Uday Bhawalkar took up two Carnatic ragas, remarking that the art pre-dated the split in the musical systems
Dhrupad exponents talk the most about ‘Tradition’ as they make a big song and dance about Dhrupad being the oldest form of vocal music surviving in the Hindustani system. We all know that Tansen sang Dhrupad in Mughal Emperor Akbar’s court and not Khayal, because the latter had not yet made its appearance on the music scene as a fully evolved distinct style of singing. However, Khayal began to acquire prominence during the reign of Muhammad Shah ‘Rangila’ in the first half of the 18th Century and nearly completely eclipsed Dhrupad in the course of the next two hundred years. By the middle of the last century, apprehensions were being openly voiced about the inevitable extinction of the majestic musical form. The clan of the Dagars played a big role in stemming the tide and saving their art by teaching it to outsiders. Today, Ramakant-Umakant Gundecha (Gundecha Brothers), Uday Bhawalkar and Ritwik Sanyal happen to be among the most prominent Dhrupad singers in the country, besides the clan representative, Wasifuddin Dagar.
In our age when heritage preservation is a passion with some, Dhrupad too has come to acquire a halo and a mystique of its own by virtue of its claim to being the oldest and the most traditional genre. However, practitioners of even such a ‘traditional’ form work under all kinds of pressures, one of which happens to be the demand to do something ‘new’. When Uday Bhawalkar, who was trained by both Zia Fariduddin and Zia Mohiuddin Dagar, sang at a concert last Friday, he was trying to meet this very demand. The concert was organised as part of the India International Centre’s Mehfil Series in collaboration with Jnana Pravah and NaadSaagar Archives and Documentation Society for South Asian Music.
The novelty factor was his decision to render two Carnatic ragas –– Hamsadhwani and Vardhini. Hamsadhwani was incorporated into the Hindustani system nearly a century ago, and Aman Ali Khan of the Bhendi Bazar gharana composed both bada and chhota khayal in it; the raga has been sung and played by most of the great vocalists and instrumentalists of the last century. However, Vardhini remains unfamiliar territory. But singing Carnatic ragas is not really an innovation as the senior Dagars — Nasir Moiuddin and Nasir Aminuddin Dagar — and their other family members made it a regular practice to sing ragas such as Kamboji and Nattai. Uday Bhawalkar prefaced his recital with saying that Dhrupad was believed to predate the split in Indian music that resulted in the creation of two distinct systems of North and South Indian music known as Hindustani and Carnatic respectively. So, in a way, it had a legitimate claim over the Carnatic repertoire.
Bhawalkar began his recital with the pentatonic Hamsadhwani that has been assigned Bilawal thaat in the Hindustani system. He preferred to devote less time to alap and came to his element in the jod section and went seamlessly into the jhala where Pratap Awad on the pakhawaj too joined in. What was described by one of the organisers as his “nuanced” singing looked like a Khayal-influenced version of Dhrupad. One kept waiting for the full-throated gamaks that are so typical to the Dagarbani, but Bhawalkar’s voice-production technique seemed to come in the way, though his meends were quite charming. His singing is pleasant as he remains tuneful and faithful to the raga structure. Many a time he dealt with Pancham leisurely and staying at it for some time, thus regaling the audience with its hypnotic effect.
The second raga of the evening was Vardhini belonging to the 36th melakarta of the Carnatic system. It’s very close to Jogkauns of the Hindustani system. While Jogkauns accords more prominence to the Shuddh Nishad, assigning a cameo role to Komal Nishad, Vardhini does away with Shuddh Nishad altogether and makes do with only Komal Nishad. Zia Mohiuddin used to play it on Rudra Veena and Uday Bhawalkar learnt it from him. While his rendition of Vardhini was pleasing to the ears, one did miss the robustness and majesty of the quintessential Dhrupad. Still, it was a successful concert.