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DHRUPAD Dhrupad (Sanskrit, dhruva pada, "fixed words," i.e., "refrain") is a North Indian vocal and instrumental musical genre and one of the oldest documented South Asian mediums of performance. The modern dhrupad probably descends from a form (dhurva) mentioned in the Nātyashāstra that developed in the Gwalior region (central Indo-Gangetic Plain) and probably reached a peak of popularity in the sixteenth century. Most dhrupads are religious in nature, praising Hindu gods (particularly Krishna) although some texts praise kings.

The dhrupad tradition is arguably a consequence of both secular and sacred contexts, playing an important role in the multitude of royal courts in pre-independence India and in sacred traditions such as havelī sangīt, the devotional music of the Vallabhacarya Vaisnavas of north-central and northwestern India. In havelī sangīt, dhrupad still serves as liturgical praise, with its text drawn primarily from the Gītā Govinda. The musicians (often hereditary), who lead the worship, sing each line of the devotional dhrupad(accompanying themselves on the pakhāwaj ), and then repeat the line with the congregation. The twentieth century saw a resurgence of interest in dhrupad as a concert feature through performances by members of the Dagar family and artists such as Ustad Asad Ali Khan.

Musical Structure

The performance of dhrupad almost always begins with an introductory, free-time ālāp, which can range from a brief affirmation of the melodic underpinnings of the performance (in religious contexts) to elaborate note-by-note explorations of the possibilities inherent in the underlying pitch resources of rāga (melody). The concert dhrupad ālāp generally has two sections: the first (the ālāp of the ālāp) has the usual pattern of a growing pitch ambitus in free tempo, and the second (the nomtom or jor), an unmeasured, but pulsed, presentation of the rāga.

The metered portion (i.e., involving tāla, cyclical musical time) of the dhrupad begins with the bandish("contrivance," or "plot"), a fixed musical statement generally composed of four sections, although some dhrupads have only the first two parts. The first and most important section is the sthā'ī (stable), the phrase to which the composition repeatedly returns and that usually occupies the purvang (lower tetrachord) of the rāga. As with many Indian musical terms, sthā'ī has more than one meaning. Sthā'ī is similar to the Karnatak term pallavi.

The second part of the bandish, the antarā (Sanskrit, "intermediate," or "contrast"), complements the sthā'ī and often occupies the uttarāng (upper tetrachord) of the rāga, ideally stabilizing the upper tonic. In instances where the sthā'ī occupies the uttarāng, the antarā may reside in the purvāng or subtonic range (mandra).

In a full bandish, the two additional sections parallel and imitate the sthā'ī and antarā in form and function. The first, the sañcārī (Sanskrit, "wandering"), occupies the mandra and is often parallel to or nearly identical with the sthā'ī. The second, the ābhog (Sanskrit, "fullness"), often contains material from the antarā and returns the composition to the sthā'ī.

At the completion of the bandish, dhrupadiyas (performers of dhrupad) in a concert setting generally launch into a series of improvisations based on material that they juxtapose with the sthā'ī. Many describe this section of improvisation as the bolbanao (Hindustani, bol "syllable" + banna "composed"), mentioning three kinds of improvisation: laykāri, bol-bānt, and bol-tān.

Laykārī (Hindustani, laya "tempo" or "rhythm" + kārnā "to do") is an improvisational style in which the performer concentrates on the tāl and on rhythmic figures that complement the listener's rhythmic and metric expectations.

Bol-bānt (Hindustani, bol "syllable" + bāntnā, "to distribute" or "to apportion") or bol-banāo (word making) are variations on the composition involving the partition or distribution of words. Commonly, a performer will present an entire section of the composition as a unit in its given tune (or in other configurations suitable to the rāga) and then systematically reduce the time values by a half, a third, and a quarter of their original length (dugun lay, tigun lay, and caugun lay).

Bol tān (Hindustani, bol "syllable" + tān "exercise") is a melodic embellishment with words from the composition. In this type of variation, the original words of the composition are vehicles for the presentation of phrases showing the rāga (usually in laykārī style).

Performance Practice

The accompaniment for dhrupad has some interesting and unique features. In addition to the ubiquitous drone of the tamburā common to almost all classical music, the most characteristic accompaniment for dhrupad is the double-ended, hand-beaten drum, the pakhāwaj. Unlike other performance idioms within the Hindustāni sangīt paddhati, the drummer often plays elaborate passages (usually extended cadences) for much of the metered performance (depending on the repertoire and the tastes of the soloists).

When dhrupad singers look for melodic instrumental accompaniment, they often chose the sārangī (a bowed, short-necked lute with three gut melody strings and a host of sympathetic strings), although in some cases the bansri (flute) or harmonium appears in the ensemble. The principal method of melodic accompanying is to heterophonically trail the singer in improvisations, to play in unison during the bandish, and to fill in during those times when the singer(s) are silent.

Solo instrumental performances of dhrupad commonly feature the bin (Sanskrit, vīnā, "lute"), a practice that attests to the historic ties of this genre with India's musical heritage. These performances, commonly with pakhāwaj accompaniment, parallel vocal performances, substituting a jor section (melodic notes and phrases alternating with strokes on an instrument's drone strings) in place of the nomtom (composed of rhythmic nonlexical syllables) for the pulsed but unmetered exploration of the rāga.

Gordon Thompson

See alsoĀlāp ; Music ; Rāga ; Vina


Meer, Wim Van Der. Hindustani Music in the Twentieth Century. New Delhi: Allied Publishers, 1980.

Thielemann, Selina. The Darbhanga Tradition: Dhrupada in the School of Pandit Vidur Mallik. Varanasi: Indica Books, 1997.