Dhrupad is the oldest form of North-Indian classical music. Its origin is linked with the recitation of the sacred syllable Om and the Vedic sutras. Throughout centuries Dhrupad has been practised both vocally and instrumentally in temples and later on at the North-Indian courts. After India’s independence, when the many small kingdoms were replaced by the present democracy, much of its performance ceased to exist.
Studying Dhrupad is very time consuming and characterized by an oral tradition in which a master teaches his pupil. It is a refined and meditative musical form, which gradually developed into a highly sophisticated and challenging musical discipline.
Also today, in the 21st century, Dhrupad’s artistic and spiritual expressiveness is widely appreciated. Though convincingly a powerful musical form, Dhrupad invites both musicians and public into a state of stillness and contemplation.
Dhrupad performance begins with an improvised exposition of the Raga (melody), called Alap. 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 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 Raga.
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).