Saturday, December 22, 2007

Prof. Ashok Ranade -- "Dhrupad represents the precomposed tendency in Hindustani music"

Approved transcript of an interview 
with Deepak Raja on August 19, 1998.

In this discussion, I am happy to explore some themes related to Dhrupad, which are in circulation today, and enjoy varying degrees of popularity amongst different categories of audiences.

Conventionally, such discussions begin with its origin. In my opinion, it is not proper or valid to associate the word "origin" with the emergence of any musical form. Musical forms are a cumulative result, a progressive crystallization, of certain tendencies, and this process takes generations, even centuries. Therefore, the specific attribution of origination to an individual, or a period in history, is untenable.

Of the two tendencies in Indian music -- Nibaddha (pre-composed) Sangeet and Anibaddha (improvised) Sangeet -- Dhrupad is a crystallization of the former tendency i.e. Nibaddha Sangeet. In Nibaddha Sangeet, we accept the possibility of pre-composing all the important elements of music making.

This strategy certainly has its advantages. If all important elements are pre-composed, the resulting whole can be esthetically very tight, and coherent. Very little is left to chance. It is a perfectly crafted totality. Whenever musical forms crystallize this kind of tendency, all elements -- the Swara, the Laya , the Tala , the thematic element, the poetic , and the orchestral -- have a very significant and purposeful relationship with each other. In this sense, it becomes a very well structured piece of music.

Nibaddha Sangeet was a very important phase in Indian music making. It also suggested that music had a larger relationship with other facets of life. Otherwise, it would have had no need to be pre-composed.

Indian music in general -- not merely art music -- distinguishes itself by its ability and intention to relate to three important cycles governing human life -- the cycle of birth and death, the cycle of night and day, and the cycle of the six seasons. I am suggesting that if you want to have a system of music that responds to all these three cycles, then music will inevitably tend towards being pre-composed.

It would appear that, at one stage, Nibaddha Sangeet, of which Dhrupad is one manifestation, was interested in responding to all the three cycles. And, that is why you find compositions for birth, death, marriage, birth of the first son, initiations, coronations, and every conceivable landmark. This suggests the pre-composed, structured attitude to music, leading to a consolidation in this particular form of Nibaddha Sangeet.

People have expressed an interest in imagining a relationship between the Dhruvas, as described in Bharata's Natya Shastra, and Dhruva-Pada (Dhrupad) as we know it. We know that the word "Pada" always refers to the textual/linguistic aspect of the music. We know that Dhruvas are totally pre-composed. They have been placed in a very specific dramatic context. Their musical parameters have also been defined -- the tempo, the meter, the Tala, the language -- everything.

If we accept continuity between the two, Dhruva of Bharata's Natya Shastra emerges as the pre-composed music in a dramatic context. And Dhrupad, as we know it, represents a continuity of that tendency towards pre-composed music outside the dramatic context. By removing it from its original context, you are not necessarily altering its basic characteristics.

Let us speculate upon the situation in the 15th or 16th centuries. This is the time when , Jatigayan has disappeared from the scene, Moorchhana has faded away, the principle of Swaragrama had been established and we are led to tonality as the basis of Raga-based music. You have all the musical intervals within one octave. This was the state of evolution of the melodic ideas.

As far as rhythm is concerned, the Mridanga, the two-faced drum, continued to be the prototype of the language of all the other avanaddha & ghana instruments, just as the veena remained the prototype of the language for all melodic instrumental music.

During this period, I surmise that Nibaddha Sangeet continued to dominate music making. But, music had begun to step out of the ritualistic context. A part of it could have remained anchored in the ritualistic context; but an independent stream had certainly begun to flow .

We have no reason to believe that this was caused by court influences because the forces of secularization need not necessarily work through the instrumentality of power or patronage.

This is suggested to us by the emergence of the Dhamar form, as an adjunct to the Dhrupad form. Dhamar is related to the Holi festival, a secular festival, and has nothing to do with either the ritualistic context or the feudal aristocracy. Also, notice that the name itself is the name of a Tala. Dadra is the only other musical form which carries the name of a Tala. You will find that no major musical form carries the name of the Tala.

