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The Classical Music of North India
The Dhrupad Tradition

About Dhrupad

The Dhrupad style of performing instrumental and vocal music is the oldest style of North Indian classical music performance. Dhrupad is an ancient spiritual music art form that was performed in the temples and the courts during medieval times. A form of yoga, this powerful and important musical style is nearly extinct in the world, only a few Indian musicians bringing it into this century. 

Classical music in India took to the concert halls instead of the courts and temples and became less connected to its spiritual roots. During the 18th Century, the Dhrupad style it was gradually replaced by the lighter kheyal (meaning imagination) style. Today, many devoted followers of North Indian classical music consider Dhrupad to be boring, monotonous and archaic. Nothing could be further from the truth for a listener able to connect with the essence of this important, ancient art.

The difference between Dhrupad and the more modern forms of Indian classical music is that Dhrupad is very slow and majestic. Its compositions are made up of four sections instead of the more modern two, and they are composed of very even note values. In vocal music, Dhrupad singing is different from the more recent keyal style of singing in that keyal singing is accompanied by either the sarangi stringed instrument or the more modern, and deplorable, harmonium keyboard. In the Dhurpad style, ragas are performed by either vocalists or instrumentalists who perform using an older instrument called the vina--a long stringed instrument that has a gourd on each end. The drum that accompanies Dhrupad is the pakhawaj, a cousin to the South Indian miradungam. The pakhawaj is played horizontally and has a head at each end. It was the precursor of the tabla which is like a pakhawaj split into to halves and each placed upright. The styles of keyal and dhrupad are different also. Dhrupad is more formal and certain liberties, such as the singing of melodic patterns called taans, are not allowed in Dhrupad. 

As we stated, Dhrupad was replaced in vocal music by a lighter style of music called kheyal, a beautiful type of music prevalent in the vocal tradition of the 20th Century. Keyal is usually less stately and majestic and can be used to express moods a lot lighter than dhrupad, however it can be very majestic, similarly to dhrupad and some of the more profound singers of the last century sang keyels in a manner that was similar to a dhrupad alap. In instrumental music, a form of playing called alap/gat has replaced dhupad. The first section of a performance is a performance of what is called an alap: the slow, solo unveiling of the raga. After this section, the gat, the musical composition elaborated by improvisation, is performed. The alap is derived from dhrupad where the alap serves as the first part of traditional dhrupad raga performances. Dhrupad lives on in the instrumental alap, however only a handful of contemporary instrumental performers learn and base their alap compositions in the correct principals of dhrupad performance.

Smt. Gangubai Hangal on Dhrupad Music

"I feel that a base of Dhrupad is absolutely essential for any student of music. It helps the student to have a complete grasp over the notes and voice culture. I have had rigorous training in the Dhrupad style, which was a must for a student of Dhrupad in our time. I remember learning Dhrupad which did not only improve my sur gyan, but also helped in perfecting my sense of taal. I owe a lot of my understanding of music to my basic training in this form. However, while accepting its undoubted strengths, I found it limited in that a lot of liberties which are allowed in khayal, and which I enjoy, like taans are taboo in the Dhrupad style. Dhrupad, all in all is a great music tradition which must be kept alive."

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