Dhrupad is the oldest existing form of Indian classical music. The nature of Dhrupad is spiritual - its purpose is aradhana (worship). Seeking not to entertain, but to induce deep feelings of peace and contemplation in the listener.
Its origin is linked to the recitation of Sama veda , the sacred Sanskrit text. Dhrupad probably evolved from the earlier chanting of Om , the sacred syllable which is claimed to be the source of all creation. Later, the rhythmic chanting of the Vedic scriptures evolved into singing of Chhanda and Prabandha.
One significant characteristic of Dhrupad is the emphasis on maintaining purity of the ragas and the swaras.
According to some accounts, Dhrupad was sung in temples, the singer facing the divinity. From this early chanting, Dhrupad evolved into a sophisticated, classical form of music. The language of Dhrupad changed from Sanskrit to Brijbhasha sometime between the 12th and the 16th century.
About six centuries ago, Dhrupad came to be patronized by the royal courts and its complex rendering became highly sophisticated for royal audiences. The compositions became more secular. Some were written in praise of the emperors ; others were elaboration on the music itself. However, the pristine nature of Dhrupad survived. Even today we hear this majestic form of music performed like it was more than 500 years ago in the royal courts of the emperors and kings of India.
Dhrupad is a medieval genre of Indian Classical Music, mainly practiced in Northern India. The tradition grew up under the royal patronage in the courts of famous kings like Mansingh of Gwalior, Jahangir, Akbar and many others.
The word Dhrupad/Dhruvapadais derived from the literal conjunction of the terms – Dhruvaand Pada: Dhruvais an essential part of the poem, which acts as the refrain of the song-text, while Pada means text of the song - the philosophy and the message of the poet-composer.
History of Dhrupadtraces back its spiritual relationship with the tradition of chanting vedic verses and rendition of Pravandha - an ancient form of Sanskrit verses, which paved the way for the concept of writing and composing texts of Dhrupad. Thetradition of Dhrupad took a definite shape of repertoire around five hundred years before under able guidance of Swami Haridas – a highly regarded saint-musician, poet, composer and teacher. Handfuls of his students have devoted their life for the propagation of Dhrupad culture in North India. Tansen, Baiju, Gopal Nayak were the few among illustrious performers and composers who had the tutelage of Swami Haridas, and established the culture of Dhrupad as the most sophisticated and subtle form of musical rendition. The texts of Dhrupad include philosophy, mythology, nature, and various aspects of life and music. They are mostly written in Braj language. The immense treasure of this literature bears the testimony of the cultural values of medieval India, reflecting the image of the entire culture of the country.
A Dhrupad performance begins with an improvised exposition of the Rag(melody), called Alap – a complete form of extempore manifestation of the artist. Tanpura is an essential drone instrument to accompany this music. Alap is adorned with syllables without definite meaning, whose vocal rendering create the impression a song.
Alap is divided into three parts: slow Alap, followed by Jod set to medium tempo and Jhala set to fast tempo. The long held notes of the first part of Alap permits the experience of dwelling in each interval to create tonic shades. In this process, artists are allowed to experience unlimited possibilities of melodic combinations. The melody is gradually unfolded, with tonic phrases moving down to the lower register and then gradually progressing towards the middle and upper register, adorned with subtle tonal embellishments, characterizing the Rag.
The introduction of pulse by the performer is continued in the progression of Jod and Jhala with different rhythmic patterns. After Alap, song text with prefixed composition is presented with the accompaniment of a percussion instrument, the Pakhawaj. Performers cherish this part of rendition with improvisations, embellished with numerous rhythmic variations called Upaj. Musicians add beauty to the form of rendition by manipulating the words of the poem to create intricate subdivisions (layakari). Pakhawaj players follow and balance these variations with their own patterns of improvisation to make it livelier.
Dhrupad embodies a distinguished manifestation of Swara (notes), Tala (rhythm) and Pada (poem). The transitions from the placid state of slow Alap to the most exciting and energetic presentation of the composition reveals the sublimity of this rendition style, adorned with all aesthetic qualities. Dhrupad is a blending of the delicate, soft and strong nuances of rendition, which leaves an indelible experience of absolute ecstasy. It is a comprehensive form of music, which carries all the essential qualities of a vocal and instrumental recital; it is a powerful medium for the delineation of Rasa (aesthetics).