To me, it appears significant that, in more recent times, Dhrupad and Dhamar have evolved as a pair. In Dhrupad, you might have themes that deal with courtly life or theological themes. But, alongside Dhrupad, you have Dhamar, which deals with secular themes. Even tempo-wise, Dhamar is a very different kind of music making.

I am suggesting that Dhrupad, being a Nibaddha form, wanted to relate to a wider area of human experience. In that search, it gathered, under its rubric, other forms like Dhamar. But, its own central shaping force was Nibaddha Sangeet.

Let us consider the context in which Raja Mansingh Tomar functioned as a major force in shaping the secular tendencies in Dhrupad. At that time, there was Haveli Sangeet. And, you had the parallel tradition of Vishnu Pada. Within these different musical forms, secular or otherwise, there was something happening which was seeking a different direction. But, the basic tendency of all of these forms was Nibaddha Sangeet.

It seems reasonable to conclude, therefore, that Dhrupad, as we know it, has the tendency to imitate prototypes created in earlier times within the tradition of Nibaddha Sangeet. As its predecessors were more drama oriented and ritualistic, Dhrupad was an attempt at extending the area of operation for this strategy/tendency of music making. We should also therefore resist the temptation of attributing the origins of Dhrupad either to any single person or to a particular period in history.

The transition
Let us now consider the present corpus of musical forms. We have Dhrupads as such, then we have Dhrupads which are slightly liberated, and then we have Khayals which are akin to Dhrupads. And, of course, we have Khayals. All these forms are interacting with each other. The moment a form tends to get too rigid, there is bound to be a reaction.

Originally, we had Dhrupads which had four stanzas. Later on, one stanza disappeared, and then you had three left. Then, you had Khayals which had three stanzas. But, in today's Khayal, the manjha has disappeared, and now Dhrupad and Khayal both have only two left.

In the Khayal genre, we have a form called sadra, which is akin to Dhrupad; actually, it is called langda Dhrupad. I have myself been taught, by Prof. BR Deodhar, a composition in Lalit Pancham which is a Khayal version . I have also learnt the same from Pt. Ganu as a Dhrupad-oriented composition.

The dialectic process will work in the other direction also. When we find the tendency of the form becoming too loose or amorphous, we move to give it a more definite shape. This is, therefore, a dynamic process. Every decision to impose or loosen the form will automatically activate its reaction in the opposite direction.

Khayal is therefore to be understood as the a crystallization of one of the reactions against Nibaddha Sangeet. Historically, even if we take Sadarang as a landmark figure in the history of Khayal, Dhrupad and Khayal co-existed for at least two centuries before Dhrupad began its decline. And, this is the way musical forms co-exist, with different degrees of popularity, acceptability and expressive power at different stages in the life of a society.

I believe that there is nothing like the death of any musical form. Forms, when in decline, tend to go underground for a while, and resurface in some other form. Therefore, to talk of art-music in the context of art-music alone does not make much sense. Unless you have all the five categories of music in view -- primitive music, folk music, religious music, popular music and art music -- you cannot speak intelligently about any of them. In India, this is even truer because all these are living traditions.

When we speak about India's traditional music, which tradition in particular are we talking about ? We can talk about art music. But, the same tendencies have prevailed in religious music. For instance, take Haveli Sangeet. Why is it that certain compositions in Haveli Sangeet do not permit melodic or rhythmic elaboration ? The reason is, obviously, their tie-up with religious rituals which prohibits freedom of musical elaboration.

The moment we come to Khayal, we are moving from Nibaddha to Anibaddha Sangeet. The name itself signifies imagination. This does not mean that Dhrupad does not have imagination. It means that imagination is the primary moving force in Khayal while in Dhrupad it is co-existing strategy. In Khayal the priority is accorded to imagination or the improvisational process overriding other music-making strategies/ techniques etc.

But, you notice that even in Khayals, you have not isolated yourself from the wider aspects of human experience. Why, for instance, why do you have Mubarakbadi ? Why do you have seasonal songs ? This is because we feel that if music becomes too abstract, it may forfeit its moorings in the totality of human life, and might cease to be contemporary with it.

