I believe in calling a spade a spade though I have been misquoted a bit in this article and the accompanying interview in the Patrika Gwalior today. I SMSed the main points in my reply to the journalist and did not name any individuals, but said that programs must have diversity within and across genres and present new faces and the best young talents need to be given the stage SOLO – not in groups and contrived duets or jugalbandis that are of little value in establishing an artist’s image and career. The arbitrariness of the system and the behind the scenes insidious mechanisms that inevitably develop in a system that lacks connoisseurship and norms of any kind has denied opportunities to the best young talents of dhrupad for the last 25 years. This is also true of pakhavaj and all other genres. Two students of the Dhrupad Kendra Bhopal and two of the Dhrupad Kendra Gwalior have got national scholarships and national level awards in competitions recently but like the best young talents of the last 20 years in Dhrupad they are constantly denied the stage.
A system that lacks discretion and connoisseurship will commodify and destroy our arts. The process is already in an advanced stage not only in Dhrupad but across the arts in the country. Who decides what is good? Government Ministers? Bureaucrats? The Market Forces? or the well connected who have perfected the art of exchanging privileges within the system? In Germany it would be unthinkable for a Government minister or bureaucrat to call up the Berlin Philharmonic or the Schaubühne Theater Berlin and recommend the name of an artist or influence the artistic program, although these are completely State funded institutions. Here in India we all know that this routinely happens and is in some ways the de-facto norm. Institutional patronage with well defined norms and precedents and connoisseurship and discretion can create niche audiences for arts and isolate them from the brute forces of the market as for instance in Western Europe. It is the need of the hour in India to ponder on these issues or else what will remain of our arts will be hollow empty commodified shells. The process is already in an advanced stage across the arts.
Young pakhavaj player Sukhad Munde’s spirited defence of the organization of the Gwalior festival on my facebook post of this article is very welcome and heartening to read. Here is a young artist who also has the courage to engage in debate – because debate is precisely what is needed. He argued that a young player like himself was given a chance and also that the seven or eight dhrupad artists who came last year and also this year and presumably will also come next year, made the occasion memorable and that above all it is the music that counts! My response is that the inclusion of one or two young artists in such events are TOKENISMS THAT DON’T COUNT – they are precisely meant to silence critics and divert attention from the larger and systemic wrongdoings. Last year too a young artist who plays dhrupad on guitar was included. What is important is not their inclusion but the SYSTEMATIC EXCULSION of a very large number who are inconvenient to the powers that be. This year there was again a contrived duet of two past students of dhrupad kendra bhopal that neither can be possibly happy about. Such duets will not enable either of them to create an impression or even perform well. The whole point is that there is no system in place, no norms to ensure diversity of representation or identify and promote diverse young talent and give them a platform on a consistent basis. On the contrary there is the deliberate exclusion and marginalization of precisely the emerging talent and older inconvenient artists of merit who are seen as a threat to the oligarchies and their cosy give and take arrangements. This is what destroys music by destroying its richness and diversity. This is what will commodify and destroy the arts by removing their inner richness. This is how an arbitrary and corrupt system kills institutions and kills the arts. Tokenisms like including one or two young artists who are convenient make no difference at all.
I fully agree with Sukhad Munde that the music is above all, which is precisely why it needs to be liberated from these insidious mechanisms that have crept into our arts in the post-independence era of bureaucratic patronage. I have written about these things in detail in my forthcoming book on dhrupad – Dhrupad of the Dagars, Conceptual Foundations and Contemporary Questions. In the days of old even unknown artists could come to the durbars of maharajas and got an audience from the maharaja and the gunis and if they had merit got not just praise but also handsome purses and also appointments and in some cases even the revenue from a village or two to sustain a whole gurukul. The great Sarangi player Bundu Khan came to Indore in the 19th Century in tattered clothes and got summoned by the Maharaja and received an appointment on showing his art at the durbar. But of course it needed great preparation courage and confidence to sing or play before the adalat of gunijans. Today known young and older talents of merit who are perceived to be inconvenient are SYSTEMATICALLY EXCLUDED. This destroys diversity and richness and creates homogenized and commodified versions of art forms. This is what is creating PIZZA AND BURGER DHRUPAD today.
My Guru Ustad Rahim Fahimuddin Dagar would often speak of the difficulty of presenting the subtle aspects of sound and resonance in dhrupad with microphones and amplification. I have found that the most satisfying performances are always in fine natural acoustics. One of my favourite recordings is this one in a small space in Copenhagen with a high ceiling and wonderful acoustics.
