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Reconstruction of Dhrupad Compositions with Four Parts

with 7 comments

Ramprasanna BannerjeeThe compulsion of giving short performances in the kind of festivals that are organized nowadays with three or four artists sharing the stage and the audience not staying on till late  and also the emphasis on improvisation is probably why often only one or at the most two parts of Dhrupad compositions are heard nowadays. Gradually the last two parts of many compositions have been forgotten since they are not often sung.  However since the last two parts are essentially variations of the first two, it should be possible to reconstruct them if the entire text of the composition is available.

In books like the Dhrupad Swaralipi of Shri Harinarayan Mukhopadhyay published(1929) and available on the link, or the Geet Vadya Saar Sangraha of Charucharan Mukhopadhyaya (1905) or the Nad Vinod Granth of Pannalal Goswami 1896 can be found the complete texts of many such compositions.

For example though there is no recording of all the four parts of the composition Bansidhara Pinakadhara sung in the Dagar Tradition in Multani, we can find the song text in the Dhrupad Swaralipi and reconstruct the entire composition since the third part is essentially a close variation of the sthayi and always begins with a characteristic hudak ornament spanning a large part of the octave from the lower to the middle. The fourth part is essentially like the second with slight variations. The words of the last two parts of this composition as given in the book (in Raga Shree) are -chandanadhara bhasmadhara maalaadhara sheshadhara gopivara parameshwara gopishwara ishwara. kahe miya taansen dou swaroopa ek tuma garudasana vrishavahana teenaloka kara uddhara. The Raga Vigyan of Vinayakrao Patwardhan gives the following lyrics for the last two parts – nandidhara garudadhara kailasdhara vaikunthadhara kahe baiju baware sunahu gunijana nisadina harihara dhyana uradhara.

A well trained Dhrupad singer should be able to reconstruct compositions in this way. Which again brings us to the important task of collecting all recorded and written material on Dhrupad and going about reconstructing whatever is possible.

Another frequently heard composition whose 3rd and 4th parts can be found in the Geet Vadya Saar Sangraha and the Sangit Manjari of Ramprasanna Bannerjee of Vishnupur (1935)  is – niranjana nirakara parabrahma parameshwara.  ek hi anek hoye vyapyo vishambhara. alakha jyoti avinashi jyoti rupa jagatarana. jagannatha jagatapati jagajivana jagadhara. baahi mein sab jiva jantu suranara muni guni gyani. nabhi kamal te brahma pragatayo shataroopa manvantara. kahe baiju vahi brahma vahi virata roopa vahi. aap avataar bhaye chaubis vapudhara.  The same composition can often be found in different Ragas in different traditions. The first book gives it in Raga Bhairava while the second lists it in Bhairavi.

Here is a  recording of the Elder Dagar Brothers singing alap in Sudhdha Rishabh Chandrakauns followed by this composition in a Radio broadcast from the 1960s.

A later recording of the Younger Dagar Brothers has both the sthayi and antara

Here are two more compositions commonly heard in the Dagar tradition with the first two parts along with the texts of all the four parts from the Nad Vinod Granth which could again be reconstructed by singers who are well trained in the tradition.

First two parts of Chowtal Composition in Bhimpalasi sung by the Elder Dagar Brothers

Text of all four parts from Nad Vinod Granth. There is a variant of the same in the Dhrupad Swarlipi mentioned above.Kunjana me rachyo raas chowtal dhrupad composition in Bhimpalasi Nad Vinod Granth of Pannalal Goswami 1896

The first two parts of a Dhrupad composition in Raga Bhupali in Chowtal sung by the Elder Dagar Brothers

Text of all four parts from Nad Vinod Granth. Dhrupad Composition in Chowtal Tan Talwar from Nad Vinod Granth Pannalal Goswami 1896

The Nad Vinod Granth is a valuable book with the texts of many dhrupad compositions and notations of instrumental gats and interesting prastara exercises in various Ragas. The notations of Ragas given in the book show how they have changed over more than a  century. However the book would have been infinitely more valuable had the author also included notations of the Dhrupad compositions instead of notations of only the gats and the prastara exercises.

The photos in this post show Ramprasanna Bannerjee  playing the Rudra Veena and his younger brother Gopeshwar Bannerjee of the Vishnupur Dhrupad Tradition. The world of Dhrupad will be eternally grateful to them for being farsighted enough to publish their two gemGopeshwar Bannerjee Dhrupad Singer and author Vishnupurs with Dhrupad compositions – The Sangit Manjari and the Sangit Chandrika.
All articles on this blog © Ashish Sankrityayan. No part may be used except with written permission and explicit acknowledgement.


