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Tara Kini, a musician and scholar, has spent many years studying why Dhrupad has the ability to send listeners into a state of meditation and calm. The secret, she finds, lies in the unwavering purity of notes held by its musicians
I heard Dhrupad sung by the Dagar brothers when I was very young and felt a deep sense of calm after the recital. The whole phase of alap (expansion ) was fascinating for what it could do to the mind. Thirty years ago, I heard the Gundecha brothers in Bangalore and midway through the alap they stopped to retune their tanpura - it was like a jolt to the deeply meditative mood that the music had created.
I asked myself what is the connection between Dhrupad alap and consciousness?
What sort of training do the singers themselves undergo to create music such as this? Many years later, I spoke to Dhrupad singers Uday Bhawalkar and the Gundechas to divine some answers.
Uday Bhawalkar revealed the intense rigour of Swar Sadhana that they practised as students of dhrupad under the tutelage of Ustads Zia Fariduddin and Zia Moiuddin Dagar. Every morning, at four am, they sang only the base note shadja or sa for an hour.
Nothing else. This required persistence and unwavering concentration. After months of this sadhana, the note began to unravel and Uday discovered the width of the note. He found an entire universe within that one note. As he explored the note he had the experience of becoming one with the raga itself.
Ramakant Gundecha went a step further and analysed how this happens. In dhrupad singing, a Raga is created, not by the combination of notes, but by the accurate placement of each note. A Dhrupad singer has to experience the width of a note and know exactly where it has to be placed in each raga. For example the Komal Dhaivat of Raga Bhairav is placed differently from the Komal Dhaivat of Raga Jaunpuri. This causes the placement of the rest of the notes in the raga to shift as well. So much so, that the sa, which is the tonic, shifts to accommodate the other notes.
The kind of focus needed to achieve this level of accuracy is profound and is developed over years of intense sadhana by a dhrupad practitioner. You can see why Dhrupad sends listeners into a state of meditation. The singer has to achieve a deep sense of stillness to achieve the accuracy that his music demands. This sense of stillness is communicated to the listener who experiences the alap as meditation, calming and healing.
Uday told me that once, after a concert, a listener walked up to him and said that he was so dismayed with his life he was contemplating suicide. However, the music had instilled such a sense of calm in him it had wholly transformed his mood. Imagine the power of Uday's singing for it to communicate itself to a troubled stranger thus.
In any kind of music, the singer's energy has to reach the audience. For there to be a high degree of accuracy in the music, there has to be stillness in the mind of the artist, which conveys to the audience. This is one reason why it is so popular across the world - the Czech mind can comprehend its stillness, so can the African and the American. This is the basis for our classical music - to connect an individual with his own spirit and with the cosmos at large. It also takes you away from the mundane world.
Which is why it makes you feel so peaceful.
We say that Dhrupad music is for atmaranjan (pleasure of the soul) not manoranjan (pleasure of the mind). Not that there is anything lowly about light or Bollywood music. Of course it makes you happy, makes you want to dance, but to find music that is uplifting - that takes you to a different plane of consciousness, that is very special. You need the perfection and rigour that dhrupad training and singing provide to achieve that.
As told to Malini Nair
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