Rahim Fahimuddin Dagar would often talk of pakhāvaj accompaniment that follows the aṅgs of singing, for improvisation in dhrupad compositions is a demonstration of the facets or aṅgs of the rāga within the constraint of the lyrics of the composition and the structure of the tāla – its inner subdivisions and points of emphasis – the tālī and khālī. He would praise the accompaniment of pakhāvaj players like the famed Ayodhya Prasad and Govindrao Burhanpurkar with his father that he heard in his youth.
Here is an example of the kind of pakhāvaj accompaniment he talked about – most probably by Ayodhya Prasad. A very perceptive account of his pakhāvaj playing is given by S. K. Choubey in his essay – Pandit Ayodhya Prasad in Musicians I Have Met (Uttar Pradesh State Publications Department 1958). This and other essays in Choubey’s book are also examples of the kind of critical writing on art and the discussions that went on in musical circles in the pre-Independence era when people freely expressed their opinions and an article on a musician or a performance could also be a critique of some or all aspects unlike articles now which merely express banalities and fulsome praise. I have dealt in detail with many of these aspects in my book Dhrupad of the Dagars – Conceptual Foundations and Contemporary Questions, which is about to go to the press.
Ustad Nasir Aminuddin Dagar sings Raga Purvi – recorded from a radio broadcast in the 1960s by Maharawal Mahipalsinghji Sab of Dungarpur. Accompaniment to Chowtal composition on Tabla. Names of Tabla and Sarangi accompanists not known. As in all his early performances the tanpura is tuned higher in D# than the lower B or B flat that he used later.
In a dhrupad performance the exposition of the Raga through the abstract syllabic alap is followed by the singing of a composed melody with lyrics, set to a tala or a cycle of beats accompanied by a barrel drum – the pakhāwaj. Strictly speaking it is the composed melody, which usually has four parts, that bears the name dhrupad, although the term is now used to identify the entire genre including the alap. A Dhrupad Composition actually embodies within it all the principles of the music, and serves as a model of the exposition of the raga, composed by a master dhrupad singer not only for his own performance, but as a musical statement for subsequent oral transmission to succeeding generations. Compositions represent the fixed repertoire of Dhrupad and encapsulate the musical knowledge and wisdom of many generations of Dhrupad singers. Compositions were often created to illustrate specific aspects of the grammar of music. The lyrics of compositions contain a wealth of information about history, folklore, mythology, philosophy and the conceptual framework of music. In an oral tradition compositions of course mutate with time and one finds many different versions of the same composition prevalent in different traditions in different parts of the country.
Efforts to notate and publish books of Dhrupad compositions started in the 19th Century when mechanized printing came to India. Before the age of mass printing, singers had attempted to notate and keep their repertoire of compositions from being forgotten or distorted. However such works were mostly kept for personal reference and use, and access to them if at all permitted to others, was restricted to the closest disciples or relatives of the author. The compilation Sangeet Samuccaya done by Beenkar Shivendranath Basu in 1924 mentions that Dulahsen or Budhprakash – a descendant of Tansen wrote a work notating compositions of his tradition which remained with his descendants. Many such works remained in private hands zealously guarded from the public and eventually it may be presumed that many such works were lost or destroyed. I personally know of a handwritten manuscript of Radheshyamji Sharma, son of Sitaramji Sharma- the pre-independence court musician of Tikamgarh, with notations of about 400 compositions of Dhrupad, which I briefly saw some years ago in the zealously guarded possession of a relative, which is now completely untraceable.
Most works were published with the support of wealthy patrons like Maharajas and Zamindars – like the Sangit Kaladhar of 1901 published by the Maharaja of Bhavnagar written by his court musician Dahyalal Shivram.
Many works were only partly published or could never be published at all because of a lack of funds. Like the Sangeet Sudha Sagar of Prankrishna Chattopadhyaya with compositions in uncommon Ragas, of which only a fraction of the first volume was printed by the author at his own expense in the 1950’s. The author a student of Tansen descendant Nihal Sen of Jaipur and of Dagar tradition singer Abban Khan of Pratapgarh, mentions in the preface that he has applied for State funding and hopes to publish the entire work with 240 compositions of the tradition of Tansen in the first volume. Since the author’s teacher Nihalsen was a descendant of Dulahsen it is quite probable that his work contained many of the compositions notated by Dulahsen in his manuscript.
