A strong Dagar influence pervaded the recitals heard at the Dhrupad festival held last week.

If Dhrupad, the most ancient stream in Indian classical music, is quite synonymous with the Dagars, it is because an impressive line of vocal and instrumental exponents for 20 or more generations have hailed from this single family. Chennai's first ever Dhrupad festival, held last week under the auspices of the Sangeet Natak Academy and the Prakriti Foundation, had its fair share of representatives of the Dagarbani — some of them direct descendants of the great masters and others trained in this tradition.The low tone and the slow exposition of a raga, is typical of the best and the most authentic in the Dhrupad. You could almost tell every note that is sung or played. You can say that language is indeed not a barrier to understand the Dhrupad, because there is none in the substantive part of a recital. The many breath-taking phrases that extend over a minute and the subtle manner in which a note merges into another is the other truly awesome aspect to this tradition of singing.The strong Dagar influence that pervaded the recitals of Uday Bhawalkar and the Gundecha Brothers, Ramakant and Umakant of Ujjain, came as no surprise.


All three of them are disciples of Zia Fariduddin Dagar and the veena exponent Zia Mohiuddin Dagar. The individual brilliance of the brothers found expression in the eloquent performance of raga Gavati for 75 minutes. The younger of the two has a thin voice. Endowed with a deeper voice, the elder made the most of the singing in the lower ranges while the thin voice of the younger brother seemed to ripen with every passing minute. The siblings enthralled the audience with some remarkably high-pitched singing in the latter half of their recital. But you couldn't miss Bhawalkar's extraordinary stamina to meet the exerting rigours of singing a solo on the opening day. Coincidence or not, Bhawalkar's choice of raga Yaman found an echo on the rudraveena the next day with Bahawuddin Dagar, Zia Mohiuddin's son.Bhawalkar's final bandish in raga Adhana set in motion a kind of chain reaction among the Dagar parivar represented in the festival. ``Shiv shiv shiv shankar adidev; shambhoo bholanath; yogi mahabali," sang Bhawalkar in teental. The Gundechas and Ustad Wasifuddin Dagar sang the benediction on Siva, much to the relish of the audience.But talking of Wasifuddin, son and disciple of legendary Faiyazuddin Dagar and nephew of Zahiruddin Dagar, the choice of raga Khamboj indeed kindled nostalgic memories among those who have heard the senior Dagars perform the scale many a time to perfection. But parts of Wasifuddin's exposition, especially those with a rhythmic aspect, were devoid of sruti or melody. You got the distinct impression that these phrases, heard repeatedly in the recital, can surely fit into any raga.It was about a quarter past eight o'clock on the first day and Pt. Abhai Narayan Mallick, on stage, was a patient witness to an audience sauntering back to their seats after the intermission. But this breach of sabha mariyada was not all. For many, the wait outside turned out to be a futile one for refreshments, exposing chinks in the organisational aspects. The intermission was probably inevitable in a four-hour recital. But it still begs the question in a late evening performance.But then, Pt Mallick, renowned maestro from the family of the distinguished Dhrupad exponents Ram Chatur Mallick and Beni Madhav Mallick from Darbanga in Bihar, had the grace to simply let the moment pass. With son Sanjai, Abhai Narayan Mallick lost little time thereafter to demonstrate his grit and dexterity in presenting raga Darbarikanhra. The sarangi accompaniment by Bharatbhooshan Goswamy was one obvious example of the regional variants in the delivery of the Dhrupad. The more pronounced use of vocal power is probably the other, as one may infer from the throaty voice of the father and the son's refined tone.


Mallicks' subsequent compositions in Abhogi and Shuddhkalyan took off on the higher notes and tended to be brief. The song dedicated to the memory of those who suffered the wrath of the Asian tsunami was appropriately an invocation to goddess Kali. The last recital by ustad Asad Ali Khan on the rudraveena probably came closest to a full-length Dhrupad performance. As he cradled his veena for two hours, the music that emanated could easily have put the 200-plus audience to sleep and raga Behag was only apt at around 10 p.m. Except, they were too conscious of the fact that it is not often that they get a chance to listen to the khandarbani style from this maestro. Dwelling in the lower and middle octaves, the ustad was demonstrably engaged in a dialogue with the veena. At times, the strings would register a mild protest, beseeching even more indulgence from the ustad. He would resume his natural flow soon, having retuned the instrument. After a two-hour effort, the ustad was still rearing to go, supplementing his music with more explanations to a generally eager audience.