Dhrupad is a form of performance music that traces its origins to the ancient Sanskrit Vedic hymns. It flourished during the Mughal era, evolving in the imperial courts of Northern India. The foundations of Dhrupad music lie in Vedic chants and voice techniques based on yoga, imbuing it with a contemplative and introspective tone. Yet, it can also evoke a wide range of human emotions, with lively, playful, and dynamic portions.
The tonal system of Dhrupad employs resonance coloring and microtones, creating a unique emotional intensity. A Dhrupad performance is an improvisational elaboration of a raga, using syllables to abstractly represent linguistic, phonetic, and speech processes.
The word Dhrupad is derived from Dhruva, the steadfast evening star, and Pada meaning poetry. In the conception of Indian classical music, Dhrupad has been an important point of departure. Normally, Dhrupad is known only by its literary meaning. Conceptually, however, it has a different meaning: it refers to and emphasizes the circulatory construction of our music. Dhruva means unmoving. It implies the return of the Swara (tonal), Kala (time), and Shabda (textual) trajectories to a fixed point. This was an innovative thought when compared to its predecessors. All music existent today has attained this stature of construction because of Dhrupad. Perhaps this is the reason Dhrupad is considered the soul of Indian music. In the old compositions, they contain an indication to repeat the initial text phrases. The word ‘Dhruva’ is as old as the Natya Shastra itself in which we find a separate chapter on Dhruva-Geeta. In the Natya Shastra, Bharata Muni describes Dhruvas as songs that are referential in their structure. Dhruva means a pole, a standpoint, or a locus of reference, primarily The other meaning is that it has certain fixed rules for execution.
Dhrupad portrays a vast range of human emotions: serenity, compassion, sensuality, pathos, strangeness, anger and heroism, and subtle shades of them all. In Dhrupad of the Dagar tradition, the notes are not treated as fixed points, but as fluid entities with infinite microtonal shades. The music is deeply meditative. The Dagar style of Dhrupad is defined by 52 musical concepts or Arkaans (12 basic alankaras and 40 more). These include concepts like Udatta, Anudatta, Svarita, Sapta Gupta, Sapta Prakata, Sakari, etc. which have all but disappeared from Indian classical music and even from Dhrupad.
Dhrupad is typically performed in two parts: Alap & Bandish. A Dhrupad performance starts with the Alap which is a slow and elaborate development of a Raga using free-flowing melodic patterns. The elaboration of Dhrupad alap is done using the syllables of a mantric phrase 'Om antaran twam, taran taaran twam, hari Om ananta narayan Om'. These syllables are used in a specific way to clarify the rendering of the raga by providing different possible vocal timbres for different pitches. The speed of the Alap gradually increases with the introduction of an acceleration rhythmic pulse that builds to a point where the melodic patterns literally dance in space. The Bandish is a short poem accompanied by Pakhawaj, (a horizontal double-headed drum) and set to a cyclic rhythmic meter known as Tala. The common Talas of Dhrupad are Choutala (12 beats), Dhamara (14 beats), Jhaptala (10 beats), Sultala (10 beats), Tivra (7 beats). The poems are usually devotional or amorous in nature, but they can also specify ways of using Raga, Tala, Swara, and Laya. During the Bandish the singer develops the improvisations in the melody and rhythm, diving the cycle systematically. The intricate patterns and improvisations woven by the singer and Pakhawaj player create a dialogue often plays against or complements one another.