Dhrupad Fest: Innovative, Intoxicating, Soul-Shaking

Dhrupad music and dance Festival

By Suguna Sundaram

NCPA, in collaboration with Dhrupad Sansthan Bhopal Nyas, had a two-day festival of Dhrupad, featuring the eminent Gundecha brothers as their star act, and a bunch of other artistes, all of who are affiliated with the Dhrupad Sansthan.

The festival opened on Day One with a vocal duet by Anita Sinha and Jahnavi Phansalkar, followed by a Rudraveena duet by Murali Mohan Gowda and Heikel Ben Mlouka. The concluding act was a Pakhawaj trio by Akhilesh Gundecha, Dnyaneshwar Deshmukh and Anuja Borude, accompanied by Farooque Lateef Khan on the Sarangi.

The second day opened with the Bihar brothers’ vocal duet- Manish and Sanjeev Jha, accompanied by Dnyaneshwar Deshmukh on the Pakhawaj. They first sang Raag Patdeep, in detail raag alaap, which lasted for well over half an hour. Their sonorous meditative opening with the classic note holding skills, were impressive, even without percussion. Their alaap phrasing was totally different and innovative, rarely heard, and Manish Jha displayed consummate skill at holding the low notes rock steady, till they just seemed like vibrations.

They played with the notes, building them up softly and steadily, the quavering and shaking executed with extreme technical mastery. The alaap speed as the notes built up was stunning, a feat, considering there were no lyrics or rhythm for ever so long. The alaap was followed by a neat bandish Jab Kartar Karam Kare, which was simply inspired. All the embellishment was in the alaap, the bandish was more staccato, and a fast round-up.

The second act for the evening was Surbhar vadan by Sowravbrata Chakraborty. The Surbahar looks like a sitar but is more demanding in its execution of creating music. Accompanying Sowravbrata on the Pakhawaj was Anuja Borude, a bright, quick player, with an attractive striking style, her skill immediately evident after she had played just a few beats. Both these artistes have learnt at the Dhrupad Gurukul, and Sowravbrata has also been taught Dhrupad by the legendary Dagar brothers. He played Malkauns, one of the most melodious ragas in Hindustani classical music.

Sadly for the artiste, his instrument did not cooperate with him and kept requiring tuning right through the performance. The result was a lack of fluidity, and the poor artiste, at the mercy of his fickle companion, was discomforted and demoralized. Instruments can be very moody. More than the artistes even, holding the players ransom, at the mercy of weather, air conditioning, humidity, the slightest breeze…

As the already meager audience of a 100-odd people dwindled further, post interval, the Padmashri awardees, Umakant and Ramakant Gundecha took the stage and simply floored the rest in an all too brief hour of near-divinity. They were accompanied on the Pakhawaj by Dnyaneshwar Deshmukh (now more inspired than when he played for the Bihar brothers) and Anuja Borude. Ramakant spoke briefly about their constant attempt to keep Dhrupad gayaki alive, since it had hardly any presence amongst other gayaki, despite it being the oldest and primordial music from India. And this they displayed in ample measure, connecting to nature and to the divine, over the next hour. Their detailed alaap was in Raag Bihaag, after which they sang a composition in 14 beats Dhamaar, in Raag Shankara, Toote Toote Sakalband. From the first note they struck, it was soul-shaking. There was no visible movement of their faces and mouths.

The micro-tonal ornamentation just seemed to be a bunch of atoms, buzzing and droning as the notes hit their core. This seemingly effortless display with open throated, yet restrained throw, created literal vibrations that could be felt even by the listeners as we sat there, in rapt attention. To a non-musical ear, in Dhrupad renditions, the raga itself may seem indiscernable, because the stress is less on melody than regular khayal gayaki. The Gundecha brothers rendition of Kahan Se Madh Pee Aye… made for an intoxicating evening, ending the Dhrupad festival on a high note.

The NCPA conducts one-day Dhrupad workshops every month, for those interested in learning about Dhrupad gayaki.

Location: Experimental Theatre, NCPA Marg, Nariman Point, Mumbai, Maharashtra, India

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