You know what it’s like when you’re reading a really great book… you can peek to see how many pages remain. When you’re in a really great Hindustani recital, there’s no knowing how many ‘pages’ are left. You’re in for the ride – and the plot twists – the stuff that Bahauddin Dagar’s more-or-less set-length opener, rāg Bhairav delivered royally. Programming the rudra vina maestro for the 10 am slot on Darbar’s final day was inspired.
Bahauddin Dagar is the son of Zia Mohiuddin Dagar – one of the foremost masters of dhrupad of the twentieth century – and nephew to Zia Fariduddin Dagar. Dhrupad is a genre that the Gramophone Company of India in its hardback catalogue (those were the days!) once called “the most ‘massive and sublime’ musical form in Indian classical vocal music”. Let’s set aside suspicions of regional bias, for Indian Music 1980 was a co-production of the label’s outposts in Calcutta, Bombay, Madras, Delhi, Gauhati, Kanpur, Chandigarh and London. Even then, dhrupad drew a dividing line in the metaphorical Hindustani music sand. A living embodiment of Hindustani culture and cultivation, dhrupad couldn’t be any more Indian if it bled chai.
Rudra vina is one of the instruments most closely associated with dhrupad. This member of the tube zither family is well supplied with the lore and symbolism of Hinduism. That begins with Rudra, ‘the roarer’ of the Rigveda. The creature carved at the head of Bahauddin Dagar’s instrument is Vasuki. This was the nagaraja, one of the Serpent Kings of Hinduism (and Buddhism), who churned the ocean of milk (Samudra manthan). Bhairav, the rāg he played, bears another of Lord Shiva’s names. The argus-eyed will note Bahauddin Dagar is a Muslim name. For centuries dhrupad and the Dagar lineage have been proof of the possibility of the interconnectivity of belief systems.
Dhrupad’s reputation precedes it. Enjoying this Hindu praise song form need not be, as sometimes perceived, a badge of honour, a badge of courage or an inescapable chore. Neither is it a musical believer and non-believer thing. It can, however, separate not so much the sheep from the goats as Hindustani music’s sheep from its lambs. It takes its time to reveal its insights, repaying commitment and concentration. The very act of listening to it can sharpen a listener’s sense of hearing. Like any ‘serious music’ though, the more the listener puts in, the more they get out. Permit a note of bias: dhrupad is as good as Hindustani music gets.
Bahauddin Dagar’s recital on the banks of the Thames was a thing of beauty in a setting of brutalist architecture. Early on, Jeppe Hein’s water feature Appearing Rooms Fountain started spurting moveable walls in water outside the entrance. It wafted in the smell of cool water. Pratap Awad played pakhawaj and Seetal Kaur tanpura. A concert to make the senses sing, it was bliss to be alive at this concert on this particular September Sunday.