2. Introduction to Dhrupad

Dhrupad is the oldest and most profound form of classical Hindustani vocal music. The Dhrupad style was selected for the musical examples on these Web pages because it was the contemporaneous form of music at the time of the construction of the Mughal gardens, performed regularly in the courts of the Mughal emperors.

Dhrupad developed in India in medieval times, and we have examples of distinct compositions attributed to the legendary Tan Sen (or Tansen), who as both an instrumentalist and a vocalist was one of the nine jewels of the royal court of the great Mughal emperor Akbar (1542-1605). Dhrupad was the dominant form of vocal music in North India until the eighteenth century, when it began to be overtaken by the lighter, more florid vocal style known as khayal (literally, imagination). At the current time, vocalists performing in the khayal style vastly outnumber those singing in the Dhrupad tradition, but thanks to the efforts of the Dagar family in particular, Dhrupad in its vocal form does continue to be heard on the contemporary concert stage.

Dhrupad may be performed either as vocal or instrumental music. In the latter part of the twentieth century, vocal Dhrupad has tended to be presented in a duet format, most prominently by members of the Dagar family; among current performers, the Gundecha brothers are probably the most prominent practitioners outside the Dagar family (of whom they are accomplished disciples); other performers include the soloist Uday Bhawalkar (another Dagar disciple), and members of the Mallick family.

Dhrupad may also be performed on the rudra vina (or been), a stick zither with two gourds that until the twentieth century was the predominant stringed instrument in Hindustani classical music. At present there are only two major practitioners of the rudra vina: Ustad Asad Ali Khan, and Bahauddin Dagar, son of the late Ustad Zia Moinuddin Dagar, who was himself an important senior master of that instrument. Shubha Sankaran, whose surbahar performance may be heard on several of the Mughal Gardens Web pages, performs in Dhrupad style.

A final note about Dhrupad music in particular and Hindustani music in general: vocal performances tend to consist of one or two melodic soloists, singing either in alternation or in unison, but, according to tradition, never in counterpoint or harmony, and with a single percussion accompanist on the pakhawaj; instrumental performances almost always have a single melodic soloist and a percussionist. In either vocal or instrumental music, there will usually be drone accompaniment by one or two tanpuras. Larger ensembles are virtually unknown.

-- Brian Q. Silver

Music Resources: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13