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Relevance of srutis and importance of tanpura, discerning the subtle nuances that reveal the personality of the raga
Dhrupad is one of the oldest forms of Indian classical music from which all other forms of Indian classical music are derived. It is considered one of the authentic traditional music and it stands on its ancient old technique which is relevant till this date, till the computer age. The human mind, the computer mind is still searching its sensitivity and accuracy. As the tones are contemporary of all times, so is the dignity of the art form that has been forever maintained. This art form is presented with three instruments. Two of them are the lute-like drone, the tanpuras which are played constantly throughout the rendering of the raga. The third is the pakhawaj, a wooden double-headed drum which is also a century old percussion instrument. Its sound coincides very well with the style of dhrupad singing or playing.
Indian music has the raga, the musical structure, and each musical structure has in one octave seven notes in ascending and descending order. Every octave contains the seven notes, and beyond the seven major notes, there are another five positions of notes bringing it to twelve universal notes. In Indian music we have the freedom of selecting the pitch in or outside these major calculative tones. From our selected pitch, there starts the octave and in any particular raga, within the octave, there could be 7 notes, 6 notes, 5 notes. The raga structure is created within the octave in ascending and descending order. Within this structure there can be omission of some notes, according to the particular pattern of the selected structure.
Ragas have their own domain or identity which is recognized by the practitioners. In every raga there is an important note or supporting note which is applied again and again in almost all the phrases. It is so familiar with the performers, the learners and scholars that they can recognize the raga with the slightest whispering tone. Raga’s identity has been observed and preserved and absorbed in such a way that everybody has one’s own way of identification, of observation, like every individual is being recognized and observed by each one of us in a different way, yet the selected person or the raga remains the same.
Swara, the tone, the soothing sound as it is most often interpreted, or the soul-searching, ear-pleasing, mind-relaxing or even mind-blowing tone, is what from behind the same note brings life to all living beings. This is what I call the swara, the tone.
This is all what can be discussed and talked about during this time: the impression, expression, and direction, presentation and exposition of dhrupad or raga or microtonality, in a practical way. I will select few ragas and show how, in quite similar structures, when different emphasis is put on different notes, it gives different impression, expression and perception. The different approaches will be explored in one same raga, by the same artiste or in the recordings of selected musicians in the family. I will show how variations in the same phrase bring out different meanings. The importance of the microtones, of the practice and of the tanpura will be highlighted.
Ustad F. Wasifuddin Dagar lives and works in Delhi. He is the President of the DHRUPAD SOCIETY and the moving force behind the DAGAR BROTHERS MEMORIAL TRUST. Through the yearly Dhrupad Samarohs and regular Guru-Shishya Parampara Festivals that he organises, he has perpetuated the oral tradition of teaching that was threatened due to changing times and musical tastes, and has revived the hope in students that dhrupad is a promising career. Through his music education sessions with younger people and his tours and CDs, he contributed to the promotion and documentation of dhrupad for music lovers and scholars. In 2003, his CD for the UNESCO helped bring Dhrupad back on the world music scene, thanks to which this prestigious international institution is now considering to include Dhrupad on its list of "World Intangible Heritage". In 2010 he was conferred the Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian award given by the Government of India.
He is the son and nephew of the DAGAR BROTHERS (Ustad N. Zahiruddin and Ustad N. Faiyazuddin Dagar). Wasifuddin Dagar started his musical training at an early age, pursued it with great dedication along with his formal education, then committed himself exclusively to music from the mid-eighties onwards, remaining fully aware of the fact that learning is a lifelong process. He was taught according to the guru-shishya parampara, the time tested oral tradition followed in his gharana. He himself started teaching students in the same way. Some are now dhrupad singers in their own right.
In a Guru Shishya Parampara Festival at Bhopal in 1988, he gave his maiden concert in front of his gurus, his uncle and father, the DAGAR BROTHERS. This was the starting point of his musical career. After the death of his father in 1989, he joined his uncle and they performed and recorded as Dagar Duo in India and abroad. Since 1994, after the death of his uncle, he has been teaching and also performing, touring and recording in solo. In 1984, no other Society or Festival was exclusively dedicated to the presentation of dhrupad in its varied and rich facets. Thus, the Dhrupad Society was formed, aiming at creating a platform for dhrupad exponents and at giving an opportunity to listeners to get a first hand experience of dhrupad concerts of all living gharanas.
Wasifuddin Dagar at a young age received awards and accolades usually reserved for musicians of the older generation. He has been invited to become a Life Member of the Board of Societies with a social commitment like "Navdanya" of Prof. Vandana Shiva and "M.L.Sondhi Memorial Trust". Often he has been a judge in Colleges, Universities and TV music competitions. He is ad hoc external examiner at All India Radio, New Delhi. He has a few "premiere" to his credit. In 1999, a unique case in Indian classical music recordings, he recorded for Jecklin, Switzerland, a 5 CDs album of nine ragas sung at their appropriate time. In 2000, he sang at the United Nations Peace Summit of Religious and Spiritual Leaders in New York as a representative of ancient Indian sacred music. He was invited to perform in New York for the World Festival of Sacred Music of H.H. the Dalai Lama. It was co-curated by Philip Glass and John Shaeffer of WNYC Radio and archived on the Web.
In Paris, France, the prestigious College de France conferred upon him the title of Dr.. Honoris Causa for the excellence of his presentation on dhrupad. Rajasthan, the land of his ancestor Baba Behram Khan Dagar has recognised his services for the promotion of dhrupad by conferring upon him various awards including "Virasat" and the "Rajasthan Gaurav" handed over by the Chief Minister himself. In 2007, he was selected by the American satellite radio, WorldSpace for their "Worldspace Honours 2007" for his "outstanding contribution in popularising and keeping the flame of most ancient gayaki genre, dhrupad-dhamaar burning." As a mark of appreciation they featured him and his family tradition in a 6 hour documentary.
Since 1989, he has extensively travelled in Europe, America, Japan and recorded CDs with world famous labels, Indian and foreign: MUSIC TODAY (India, 1991 as Dagar Duo with his uncle, Ud N. Zahiruddin Dagar, and in solo in 1995); JECKLIN (Switzerland, 1999); RagaRecords (USA 2001); UNESCO (France, 2003); SENSE (UK, 2004 and 2006) and NAVRAS, UK (2009)