7 Responses

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  1. With all due respect, it is absolutely incorrect to state that one hears only two parts of a dhrupad in performance. Musicians of the Bettiah gharana sing dhrupads with 4 parts all the time. There is less need to reconstruct bandishes from imagination when living musicians perform them. Secondly, collections such as the Sangit Samucchai, Sangit Chandrika and Sangit Manjari, Marifunnagammat all have hundreds of bandishes with 4 parts and these repertoires have a lot to do with the Bettiah and Vishnupur gharanas. I think a more accurate statement is that musicians of the Dagar tradition sings only two parts; since a large number of performers are from this tradition few people seem to be aware that 4 parts are not just common, they are required in other traditions that treat the pada as a central part of performance. It would be really nice to see mention of darbhanga artists and Bettiah artists such as Falguni Mitra and Indra Kishore Mishra on your links.

    Sumitra Ranganathan

    April 19, 2013 at 5:44 am

    • I stated clearly in my other blog entry on compositions with four parts that it is often said that singers of the Dagar tradition sing only two parts of compositions and then gave several examples to show that many compositions of the Dagar tradition actually have four parts which are however not always performed in concerts because of limitations of time and the emphasis of the Dagars on Alap and improvisation. This is the reason why these parts gradually get forgotten. About the books – The Marifunnagamat has mostly two part compositions and a few with four parts that were prevalent in North India with contributions by Dhrupad singers from Lucknow (Mohammad Ali Khan), Saharanpur (Abban Khan) and Kale Nazir Khan (Moradabad) – the first being of the Seni tradition of Lucknow and the last two disciples of the Dagars. The Chandrika and Manjari have mostly four part compositions and a also few with only two parts that are associated with traditions from eastern India from Bihar and Bengal. Dhamars often had two parts while some had four parts. Where all four parts exist in the memory of musicians nothing can be better. But where they have disappeared or are available in a fragmentary or distorted form we could try to reconstruct them from available texts. If musicians of the Bettiah tradition sing all four parts all the time then that is a wonderful thing. There were many other traditions which were not well known with many wonderful compositions – like of Abid Hussain Khan of Indore, Bharatji Vyas of Baroda and others. It is necessary to work to record and preserve whatever survives. I have a recording of Indra Kishor Mishra from a concert but I will have to interview him about his tradition before I can write anything about it. I have not come across the Sangit Samucchai yet and would be grateful if you could give me publication details.


      May 9, 2013 at 5:24 am

      • Thanks for clarifying. My main point only was that pada singing in Bettiah gharana is given a lot of emphasis so the 4 parts have survived and are always sung, yet common perception is that dhrupad today is just 2 parts. I very much appreciate your bringing out the research on the Dagar tradition that shows that they sang many 4 part songs. On a related note, I always wondered whether the Dagar tradition emphasizes bandish in teaching raga, or if they teach alap as the primary way of learning raga lakshana and lakshya. Sanyal and Widdess’s book gave some perspective on that, but it would be nice to learn your thoughts as well.

        The Sangit Samucchai was published by Bharat Kala Parishad in 1924, under the name of Binkar Shivendranath Basu. However, the preface describes the team effort involved in producing the book as they transcribed songs from living musicians of the traditions represented there – mainly Bettiah lineage of Shiv Dayal Mishra of Benares and ban dishes of Maharaja Viswanath Singh of Rewa (through Vaktavar Mishra). It is therefore a unique document for capturing details of musicians who are not remembered any more in dhrupad history. Dr. Rai Anand Krishna of Varanasi can speak about the background of the production of this text as it was done under his father’s aegis. For details of the songs, the best resource is Pt. Falguni Mitra – about half the songs in the Samucchai are a small representative of the repertoire of the Bettiah tradition of Shiv Dayal Mishra of Benares, which is distinct from the Bettiah lineage of Pt. Indra Kishore Mishra. Pt. Falguni Mitra’s father learnt from the Bettiah gharana lineage of Pt. Shiv Dayal Mishra in Benares, and also learnt alapchari for many years with Ustad Nasiruddin Khan Dagar Saheb. WRT dhamars, Pt. Indra Kishore Mishra sings only 4 part dhamars, and he sings them at a relatively slow tempo. He has quite a few of them, and they are quite interesting in terms of raga coverage.

        Sumitra Ranganathan

        May 15, 2013 at 12:58 am

      • Yes Pt Indrakishore Mishra told me when I met him in Bhopal in 1991 that his tradition is composition based. It is a real shame that the repertoire of compositions of Dhrupad has nearly disappeared now. One has to only see the Kalpadrum to know what a tiny fraction of compositions that were being sung in the 19th century remain now. I must say that the Dagar tradition has been lax with regard to preserving its own compositions. Many elders of the family were very conservative and refused to notate or record them while not even teaching them to anyone. Fahim Sab remembered only fragments of many compositions and sometimes he could not even remember the name of the Raga since he had not sung them for many years. Of course one reason was that the tradition laid great emphasis on alap.