There is interesting evidence of this. In 1904 or thereabouts, the Rampur Nawab published five volumes of his own compositions with notations. For these, the composer has taken themes from folk music to turn them into Khayals. In the introduction to that publication, he specifically mentions that compositions composed especially for different occasions were going out of circulation, and that he was making an effort to bring back music appropriate to special occasions by composing and publishing these volumes.

It is clear that this was a man who had seen the era in which art-music was bound closely to different facets of human life, and felt that contemporary art music was becoming too formalistic, too much of an abstraction. I believe that Indian music finds it difficult to drift too far away from such a reference point.

Consider instrumental music which has made great "progress" in the last five decades. If you discuss his music with any instrumentalist, he will speak in terminology of gayaki. Instrumental music has developed its own forms, but musicians remain wedded to the concepts of vocal music.

This is because they feel that to formalize the independent idiom of their music through its own terminology would abstract their music from the mainstream of music. They might see the relationship with the totality of human experience as belonging to the territory of the poetic form, because it is explicit there. One might say that there is some guilt associated with the process of abstraction. But, this might equally well be pure and simple nostalgia.

There are, of course, other, more general, trends that support nostalgia. For instance, the loss of intimacy between the performer and the audience in the modern auditorium. This is also a form of losing a sense of connection with the world. But, the loss of the explicit meaning of poetry is certainly a contributor to the instrumentalist's nostalgia.

Coming back to the transition, Khayal is often playing hide-and-seek between explicit meaning in poetry, and the abstraction of the melodic form. Can you imagine the incongruity of a Mubarakbadi, related to greeting a person on his marriage, composed in Darbari ? The textual and musical contents are totally incompatible. But, there it is. We Indians are not very comfortable about dispensing with explicit meaning, even when we wish to make a statement contrary to it.

Recently, I came across the writings of DL Roy, who had heard all the leading Dhrupadiyas in the 1920's and 1930's. He has strongly criticized them for the total absence of either emotional or esthetic appeal in their music. On this basis, he came to the conclusion that Dhrupad had no chance of survival as a dominant musical form.

It has been argued that Dhrupad drifted towards being an excessively cerebral, rhythm-obsessed, and even unpleasant, form of music in a desperate effort to counteract the growing influence of the Khayal form. But, considering the way Dhrupad was structured, there was little else it could do.

Every musical form has its own genetic plan, by which its maneuverability is determined. Dhrupad was genetically handicapped in meeting the esthetic forces it had to contend with. It was limited in its range of ragas, talas, instrumental accompaniment, thematic content, compositional variety, and improvisational freedom.

Dhrupad was also constrained by the Pakhavaj, whose language rules out the rendering of a theka, and whose sonorous acoustics would drown any melodic subtleties. And, notice how closely the language of the pakhavaj and the melodic idiom are tied up with each other. There is a tal-paran, and there is a sur-paran. They go hand in hand.

The same can be said of the Rudra veena accompaniment. Its acoustics are rich in sustain and the harmonics they deliver. Every time the string is struck, the resulting sound has a long shadow, which again tends to drown out melodic subtleties in the vocal rendition.

The issue of accompanying instruments becomes even more critical in the contemporary environment of amplification acoustics. Unless this is very astutely controlled, the rhythmic contours of the Pakhavaj and melodic contours of the Rudra veena can create a blurred, and even confusing aural experience.

Dhrupad finds itself, esthetically, in a dead-end street. Given this reality, how else, other than an accentuation of rhythmic dexterity, could Dhrupad have even tried to counteract the growing Khayal influence ?

Consider also the interesting fact that Dhrupad has had no female singers, until recently. All these are, no doubt, offshoots of the socio-cultural environment at a certain stage in history. But, they are inter-related. If you develop an excessively masculine style of music which does not attract women, you are not only restricting your pool of talent, but also your audience profiles.

Khayalias were clever. They started picking up elements of Dhrupad. This is how the sadra form in jhaptal came into being. And, they created Langda Dhrupad which is part-Dhrupad, part non-Dhrupad. In this form, they could introduce tans, bol-tans, sargams, any form of improvisation, which Dhrupad would not permit.

