Roots and the Golden Age
Song forms in Indian music can be traced back to the archaic Prabhanda music prevalent in the pre fourteenth century period. However, the most noticeable form which is clearly traceable even in current times is Dhrupad. Dhrupad music has its ancestry in temple music. Mostly devotional in character, these song types were the main form in which the devotees paid their homage to their chosen deities. Raja Mansingh Tomar of Gwalior (1486-1518), just before the beginning of the Mughal supremacy, is credited to have first propagated the temple style of Dhrupad singing for performance in his court.
The golden age of this style of musical composition is in the sixteenth and seventeenth century. The musicians of the court of Akbar the Great including Mīyā Tānsen, his guru Swāmī Harīdās and musicians like Gopal Nāyak, Baiju and Bakshū were all legends of this style of music.
While Khayāl is considered to be the more popular style of classical music, Dhrupad is still a living tradition. The Dagar family of singers and the Malliks of Darbangā have ensured that this form does not die a death. Western audiences have particularly helped in the resurgence of this style of music.
Dhrupad is marked by a majestic, dignified and sombre style of singing, heavily performed in slow rhythm and also accompanied with instruments which also project a strong sound. Dhrupad can be seen as a different music world with its own set of instruments and personality that reflects the majesty of the court. The rich textures of string instruments like the Tānpura, Been (big Vīnā) and Sūrbahār suit this style of music. Mostly dominated by male singing voices and the big sonorous and heavy sound of the percussion drum Pakhawaj, this style of music is deep, spiritual and sacred.
The majority of Dhrupad songs are in four sections called Asthāyī, Antrā, Sanchārī and Ābhōg and are mostly composed in the twelve beat rhythmic cycle of Chautāl, fourteen beat Dhamār, seven beat Tīvra or ten beat Sūl Tāl. The poetry conveys noble sentiments praising gods, goddesses and even the patrons. Improvisations in Dhrupad are less liberal compared to the Khayāl style.
The most noteworthy contribution of Dhrupad music to the music of North India is its long and elaborate Alāp and Jōr Alāp introduction to the Rāga. Before the percussion joins in, the Dhrupad musician performs a long systematic introduction to the salient features of the Rāga establishing its sound with meticulous attention to the purity of the notes using the sacred chant:
‘Anant Nārāyan Harī Ōm’
and its abbreviations Na, Nā, Rē, Rī, Nōm etc to help in articulation. The Alāp does not feature a discernible rhythm or a pulse, but it does flow. Like the song, the Alāp is also split into the same four sections.
Jōr Alāp follows the Alāp and introduces the pulse. Gradually getting faster, this section of the Dhrupad is more accessible. Providing more scope for virtuosity and interplay, Jōr Alāp explores the Rāga again in four sections.
The legacy of Dhrupad can be seen in the modern instrumental music Alāp and Jōr Alāp.
While it is less popular, many purists see Dhrupad to be the measure of Rāga purity and finesse of intonation (fine tunings and deflections). In the modern world, Dhrupad is seen to be a perfect companion to yoga, meditation and spirituality.