6. The Structure of Dhrupad Performance

A customary full performance of Dhrupad—whether in vocal or instrumental music—is in two portions: the alap, an extended melodic improvisation exploring the mood of the raga being performed; and the dhrupad or dhamar—a composition set to a distinct poetic text with pakhawaj accompaniment.

The alap itself goes through three stages known as alap, dugun, and chaugun in vocal music, or alap, jor, and jhala in instrumental music. The simple alap explores the distinctive melodic features of the raga without recourse to rhythm. The alap begins with the tonic, Sa—of the middle octave—as its center. The artist generally begins by moving downward, note by note, exploring the lower octave, sometimes finally reaching a distinctly dramatic point by touching the deep tonic of that octave.

After exploring the lower octave, the artist moves up into the middle octave in improvisations which set new, progressively higher watermarks, ultimately reaching another dramatic stage by ascending to the tonic—Sa—of the highest octave. The gradual, progressive ascent is what is most dramatic about the Dhrupad alap, and the longer the artist can sustain creativity in keeping the listeners engaged, the more liberating is the resolution in reaching the highest octave.

Next comes the dugun (literally, double) alap, in vocal music—the jor in instrumental (and so called in some vocal traditions as well)—in which there is the introduction of a slow, regular pulse. Here the artist traverses—now with a rhythmic component—somewhat the same melodic range covered earlier. The notes come more frequently now, and to the drama of ascent is added the power of a gradually accelerating rhythmic effect.

At some point in the dugun alap/jor, the double pulse bursts into a quadruple pattern, and the chaugun (literally, four-fold) alap begins in vocal music and the jhala in instrumental music (again, also so identified in some vocal traditions). At this point the rhythmic element comes to dominate over the melody, with increasingly complex phrases, ornamentation and rhythmic patterns standing in distinct contrast to the elegant calm and simplicity of the beginning alap. In some traditions the dugun/chaugun/jor/jhala sections are called nom-tom, from two of the syllables used to articulate the rhythm in this section.

The performance of the raga concludes with the bandish, or song composition, set with pakhawaj (barrel drum) accompaniment to one of the distinctive Dhrupad talas. A bandish composition in a seven, ten, or twelve-beat tala is called a dhrupad, while a song in the fourteen-beat dhamar tala is known eponymously as a dhamar. The performance of the song consists of a straightforward statement of the fixed composition, which is traditional and may sometimes be extremely old, dating, as noted above, back to the time of Tansen. The song itself consists of two to four parts based on verses of the poetic texts: the four parts are known as the asthai, antara, sanchari, and abhog. Once two or more of these parts have been stated in their fixed form, the singers engage in a dramatic improvisatory process known as bol-bant (word-division), in which the words are used in increasingly complex and richly syncopated rhythmic patterns (which play against the powerful cross-rhythms of the pakhawaj) to conclude the performance of the raga.

It should be noted that the performances on the site pages of this Web site are greatly abbreviated for ease of access. A full Dhrupad performance of a raga is usually at least a half hour in length and may last up to two or more hours, in a gradual unfolding of improvisational creativity. Longer performances may be heard on the recordings listed in the discography.

-- Brian Q. Silver

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