        Traditionally in the Dagar tradition the training started with small repetitive exercises with sargam/aakar using a chain of beads (tezbi) to count the repetitions which went on for many years. There is a picture and video of Ustad Fahimuddin Dagar cleaning this chain which was used by his father and uncles. These exercises were taught with constant checking and corrections and embodied the whole technique, grammar and conceptual framework of the music. The alap training and compositions started after several years of this training with exercises . In the end came the shastra – the whole conceptual framework behind the music. This system in my opinion was developed keeping in view that the training started at the age of 5 or 6 years. While the training went on the child of course constantly heard alap and compositions being performed by the Gurus. Ustad Z. F. Dagar and Z. M . Dagar developed a system where the training of sargams was very short and quickly went on to alap and compositions. I use a combination of the two systems at the Dhrupad Kendra.


        May 17, 2013 at 4:10 am

  2. thank you for all the interesting information shared in here and especially for the sound clips. the rendition of the Senior Dagar Brothers is, as always, blissful. just to think that there are more than a handful of recordings of them out there made by AIR in the 1960’s is something to hope for that someday i will get to hear them in all their beauty and, at least for me, to once again feel humble and joyous that such music and people ever existed.


    April 25, 2013 at 2:43 pm

  3. first off, a dhrupad is a kind of pad-prosody. the alap has nothing to do with it.altogether a different discipline.Abdul fazal in ain e akbari defines it as 4 rhyming lines each metre free. the reason is simple. metrically bound poetry can easily be sung in short beat cycles of 4,5,6or 7 beats. long beat cycles are justified by metre free verse. ditto for khayal, tappa and some thumri compositions.

    there is also confusion about dhrupad and dhruvapad,both terms being used interchangeably. this is an error. a dhruvapad refers to a refrain in a verse. many editions of medieval poetry indicate the refrain with the word Dhruv or dhruvapad usually in the right hand margin.

    interestingly, sangitsahasras , published by the sahitya akademi of delhi contains 1004 dhrupad compositions…words only. compiled in the time of emperor shah jahan, the editor had problems with some words .their meaning.one wonders what even older compositions, if authentic, would have read like.

    another interesting thing. it is impossible to identify even one taal mentioned in sangitsahasras!

    scholarship on dhrupad ,which by the way is no older than maybe the 15th century , has a long day to go. it is also very difficult if not impossible in the absence of swaralipi to reconstruct.

    which should not prevent a present day performer from interpreting the material in her or his Owen way.

    nalini Francoise delvoye had done sterling work in searching dhrupafd manuscripts .

    jyoti s pande

    July 22, 2014 at 6:29 am

    • It is my view and was also the view expressed by my Guru Ustad Rahim Fahimuddin Dagar in numerous conversations some of which i have managed to record – that a composition is a model of exposition of the Raga that illustrates the various angs or facets of the raga. The same angs that are used in the alap are set to the lyrics of the composition and bound by its tala cycle. The composition serves as a model for creating melodic phrases in any kind of improvisation using the angs of the raga including of course the alap. Compositions were often created to illustrate specific aspects of the grammar of music. For example the composition prabala dala in Megh illustrates the vajra vakya. The composition Garaja Ghata Ghana in Megh has beautiful examples of the ornament muran. This is why a large repertoire of traditional compositions in a Raga gives a singer access to an enormous amount of melodic material of the raga to draw from and use in alap and also in improvisations on compositions themselves- all the usual and unusual facets of the Raga explored by many generations of singers and encapsulated in the compositions they created as musical statements to pass on to succeeding generations.
      As far as recreating compositions from texts is concerned, what is needed is at least a fragment that somehow survives in the oral tradition. If at least the stayi or a major part of it or better still both the sthayi and the antara is available from the oral tradition then the other parts can be intelligently reconstructed from texts by a well trained singer who is familiar with the grammar of the music. Without any surviving melodic material but only the text what can be done is to create a composition obeying the overall grammar of the music and the raga, that is new as far as the melody is concerned but with old lyrics.

      Of course in the oral tradition the melody of compositions also change with time leading to different versions of the same composition in different traditions and also in the same tradition – but mostly even in different traditions and in different ragas a composition still shows more or less the same division of its text and also the overall melodic structure. In notations written a century ago one can also see how the Ragas themselves change with time.


      July 22, 2014 at 1:15 pm

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