when syllables are sung at a very rapid pace. Then the composition is sung to the rhythmic accompaniment: the four lines, in serial order, are termed sthayi, antara, sanchari and aabhog.

Compositions exist in the metres (tala) tivra (7 beats), sul (10 beats) and chau (12 beats) - a composition set to the 10-beat jhap tala is called a sadra while one set to the 14-beat dhamar is called a dhamar. The latter is seen as a lighter musical form, associated with the Holi spring festival.

Alongside concert performance the practice of singing dhrupad in temples continues, though only a small number of recordings have been made. It bears little resemblance to concert dhrupad: there is very little or no alap; percussion such as bells and finger cymbals, not used in the classical setting, are used here, and the drum used is a smaller, older variant called mrdang, quite similar to the mridangam.

Family and style

There are said to be four broad stylistic variants (vanis or banis) of classical dhrupad – the Gauri (Gohar), Khandar, Nauhar, and Dagar, tentatively linked to five singing styles (geetis) known from the 7th Century: Shuddha, Bhinna, Gauri, Vegswara, and Sadharani. But more importantly, there are a number of dhrupad gharanas: "houses", or family styles. The best-known gharana is the Dagar family,[11] who sing in the Dagar vani. The Dagar style puts great emphasis on alap and for several generations their singers have performed in pairs (often pairs of brothers). The Dagars are Muslims but sing Hindu texts of Gods and Goddesses. Some of the best dhrupad singers outside the Dagar family, such as Pandit Ritwik Sanyal and the Gundecha Brothers, also belong to the Dagar vani.

From Bihar state come two other gharanas, the Malliks (Darbhanga gharana) and the Mishras (Bettiah gharana). The Malliks are linked to the Khandar vani and emphasize the composed song over improvised alap with variety of layakaris. Pt. Ram Chatur Mallik, Pt.Vidur Mallick, Pt.Siyaram Tiwari were the famous exponent of Darbhanga gharana in the last century. Today the senior performer of the Darbhanga gharana is Pt. Prem Kumar Mallick. Shri Prashant Kumar Mallick and Nishant Kumar Mallick (Mallick brothers) are Dhrupad vocalist among young generation of Darbhanga tradition. The Mishras practise both Nauhar and Khandar styles with some unique techniques for nomtom alap. This gharana flourished under the patronage of the kings of Bettiah Raj. The most famous exponents of the Bettiah gharana today are Pandit Indrakishore Mishra and Pandit Falguni Mitra. The form of dhrupad prevalent in Darbhanga and Bettiah is known as the Haveli style. In Pakistan dhrupad is represented by the Talwandi gharana, who sing in the Khandar style.


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