Ustad Rahim Fahimuddin Dagar talks about his lineage and Dhrupad as a way of life.
The doyen of the Dhrupad tradition of music, and indeed one of the elders among Indian artistes in any genre, Ustad Rahim Fahimuddin Dagar lives up to the image.
Exuding fatherly affection, his face glows with a serenity borne, no doubt, from the meditative music he has practised since birth. Yet he holds back no punches when he speaks of what he feels are incorrect perceptions about music — Dhrupad in particular — and the Dagar gharana, a musical lineage of which he represents the 19th generation.
Quoting prolifically from Sanskrit texts, he wishes to emphasise that though music has no religion, it is imperative people notice that the Dagars have always contributed to preserving Hindu traditions.
He is also pained by prevailing notions that Dhrupad is not palatable music for the current generation. This week the Dhrupad Society, of which he is the elder statesman, held its annual Dhrupad Samaroh which featured, besides concerts, a discussion on “Past, Present and Future of Dhrupad”. Prior to the festival, the doyen took time out for a chat. Excerpts from the interview:
On religions and music
Before talking of anything else, I want to say that the Dhrupad Society is engaged in preserving Hindu culture — since Dhrupad, the veena, the pakhawaj and the flute are all part of Vaishnav tradition. Khayal and other musical genres, on the other hand, have their origins in Muslim traditions.
Is it necessary to talk of religion in the context of music?
The vidyas, the arts — these have no religion. True, different groups came as invaders to the country, but artists came with them, and they stayed. They stayed because vidwans were welcomed here. There is no controversy about it at all. The arts and religion are not forums for fighting. Today wars are being fought in the name of religion. Yeh dharm nahin hai, yeh toh hum hain! (This is not religion, it’s us!) Those fighting in the name of religion are hypocrites. My name is Rahim Fahimuddin Dagar. I am a Muslim, but my goal is music. I have made a study of Durga, of the shastras. Because these help me in the pursuit of my goal. If we look for the essence with a pure mind, we will find it.
Teaching methodology of Dagar gharana
Our tradition is called the Behramkhani gharana after our forefather, Baba Behram Khan. A child begins sitting in on practice sessions of advanced students at the age of five. By the time the child is 10, the gurus decide whether he is capable of shouldering the responsibility. Then the elder of the family ties the ganda and formal training begins. For 14 years, a student practises the alankaras of music and nada yoga — which today is called voice culture. Only after that the compositions are taught. Because by then the learner has developed an understanding. One is learning the principles — siddhant. The learner’s mind is opened up. This is an anhad vidya — it has no limits. Whether you read the Gita, the Quran or other grantha, it is of no use without gyan. Similarly, you need swar gyan. Everyone has the power to create sound. But what to say, what to hear, you have to know. People think of Dhrupad as a kind of composition, but it is an education. Swar, laya, these things can’t be understood by keeping count, but by the spirit, the rooh. Thought and meditation are required. Until it is in your heart you can neither understand nor practise it.
Few women practitioners
Yes, women can learn. Anyone can sing it. But you need patience. Till you can sit in padmasan for hours you can’t sing, because it is connected to the chakras of the body, and sound emanates from the navel.
People think it is difficult, but every art is. They say it is ‘bhayanak’. Yet all genres claim descent from it. How can the source of beauty not be beautiful? Dhrupad contains all the ingredients of good music: melody, rhythm, meaning and rasa. Those who criticise should listen first, then tell us.
On the goal of music
The goal of Indian music is to attain moksha — liberation from mortal life. Swar (the practice of musical notes) is considered the shortest way to achieve this. The reason is simple. Swar cannot be seen. The atma or soul cannot be seen. Neither can Ishwar (the Supreme Power). So naturally, the niraakar (formless) will be attained only through the niraakar. The Sanskrit verse talks of Devi’s fingers dancing on the veena. And dance is feeling itself. This is Matangi, the goddess of music. You need faith in God to pursue this kind of path. I am not simply quoting others. Once I was listening to my elders, and they said, as you tread this path, one day the things you hear now will blossom in your understanding. Wah! Subhanallah! That is what happened. Now I say these things with complete conviction. This is a path to wisdom. That’s why Dhrupad is a whole education. It’s not merely Sa Ri Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni Sa — though of course you have to go through the abc.