Two voices, one spirit

Dhrupad singers Gundecha brothers   | Photo Credit: Thulasi Kakkat

A conversation with the Gundecha Brothers, Umakant and Ramakant, is like the unfolding of a jugalbandi. They dress alike, talk alike, when one stops, the other takes off spontaneously.

The Gundecha Brothers have always been singing together. The jugalbandi is an important feature of the Dhrupad, especially in the Dagar tradition. When they sing there is unison, the two so attuned, so aware of each other. Performing together involves understanding of the musical aesthetics and thoughts of each other. It can, however, sometimes be tricky. “We complement each other in an effort to build up our music, our concert,” says Umakant. And Ramakant takes over, “Of course, there needs to be proper understanding or else the whole thing will be out of tune. It is important to be able to accept thoughts. We go ahead with one philosophy, perfect understanding.”

Mutual respect for the musical aesthetics, says Ramakant, is how they overcome such niggles. “Both of us have different ideas about music, about how a raga should be sung. We accept each other’s thoughts. Actually, when we sing together, it is a presentation of both our styles.”

The Dhrupad or Dhruvapad, the oldest form of Hindustani classical music, is said to have originated from an ancient musical form called Prabandha. The language of Prabandha was pre-eminently Sanskrit, it was devotional and sang of temple worship and rituals. Gradually, Prabandha got set into basic ragas and talas and with changing times, embraced other themes. From devotional it evolved into a sophisticated, classical form; it got royal patronage, it acquired a secular nature.

Spiritual rush

Is the spiritual or religious element in Dhrupad manifest today? “When you begin learning, even today when you are initiated, there is that spiritual rush you experience. Whether one is spiritual or not, the art is sure to transform you,” says Ramakant.

For long the Dhrupad remained a purist’s language allowing few liberties to an adventurous exponent. It remained more or less closed to other deviations. Umakant adds, “Down the years we have extended our performance to various genres of music and even to dance. We have sung for Kathak recitals. Our compositions comprise verses from medieval poets such as Kabir, Meera and Thulasidas. We have been associated with contemporary dancers like Chandralekha, for her last choreographic work Sharira, and Astad Deboo. We have done jugalbandis with Carnatic vocalists such as the Malladi Brothers, with Tagore compositions and, more recently, with a theatrical performance, Isha Rumi: Beyond Form, by Pune-based Kaveri Kalashetra and Sonaad. So, the form evolves.”

Seasonal songs

Preparing for a concert does not, at least at this stage of their career, worry the brothers. “As Hindustani music follows a time cycle, we choose a raga for a concert in advance depending on the time we are to perform. Then there are the themed concerts where, for instance, we are asked to sing only Malhar. Other than this there is no prior preparation,” says Ramakant.

Though they have moved on, both Umakant and Ramakant aver that they have not budged from the basic tenets of Dhrupad as propagated by the Dagar gharana. “We still sing the elaborate alap, the emphasis is on relaxed pace, tonal precision, grammar, understanding the mood and emotion in ragas and swaras. In fact, our training systems are still close to what we experienced. We still sing with the tanpura and phakawaj. All that and the other traditional coordinates cannot be substituted,” explains Ramakant.

Born in Ujjain, the Gundecha Brothers studied at the local Madhav Music College before moving to Bhopal in 1981 to train under Zia Fariddudin and Zia Mohiuddin Dagar. After four years of intensive training, they performed in public for the first time in 1985, at a dance and music festival in Bhopal. Umakant has a post-graduate degree in music and economics and Ramakant in music and commerce.

Continuing the tradition, the brothers have started the Dhrupad Institute in Bhopal where the Guru-shishya heritage is still followed. “We have around 25 students studying in this gurukul tradition. It is perhaps the first-of-its-kind for Dhrupad in the country. The students are given scholarship, tuition, lodging and boarding. The mode of learning is designed to provide the students opportunity to be in close affinity with their gurus, listening and learning from them. We also offer short-term courses focussed on learning Dhrupad and music appreciation,” says Umakant.

Of the four prominent Dhrupad gharanas only the Dagar and the Darbanga or Gauhar exists. In the early part of the 20th century the form faced a loss of popularity and almost faced extinction.

Loss of royal patronage, subsequent financial hardships faced by the artistes, the elaborate alap singing and improvisation that needed intensive training, which in turn required dedication and focus on the part of the learner forced many to move to simpler forms of Hindustani music. Dhrupad gradually gave way to a more free-flowing style called khayal.

“Yes, there was a phase, say from 1960-80, a dark phase when there were very few students and hardly any performance venues. That’s when two styles vanished. But things have changed. Dhrupad has gone through a trial by fire and is now more vibrant, thanks to the masters who kept the flame burning. Now, there is a new generation of singers ready to take off,” feels Ramakant.

Raga for the evening

Gundecha Brothers in concert

Gundecha Brothers in concert   | Photo Credit: Thulasi Kakkat

The Gundecha Brothers have chosen Malhar for the evening. One opens the treasure trove quietly, gently taken up by the other. Slowly they improvise around the raga’s essence, dipping below it in long, resonant tones and then rising above it in the same manner. They explore the raga unhurriedly, which is the substance of Dhrupad. They are two and one at the same time, attuned, aware as they take flight taking with them the audience to a melodically magical experience.

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Printable version | Apr 20, 2021 6:13:51 PM |

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