About dhrupad

Dhrupad is a mediaeval musical art form regarded as one of the major traditions of Indian culture and the core of Indian classical music, mainly practiced in Northern India. The origin of dhrupad can be traced back to the tradition of prabandha, the chanting of Sanskrit verses. This tradition evolved into the writing and composing of texts and dhrupad music. The dhrupad genre took a definite shape around five hundred years ago under the guidance of Swami Haridas (c. 1512–1575), who was a highly regarded saint-musician, poet, composer and teacher. Tansen (c. 1500–1586) and Baiju (16th century) rank among the illustrious performers and composers who had the tutelage of Swami Haridas and contributed to establish the culture of dhrupad as the most sophisticated and subtle form of classical musical rendition. This musical genre developed under royal patronage in the courts of famous kings and emperors such as Man Singh Tomar of Gwalior, Jahangir and Akbar among others. Since its inception in the 16th century, dhrupad tradition maintained uninterrupted legacy, the knowledge of this music being passed over the centuries by the masters through oral transmission. Essentially guided by the principles and practices laid down in old musical treaties, this genre is the most pristine form of Northern Indian classical music that has maintained its indigenous tradition.

The Dagar tradition

Baba Behram Khan (?–1878) is highly regarded as the founder of the Dagar-vani — or Dagar tradition. His father, Gopal Das Pandey (alias Imaan Khan), was also a dhrupad singer. However, it was Behram Khan who developed, refined and established this repertoire of singing and playing.

Alap plays a very important role in the melodic improvisation of the Dagar-vani. This tradition has a very intricate and complex system of rhythmic improvisation, in conformity with the mood of melody and song-text. The whole process of alap in the Dagar tradition is like a meditation, immerging into the mood of the melody through extempore manifestation of creativity. In course of alap, endless myriad total patterns are created by the application of intonation and variable micro-tones. The emphasis is on developing each note with purity and clarity. To quote Ustad Zia Fariduddin Dagar:

“Alap entails the search to get the most perfect pitch of every note. It takes you into a sort of meditation in which you are lost in the waves of sound and forget everything. There remains only sound.”

Voice culture is an essential discipline of this tradition with the first course of practice starting pre-dawn and usually finishing before sunrise. Prescribed methods and courses are followed at different times of the day for efficient voice training. In the Dagar tradition, singing and playing both are practiced with equal importance, voice and the rudraveena (a lute instrument), complement each other. According to the principles of the Dagar tradition, voice is considered to be a sort of veena and is termed gatra-veena. Right intonation, application of micro-tones appropriated for the melodic mood is another significant feature of the Dagar-vani.


Jugalbandi is a musical experience in Indian classical music that features a pair of solo musicians playing music of the same genre. The word jugalbandi means literally “entwined twins”. Unlike a solo musical performance, this duet musical experience can be described as a process of exchanging energy between the participating musicians, which augments the artistic creation of two different persons for a common melody and mode. The encounter between two soloists in such an event becomes a magnificent musical experience for ardent connoisseurs, as they get to observe and listen to the musical dialogue between the musicians.

Duet musical experience in dhrupad tradition can be traced back to the 19th century. There were several duos, who shared their musical experiences through the ages and established themselves as accomplished duo performers with various combinations of instrumentalists and vocal musicians. Ustad Allahbande Khan and Ustad Zakiruddin Khan Dagar, Ustad Nasir Moinuddin Khan Dagar and Ustad Nasir Aminuddin Khan Dagar, Ustad Nasir Zahiruddin Khan Dagar and Ustad Nasir Faiyazuddin Khan Dagar are a few to mention among the popular vocal duos in the Dagar tradition. The duet musical experience of Ustad Zia Mohiuddin Dagar and Ustad Zia Fariduddin Dagar established an example of jugalbandi of the rudraveena (a lute instrument) and vocal rendition, which had been widely appreciated and cherished by the audience in India and abroad as a unique combination of a vocal and instrumental art.

Copyright © Pandit Nirmalya Dey 2019