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The fall and rise of aradhana music

Dhrupad was neglected because of bad singers, says Ustad Zia Fariduddin Dagar, who has devoted his life to spreading the ancient art

Ustad Zia Fariduddin Dagar speaks softly. Sitting on a carpet, with his tanpuras around him, his gravelly voice breaks into song now and then.

The ustad comes from a family that has nurtured and preserved the dhrupad tradition for 20 generations, and this pride is reflected in everything he says. Born in Udaipur, Rajasthan, where his father Ustad Ziauddin Khan Dagar was a court musician, he learnt vocal and instrumental dhrupad music, but later decided to stick to vocal.

Each month, Fariduddin Dagar spends a fortnight in Mumbai, where he teaches at a dhrupad gurukul, and the other fortnight in Baroda, where he heads a dhrupad institute set up by the Madhya Pradesh government. Once in a while, when he is in Bangalore, he stays and teaches in Banashankari, at the house of his disciple Vandana.

Over tea at Vandana's house, Fariduddin Dagar answered several questions:

We've read that the dhrupad is a very old art form. Sometime in the 7th century ...

No, it comes from the Sam Veda. There used to be the chhand and prabhand, and the next language was dhrupad. Dhrupad is not temple music. It is aradhana (worship) music. Temples started coming up around the 5th or 6th century. There were no temples before that time. Dhrupad is not entertainment music.

They say northern music and southern music were very close at one time.

The music of the north and the south are not different. No history says they are different. In the south, dhrupad used to be sung. Before Thyagaraja's time ... Muthuswamy Dikshitar used to sing dhrupad, but no one learnt from him. I study history. Thyagaraja is a great poet, but the actual sangeetkar is Muttuswamy Dixitar. Before him there was a great nayak -- Nayak Gopal of Thanjavur, he went north. Then there was another nayak. Went to Jammu Kashmir -- Gopala.

Yet why isn't any interaction happening between dhrupad singers and Karnatak singers? Khayal and southern artistes, on the other hand, are regularly performing together..

Now there is no alaap in Karnatak music. The style is different now, it wasn't this way earlier. They do a bit of alaap, but how it used to be they have forgotten. Even in dhrupad only my family sings elaborate alaap.

But how do you explain khayal and Karnatak singers holding joint concerts?


Yes, like Balamurali and Bhimsen Joshi.

This is only for the media, for fame. A jugalbandi is very difficult. If a guru has two students and both of them sing together, something good can happen. Otherwise, you can't get the feeling. The purpose of a jugalbandi should be two students of the same guru performing -- Hindustani or Karnatak -- then the feeling is different. Even with instruments... people say there used to be veena, venu and vani. Three people. No other accompaniment. But now there's no purity even in khayal singing. Modifying the voice, going to Europe... If you look at Bharatiya sangeet, there's no experiment. Tradition bikar chuka hai. Many experiments are for other purposes, for fame. Many kalakars in the north talk of making a new raga. Ragas are already done, and not even a needle's eye can come in. Indian music is so strong, the music of the world is nothing before it. I have toured the world. The depth of Indian music is not seen anywhere else.

But then why do you think the dhrupad is not as popular as the khayal? So many artistes sing the khayal.

In the Mughal empire there were many vidwans from the south. Then when the British came they got scattered in small princely states. Art, any art -- painting, music, dance, architecture -- the kings used to preserve them. After Independence when the days of the princely states got over, many painters gave up painting... The kings used to take care of the needs of the artists, who didn't have to worry about earning their daily roti.

A period came around 1850 when dhrupad was being sung badly. They were screaming in the temples. People began saying, "Is dhrupad like this?". And things got worse. Earlier, about 50 years ago, all khayal singers first learnt dhrupad and then moved to khayal. The dhrupad is rising again. It is coming back because our family is training younger people. It is a difficult subject. It is very difficult to find a proper guru.

You mean Ustad Abdul Karim Khan and Ustad Alladiya Khan knew dhrupad?

Not Abdul Karim Khan, but definitely Alladiya Khan. My family spread out in three branches. My great greatgrandfather could play all instruments. He first learnt the veena, and then vocal. We can trace the roots of dhrupad everywhere.

Abdul Karim Khan was a sarangi player. My grandfather was a great veena player. His name was Bande Khan sab. Abdul Karim Khan came to him and said he wanted to learn the veena, but my grandfather said no, you learn singing. This is Kirana gharana -- this is my gharana. Allauddin Khan Sab was a student of my grandfather's grandfather Behram Khan. They all have connections. Our cousins were asked to learn the veena, and people from that family came and learnt vocal.

Was there any competition between veena players and singers, the two streams?

No, but there used to be jugalbandis. My grandfather and great grandfather used to perform together. My brother Zia Mohiuddin and I used to perform together, and my brother's son Bahauddin is learning from me.

You mean there was no rivalry?

(Laughs) No, never.

After Independence, when India became a democratic country, you feel many of these arts have suffered and not bloomed as they should have?

Difference aa gaya. In the maharajas' time, daily cares were taken care of. Musicians could do their sadhana. There was no financial anxiety. Now for money we have to go from place to place, like postmen! Kalakars and sadhaks are not the same. A sadhak is immersed in music, not worried about whether he has anything to eat or not. A kalakar says I play the sitar, it's very great. But it has no heart. Take an example. You listen to Ravi Shankar? Nikhil Bannerjee? They are from the same group. Ravishankar emphasises enjoyment, doesn't touch the heart. But when Nikhil starts, there's no consideration of what clothes he is wearing. He just closes his eyes. This is music. He was a sadhak -- never cared whether he would get a programme, or where he was going, or whether he was meeting the pradhan mantri. These things are mere superficial glamour. A sadhak doesn't care whether he met the president or came on TV with the prime minister. For him only two things matter -- god and music. No one has seen Ishwar, his face, his colour. Music is the same, no one has seen it. But you have a feeling -- it's cold, or it's hot. Shiva, Krishna, Rama, whatever... Ishwar is one, he is neither born, nor does he die.