Largely, the same logic holds for the future of the Rudra veena and the surbahar, instruments associated with the Dhrupad-dominated era. Or even to the Pakhavaj in relation to the tabla. They are in a dead-end street because the Sitar and Tabla have taken over their music, and extended it into a territory they cannot enter.

Khayal was setting up an alternative model of music making which accentuated tendencies which were not allowed to prosper in Dhrupad, and it acquired a following because of its appeal to the cultural and social environment of the modern times.

We are not saying that Dhrupad and Khayal are contrasting forms. What we are saying is that the two epitomize two distinct tendencies -- Nibaddha and Anibaddha -- in Hindustani music.

When we look at the emergence of Khayal as the dominant form, we should look at how any musical form achieves and sustains its dominant position.

First, it attracts all kinds of performers towards it. Second, it tries to assimilate the musical tendencies of other forms. Third, it allows individuals enough freedom to express themselves, especially in the initial stages. Fourth, it makes allowances for a distinction between the larger disciplinary model of a gharana, and the style of an individual musician.

All these factors can bee seen in the case of Khayal, when Dhrupad and Khayal were both active in the field of Hindustani music, and Khayal was overtaking Dhrupad.

The dynamics of a multiple-genre environment
In the present context, we are not looking at just this pair of competing musical forms. You have other forms contending.

First, we have the Thumree, which you may not consider to be a major contender at the moment. But, Thumree is also a fairly recent development. The Nibaddha/ Anibaddha formulation had become well consolidated by late-16th/ early 17th century. So, even the Thumree can be considered, in dialectic terminology, as an anti-thesis to the dominant Nibaddha form of Dhrupad. Its content was attractive enough. So, Thumree came into being.

Then, you have the evolution of Persian influences. It entered through poetry. The ghazal form evolved from a purely recitative expression (tarannum) to its contemporary song form.

So, we could, at one stage, look at Thumree and ghazal the same way as we were looking at Dhrupad and Khayal; Thumree representing the Anibaddha form, and the Ghazal representing the Nibaddha form. So, whenever you have an Anibaddha form, you will find a Nibaddha form parallel to it.

But, our understanding of the phenomenon can not stop there. The Ghazal, sensing that Thumree has greater freedom, has started picking up elements from the Thumree. You have heard Beghum Akhtar introducing the practice singing "shers" in a Thumree. Poetically, you are not talking of an independent unit. But, musically, you have created a slot of freedom, and are interpolating poetry into it merely to validate its presence.

It is interesting to observe that the bol-banav Thumree is now becoming expansive. It is also no longer being sung only in light ragas. In effect, the bol-banav Thumree might be doing to the bada Khayal precisely what the Bada Khayal did to Dhrupad more than two centuries ago.

On the other hand, the chhota Khayal consists almost totally of compositions from the bandish-ki-Thumree genre. In the process, it has almost destroyed the bandish-ki-Thumree form altogether. Thus, you find that all musical forms are vying for supremacy by borrowing elements from each other.

Esthetic appraisal
It would appear that the Khayal form provides the esthetic satisfaction that Dhrupad delivered, and in addition, it provides those satisfactions Dhrupad could not provide. Only such a formulation can validate the present status of Khayal in relation to Dhrupad.

It also appears that, progressively, Dhrupad distinguished each element to such an extent, that they had become almost segregated, and even isolated from each other. They had acquired a purely sequential relationship with each other without any degree of coherence between them.

I believe that Dhrupad declined also because it progressively lost the richness of its multi-faceted personality.

Let us consider the textual or poetic element of Dhrupad. There is a general impression that Dhrupads were written in a very limited range of themes -- either in praise of God or emperors, and at best, to describe seasons. The evidence suggests otherwise. Dhrupads have a very wide thematic coverage. Obviously, the width reflects a certain quality audience.

Consider the evidence that Nayak Bakshu is rated, in contemporary texts, as being superior to Tansen. One of the reasons mentioned for this assessment is that he never used a vocal accompanist. Secondly, he used to accompany himself on the Pakhavaj. Thirdly, he used to sing in a very high pitched voice.