My enquiries have revealed that the handwritten notes with his descendants got destroyed by termites. However the author did manage to get some State grants towards the end of his life and there is a small chance that a copy of the manuscript survives somewhere. The first volume of the Sangeet Samuccaya mentions that the second volume with 200 compositions is being printed and the author mentions that he has managed to collect notations of more than a thousand compositions. However the second volume never actually got printed. The work was being published by the Nagri Pracharini Sabha the predecessor of Bharat Kala Bhavan Varanasi which underwent major changes and a shift of venue in the late 1920s. It is a major task now to locate the unpublished parts of of works like the Sangeet Sudha Sagar and the Sangeet Samuccaya if they still survive.
With most of the repertoire of compositions of Dhrupad now lost or fragmented and distorted, it is a work of great importance to try to save whatever survives of books and unpublished manuscripts. Manuscripts of unpublished works that still survive have to be found, digitized and published. One can see from studying works written decades ago how ragas have gradually changed over time. Dhrupad singers who are traditionally trained and steeped in the knowledge of tradition can then use their training to reconstruct repair and restore compositions that have been distorted or lost and bring them back to life.
These works contain not only compositions but sargam and prastara exercises, instrumental gats, pakhawaj bols and a wealth of information on the concepts and grammar of music. They reveal unique insights into the concepts of music. For instance the Sarod Rasa Chandrika of 1938 written by a student of Tansen descendant Sarod player Amir Khan gives numerous instrumental compositions classified according to the four banis of Dhrupad. One of the rare instances of classification of compositions according to banis.
The complex charts and diagrams and the cryptic terminology in the handwritten Laya Prashna of Kudao Singh the originator of the Kudao Singh style of pakhawaj are scarcely intelligible to pakhawaj exponents today, yet similar diagrams and explanations in the Tala section of the Nad Vinod Granth of 1896 of Pannalal Goswami might give us the key to understanding Kudao Singh’s methods.
Texts like the Rag Prakash and Raga Kalpadrum give listings of texts of Dhrupad compositions and are invaluable for removing textual distortions in compositions as also reconstructing lost parts from fragments that survive in the oral tradition or in recordings.
I have over the last 30 years tried to find and digitize published and unpublished works with my own resources and hope that sometime soon a well funded systematic initiative can be launched to carry out this task on a war footing. Along with the digitization what needs to be done is a detailed indexing and creation of a database of all available material including audio and video recordings which dhrupad practitioners could use to regain lost knowledge.
On this link can be found a partial list of works that I have managed to digitize – Rare Books on Dhrupad . In the videos below are several examples of Dhrupad compositions that I found in such rare books and developed using my knowledge from tradition to use in my performances and teaching. – The main cost involved in the work of looking for rare books and manuscripts is of course travel. Many of the rare books have been found in the dusty shelves of old libraries and private collections in small towns. There are many places I need to go to – Lucknow, Baroda, Dhar, Ujjain, Calcutta to follow up leads. Donations supporting this work are welcome. Ashish Sankrityayan
Kathak Choreography by Vidyagauri Adkar to a Composition of Chaturbiharidas in Four Parts in Raga Barwa Tala Sultaal from Sangeet Chandrika of Gopeshwar Banerjee, Khajuraho Festival of Dances 2014
Odissi Choreography by Bithika Mistry to a Composition of Swami Haridas in Four Parts in Raga Bhimpalasi Tala Tivra from Sangeet Manjarl of Ramprasanna Banerjee, Khajuraho Festival of Dances 2014
Students of Ashish Sankrityayan Sing a Composition in Four Parts of Suratsen in Raga Yaman Tala Sultal from Sangeet Manjarl of Ramprasanna Banerjee
All articles on this blog © Ashish Sankrityayan. No part may be used except with written permission and explicit acknowledgement.
The complete official announcement of the new guidelines at the Madhya Pradesh Government’s flagship cultural center the Bharat Bhavan in Bhopal. These guidelines are already in place at the Bharat Bhavan and will soon be implemented at all cultural Institutions in the State. Copy obtained from the Madhya Pradesh Dept. of Culture. What appeared in newspapers were only summaries of the main features. These novel guidelines are unprecedented and have probably never been attempted in any cultural Institution in the country. Artists would do well to study them in detail since it has major implications for the entire Art and Culture Scenario in the country. PDF – Bharat Bhavan Guidelines Madhya Pradesh Culture High Res