You say your roots are very Hindu, but the Talwandi branch of dhrupad music claims Islamic origins.

The best singer, the best painter, the best architect knows no religion.

Any trouble from fundamentalists on either side?

No one has troubled me, no Hindu, no Muslim, no Christian... they all love my music. Earlier, my family was Hindu. We were brahmins. During Rangeele Shah's time, before the British came, we got converted. My grandfather's grandfather Behram Khan's father was a Hindu -- Baba Gopal Das. He's the one in the white beard in the book you're holding. Roughly in early the 1700s. We have a gotra -- Vishwamitra. There was a practice: the badshah never said to musicians you can leave. The way to tell them was to place a pan beeda on a plate. My ancestor accepted it and so they removed us from the caste. A brahmin would not even eat from another brahmin's hand. To this day our family sings at the temples. We sing with the same feeling.

There was a Pathan from Afghanistan. He saw a picture of Krishna. He said, "Arre baap! How can anyone be so handsome?" He came looking for Krishna. He used to speak Pushto, but when he came to India he became the greatest scholar in brajbhasha. He wrote such beautiful poetry. His name is Ras Khan.

There is a perception that the dhrupad's form is very rigid, and that khayal has become very popular because of the freedom it affords the performer?

If people sing dhrupad correctly, this impression will go. Alladiya Khan had learnt dhrupad, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan had learnt the sarangi, then learnt the dhrupad...

In khayal singing they use the sarangi or the harmonium as accompaniment. Why is it that you use no accompanying instrument in dhrupad?

When we sing, what we are trying to do is show the swara. Minute changes in shruti can't be picked up by the sarangi. Only venu or vina can follow well. What kind of shadja or gandhar should you hold? The same in the south, difficult to pick up the subtleties. Southern gayaki is so beautiful (sings a long stretch of raga Shankarabharanam).

Would you say that some ragas are more suited to dhrupad than others?

No, everything is in the singer. All ragas are good. They say this raga has this ras. This is karuna, veer, shanth. If there is no ras in the singer, what ras can the raga have? They say this is bhakti ras, but I can sing sringar, sometimes karuna, sometimes bring veer. All rasas should be in the same rag. We are doing aradhana to god. If all these rasas are not seen in a raga, what is the use? You can sing a raga in any of four or five ways. It is like a family, if I am angry I can slap him, I can plead with him, I can fall at his feet, press his legs.

So it is not correct to say that one emotion is specific to a raga?

All ragas have all emotions.

But ragas with komal swaras are believed to be sad when compared to ragas with just shuddha swaras. Do yo agree with this idea?

I haven't heard such an idea. It's all in the singer. Whatever, it may be a komal ga or whatever, but what can the komal swar do if there's no feeling in you?

But they say a raga like Bilaskhani Todi shouldn't be sung with too many taans or made too lively and brisk.

I too sing Bilaskhani Todi. I can sing it with liveliness. When I sing with josh, what feeling I get!

You mean it all depends on how the singer is feeling that day? Whether he sings it with josh or in a prayerful way?

Now many singers sing -- I am not criticising -- they sing for concerts. One hour is my time. Run up and down three octaves, clap your hands, come in the media. Or sit with ten people, sing, the disciple starts crying -- this is drama.

Tell us about your gurukula in Bombay.

Students say they come to understand music. They learn well. There's the Bhopal school too, run by the MP government. I've been teaching for 20 years. Gundecha Bandhu learnt from there. Students come for four years. Get scholarship. We see how devoted they are to it. No one in the government comes and asks what I have taught or not. They say ask the gurus, they can keep you or sack you. Four years, at the end of which they give a programme, journalists come, listen. After that, it is up to them.

And what is the difference between the Bhopal institute and your gurukul in Bombay?

They are the same. I spend 15 days there and 15 days here.

Does travelling tire you?

No. I do it every month -- it's like going from Chembur to Dadar. It has become a habit. People say you will be tired, but I will do it till I can.

Does the Maharashtra government help the Bombay gurukul?

If a good student comes along, the Zia Mohiuddin Dagar Trust gives a scholarship.

Among the musicians of today who do you think sings or plays from the heart?

That is difficult to say, people will complain that Dagar sab said such a thing... Theek hai... In the media things are coming that our children should not see.

Would a family like yours, so immersed in music, allow children to become anything other than musicians?

They can do anything they like. A child can do what he likes. Take Bahauddin. Off and on he saw his father and uncle playing, and I was singing. He was always listening. My student and very great film maker Mani Kaul came and said I am making a film called Dhrupad. Others show Khan sab, with wife, eating pan, camera follows him... but Mani Kaul is not like that. For the first time Bahauddin played the veena. When Mani Kaul took the first shot of the film, he got Bahauddin. His father started singing Malkauns and he started playing it. After that no one asks him to practise, he does it on his own. His uncles' sons are not doing it, saying it is too difficult.

Do you teach the daughters in the family?

No. But the two of us brothers had decided that if ever we had daughters we would teach them music. I am not married -- and I could still get married -- if that happens I will teach my daughters. In any case all the women in our family have musical knowledge.

S R Ramakrishna

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