If you analyze the textual content of Nayak Bakshu's compositions covered in Sahasarasa, you will be surprised to find that there are many esoteric musicological themes, along with general themes. My contention is that if Bakshu was popular during his lifetime, and the King ordered a compilation of his compositions a hundred years after his death, Bakshu’s listeners must have been of a very high intellectual level. The textual sophistication of his compositions, many of which deal with esoteric aspects of esthetics, Raga and Tala, is truly amazing. .

This evidence emphasizes the stable chain of expectations and familiarity which binds a musician to his audiences in Nibaddha Sangeet. Every element of the music can afford to be stable and predictable, because audience profiles are also stable and predictable.

Whatever the reasons for the textual impoverishment of Dhrupad, the truth is that it did shrink in terms of its thematic coverage. At the same time, you find that Thumree, ghazal, and Khayal are conquering new territories, whether thematically or not. If poetry, which was the mainstay of Dhrupad, starts getting weaker, the locus standi of the genre itself starts slipping.

Another suggestion of history is that, with the Khayal form, the individual musician was coming to the fore. The argument for the distinction of Nayak Bakshu -- that he sang without vocal accompaniment -- suggested that traditionally Dhrupad was not as a solo a performing art as Khayal has been.

Even today, you find that several leading Dhrupad musicians perform in pairs. But, you do not come across as many Khayal singers singing in pairs. This is because Khayal is Anibaddha, and demands greater individual freedom. Dhrupad, being in the Nibaddha tradition, does not require individual freedom.

The same tendency is visible in the role of percussion. In Dhrupad, the Pakhavaj has a major share in the music making. But, in Khayal you want merely an accompanist, playing only a supportive role.

Who likes what kind of music?
The original audience for Dhrupad was a homogeneous, sophisticated, elite audience. The audience for Khayal was probably not as highly initiated, but perhaps a more heterogeneous, with a more diverse set of expectations from the process of music making. One of the aspects of this expectation would be not only that of intellectual satisfaction, but also emotional satisfaction. Khayal, I believe, started delivering this emotional satisfaction, and hence scored a point over Dhrupad.

In an extreme expression of man's needs for emotional satisfaction from music, Rabindranath Tagore complains about this handicap of Hindustani music. He says that he wants to sing about his own individual sorrow; but the moment he breaks into Hindustani music, he finds himself singing about universal sorrow. Where, he asks, is the place for his personal joys and sorrows in Hindustani music ? This is why he says that he wanted to write his own poetry, to compose his own music, and also to sing it.

We therefore come to the notion that every society has certain musical needs. At one stage, we needed music to provide primarily intellectual satisfactions. Then, we realized that we also required music to provide emotional satisfactions.

To fulfill this need, there was either religious music, which did not allow an individualized expression, or folk music, which had the same problem. Then came the growth of popular music. Here, you will observe that in every region which has witnessed a growth of popular regional genres after the advent of British rule, the music tends to be of a strongly emotional nature, and outgoing to the extent that some of it even became obscene. There was a general impetus towards liberating the mind.

As evidence, notice the thumrees in the north, the tamasha lavnis in Maharashtra, the jatra in Bengal. Imagine, at one stage, Nidhu Babu's tappas were considered obscene, much as the waltzes of Strauss were considered licentious in the Europe of his times. If you look at the texts of these tappas, there was nothing obscene in it. They were only singing of individual love, instead of the leela of Radha and Krishna. This became sufficiently titillating for the cultural environment of that time.

In this context, Khayal has the flexibility to handle personalized emotional statements as well universalized emotional statements. Thus, Khayal is capable of a much wider appeal than Dhrupad. And, the converse is also valid. If there are segments of society which have musical needs narrower than those that Khayal satisfies, Dhrupad is there to fulfill those needs.

So, when we observe that Western audiences favor Dhrupad on a larger scale than Khayal, it is easy to understand why. They are getting a structured form of music which is comprehensible. It is also solo music, and also melodic music, these being the points of divergence from the Western classical tradition. For them, Dhrupad probably fulfills, in a very broad sense and at a different level, the same needs that pop music does.

Western audiences probably also find Dhrupad tonally more cohesive than their own classical music. It may lack tonal color; it is monochromatic in a way. But, it is one single color presented very solidly.

