Dhrupad in different styles
Dhrupad festivals are not frequent happenings even in north India. But Chennai hosts its first dhrupad music feast (February 16-18), organised by Prakriti Foundation in association with the Sangeet Natak Akademi at heritage venue Museum Theatre.
The performers represent three of the four dhrupad schools - Dagar, Khander and Darbhanga. The latter two are rarely heard in South India. The rudraveena, so essentially a part of the dhrupad shaili, will be handled by master practitioners of two differing Dagar and Khander styles. The vocal stream has soloists like young Uday Bhawalkar, and seasoned Abhay Narayan Mallick, while the Gundecha Brothers bring the equally ancient duo singing tradition alive.
Emerging directly from Vedic chants and ritual worship dhrupad continues to evoke their meditative magnificence. This is not entertainment but the music of transcendence, demanding the utmost involvement from the listener. It is certainly more austere, but this gravity enhances its aesthetic grandeur. Its emotionalism is not of the easy kind. The dhrupadiyas are fond of reminding us that Tansen, the Tyagaraja of Hindustani music, was a dhrupad practitioner, and that the khayal evolved as a later variation. Though the popularity of dhrupad waned with the rise of the khayal, its practitioners did not. The Chennai fest hopes to showcase those high standards.
Legends vivify the dhrupad ambience. Even the youngest school of dhrupad has its origins in what seems like a miracle play. The desperate ruler of a drought-stricken kingdom in remote north-eastern India begged the temple singers to propitiate the gods. The brothers poured their hearts out. The tides of Raag Megh rose to the skies and turned into rainbearing clouds. The Maharaja honoured the singers with lands, and the title "Mallick" or landowner. That is how the 18th century saw the birth of the Darbhanga School, nurtured by the Mallick family.
At the Chennai fest, Pandit Abhay Narayan Mallick may show his command of other genres like kajri and thumri as well. Belonging to the 20th generation of the best known dhrupad clan, cousins Bahawuddin Dagar (rudraveena) and Wasifuddin Dagar (vocal) will exhibit the skills that have cast vibrant spells on audiences across the world.
Veteran Asad Ali Khan, the last of the Khanderbani titans, rounds off the fest on the reverberant notes of the beenkar gharana, Jaipur. A fitting finale to the celebration of the oldest form of Hindustani classical music in the Coromandel city.
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