In addition, the Western mind values a musical genre that is broadly -- even if wrongly -- described as ancient music. It creates a kind of nostalgia. Nostalgia need not necessarily be evoked by a cultural affinity with the object of the feeling; it can also be a more universal sense of loss, in purely historical terms. I am capable of feeling very nostalgic when I visit the monuments of ancient Greece or renaissance Italy because, somewhere deep within myself, I have been through the phases of evolution that they represent.

The Dhrupad revival
I am willing to grant that the very features that make Dhrupad appealing to Western audiences, might also explain its growing popularity with the younger, less initiated audiences in India. Classical music is being projected now as the voice of culture, an expression of the Indian identity. And, Dhrupad is being projected as ancient, as the authentic voice of the Indian tradition.

The character of Dhrupad and this configuration of images cannot have much appeal for those who are exposed to thumrees, or Khayals, or taranas or even folk music. It is more likely to have an appeal for those who are exposed only to other kinds of music, like film music, or popular music -- contemporary music, not necessarily rooted in any tradition.

Could the so-called Dhrupad revival in India be a backlash against declining standards of musicianship in Khayal ? Might the freedom of Khayal have allowed it to decay to such an extent, that even initiated audiences are beginning to feel safer with Dhrupad ? The structure at least guarantees a certain minimum degree of aesthetic coherence !

This is a distinct possibility. We might have started doing to Khayal, precisely what Dhrupad did to itself over the last three centuries. We are chopping off some of its assets.

For instance, in the 19th century, people stared saying that the poetic form has no importance in Khayal music. Look at the corpus of Khayal music. You will find a tremendous variety of themes. But, look at the Khayals in circulation. Very few people sing traditional compositions. New compositions have no literary value; they are diluted versions of earlier prototypes.

We know that many Dhrupads were transformed into Khayals. Those Dhrupads were high in poetic value. How many people sing those Khayals today ? That variety has gone.

Consider the Khayals which, for instance, form Bhatkhande's compilation of 1800 compositions. You find Khayals in Marwadi, Brijbhasha, Sindhi, Punjabi, Persian, Maithili, Bhojpuri, and several other dialects. Analyze what is being sung today. So, even the linguistic variety is lost.

The same can be said of variety in talas. Tilwada, which was called the Khayal Theka, associated with the Khayal just as Dhrupad is associated with Chautal, has become a rarity now. Then, there were Ada Chautal, Roopak, and several other talas. What remains in circulation today is only Ektal.

Then, there is the issue of significance in Khayal compositions. The great composers used to write poetry and compose it into its rhythmic-melodic frame on special occasions. In the olden days, it was customary for a musician to narrate the history of the composition, which put all the facets of the composition in a perspective.

Today, hardly any musician knows the compositional context of his compositions. As a result, the composer's intention ceases to guide the presentation, the poetic content is often mauled by ignorance of its context, and the Khayal is expected to make sense in a contextual vacuum.

Another important aspect of the decay is that because you are now projecting the individual singer and his talent, the quality of the voice has become more important. This trend was, of course, aided by the growth of amplification technology.

If you consider the generation of giants who emerged in the pre-amplification era -- Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Faiyyaz Khan, Kesarbai, Abdul Kareem Khan, Vaze Buva, Omkarnath Thakur -- all of them had very distinctive voices. None of them was similar to any of the others, and their voices were their respective individual responses to the dissemination environment of their times.

Today's Khayal singers have not yet realized that with amplification electronics, the pitch and volume of their voices has ceased to be a major issue in audience appeal. And, unless they work on the distinctiveness of the timbre in their voices, and the nuances created by the manipulation of the timbre, they will all begin to sound the same, and fail to hold audience interest. In achieving an appealing timbre, today's Khayal vocalist is competing with the fantastic variety and richness of the timbres being offered by instrumental music, which enjoys greater popularity than vocal music.

If you look at the totality of this perspective on the contemporary Khayal scene, Dhrupad might seem like a safer esthetic package, especially to uninitiated audiences.

Reproduced, with the publisher’s consent, from “Perspectives on Dhrupad”, edited by Deepak Raja, and Suvarnalata Rao, published by the Indian Musicological Society, Baroda/ Bombay. 1999