Dhrupad – Reclaiming Saamagaana

Center for Soft Power mourns the passing of Padmashri Ramakant Gundecha, the younger of the two Dhrupad exponents known as Gundecha Brothers. Pandits Umakant and Ramakant Gundecha - along with Rudra Veena player and Dhrupad scholar Dr Rajshekar Vyas have been trying to revive and reinforce the hoary but now tenuous link between Vedic Saamagaana chants and contemporary Indian classical music

the oldest form of Indian classical music, with its chant-like cadences and
intonations in both the aalaap as well as the bandish, and its use of Sanskrit,
has now survived only at the fringe of Indian classical music with a bare
handful of practitioners holding their own in the modern concert stage.

them are the Gundecha Brothers, Umakant and Ramakant Gundecha, exponents of the
Dagar bani of Dhrupad, and probably the only musicians carrying on the
illustrious Dagar legacy which has held sway over 20 generations. Ustad
Hussain Sayeeduddin Dagar, who passed away in June last
year, aged 78, was the youngest of the eight great Dagar Khans. The older brothers include
Ustaad Nasir Moinuddin, Nasir Aminuddin Dagar (known as the ‘elder’ Dagar
brothers), Nasir Zahiruddin and Nasir Faiyazuddin Dagar (called the ‘junior’
Dagar brothers). The renowned brothers were the grandsons of the legendary Zakiruddin and
Allabande Khan Dagar.

Hindustani classical music that we are familiar with is “Khayal” music with its
Sufi and other influences that rule the roost when it comes to North Indian
classical music, across India. Dhrupad’s deeper roots are clear both in its
rendering style as well as its frequent employment of Sanskrit compositions and
verses borrowed from Sanskrit texts.

Ustad Saeeiuddin Dagar, had no hesitation in pointing out, the Dagar family had
Hindu and Vedic roots, before the Mughal era, and the Dhrupad style of Northern
classical music is rooted in an ancient form, and even underpins other extant
forms like Khayal and Karnatic music.

Gundecha brothers, along with Rudra Veena exponent and Dagar disciple Dr Pandit
Rajshekar Vyas of Udaipur, who occasionally shares the stage with them as a
musicologist, are trying to research and re-establish the links between Dhrupad
gaan and Saamagaana as a pedagogic effort for new learners.

occupies an important place in Indian philosophical thinking, even exalted as
the Shabda Brahman or Naada Brahman. “The philosophy of Indian classical music
is to realise the Ultimate Sound, says Prof Vyas.

human sound is not the Ultimate Sound. Our forefathers by analysing nature and
the human voice and comparing the two discovered that there are layers of
sounds that we can access.  There are 17
different layers of sounds leading to the sound of the Sun or the Bruhat (Great or vast) Sam sound. The
sound of the tanpura is termed as Bruhat
sound in the Saamagaana.

lead all of us to that sound. You would have seen Dhrupad singers looking
upwards while singing, trying to access that sound. Our gurus would say that
this musical sound is soaked in feeling and the feeling is thinner than the
fragrance of a flower. Listening to Dhrupad, we forget we are of this earth. We
get detached from our bodies,” says Prof Vyas.

Vyas has researched both the Sama Veda and Saamagaana. “The Sama Veda is not a
text of music. It comprises of 1,875 riks
 taken from Rig Ved, with only two riks taken from Yajur Veda. Our great
Rishis probably repeated the riks of
Rigved in the Samaved as the spoken word of Rigved was not sufficient by itself
to create oneness with the Ultimate Sound. The masters probably felt the need
for Saamagaana to sing the text.”

The term Dhrupad is derived from the
words ‘Dhruva’ referring to the unmoving pole star and ‘pada’ meaning poetry. Saamagaana
combines ‘Chhanda’ and ‘Prabandha’ i.e. verse and meter, with their union being
the origins of Dhrupad. It indicates a return of the Svara (tone), Kala (time)
and Shabda (text) to an unchanging point, which is believed to be the basis of

says that there are some salient features of Dhrupad which differentiate it
from other musical forms. Dhrupad singing begins with an alaap in three speeds Vilambit, Madhya and Drut, a feature which is unique to it and an idea which originated in
Dhrupad. Besides, i
n Dhrupad singers are accompanied by the pakhawaj and tanpura
only without the harmonium or any other accompaniment.

“Saamagaana is a timeless concept. It doesn’t belong to any time, or any period. It is timeless and makes you timeless.”  

Ramakant Gundecha

sing only with the tanpura. We think the purity of the note, the essence of the
raga which we have learnt from our Ustads (Zia
Fariduddin Dagar and also with Ustad Zia Mohiuddin Dagar) can be rendered only with the tanpura. Dhrupad
singers don’t use a harmonium as its notes are fixed. In Dhrupad there are many
many shades of the note in different ragas. So it difficult to sing with the
harmonium.” They can sing with the sarangi or the Rudra Veena, provided the
player is trained in the Dhrupad style.    

 Prof Vyas says that for Dhrupad singers the
most important part is the Shadaj Madhyam Samvad (the conversation created by
playing the combination of the Shadaj- Madhyam swars). “In Indian classical
music only these four notes are important - Sa Re Ga Ma. The others - Pa Da Ni
Sa are a replica at 1.5 higher pitch. If you take Sa Re Ga Ma to 1.5 higher
pitch you will get Pa Da Ni Sa. The main thing movement is there from therefore
Sa to Ma and Ma to Sa. Sa Ma Sa Ma Sa Ma…..”

Umakanth Gundecha (left) and Ramakant Gundecha

Ramakant puts it, “Saamagaana is a timeless concept. It doesn’t belong to any
time, or any period. It is timeless and makes you timeless.”  

disappearance of the music of Saamagaana during the periods of non-Vedic
cultures for several centuries put paid to a music culture where the notes were
uttered in their pure form with emphasis on correct pitch with whirls of
Shrutis surrounding them.

Vyas says that with the advent of the Buddhist movement and a shift from a
predominantly ‘yagnic’ culture, for a period of 1000 years between 600 BC to
600 AD, Saamagaana disappeared.  

a short while after this, musical texts including Matanga Muni’s Brihaddeshi
(Between 6-8th Century AD) and Sarangdeva’s Sangeet Ratnakara (13
Century AD) along with the study of the Vedas were the focus of musicologists
trying to revive Saamagaana.

contemporary India, particular after 1947, Ramakant says it has been difficult
for Dhrupad practitioners to propagate their music freely due to the ‘secular’ mood
in the country.

after Indian Independence, successive Governments have tried not to link music
with Hindu temples. They have largely propagated the Ganga Jamuni Tehzeeb (Ganga
Jamuna Doab culture which focusses on Indo-Muslim culture). When we connected music
to temples it created negativity. Reacting to this, when we try to balance our
music, we do not do justice to its Hindu origins. Now the political environment
is relatively open for us to talk about ‘Hindu’ music. Earlier if you would
talk about Hindu devotional or scriptural music you would be considered
orthodox and intolerant.”

Vyas, and the Gundecha Brothers are working together to establish the
connection between Saamagaana shastra and kriya.

significance of the Saamagaana is in creating oneness with the Universal sound,
which is represented by the Tanpura says Ramakant. “The feeling of oneness is
coming because of samvaad (conversation)
with yourself. The singer depends entirely on the tanpura. The tanpura’s sound
is the replica of the human body, the replica of the upagatha. That is why the tanpura has a thumba to match the lower
harmonics of the human body,” says Ramakant.

singers have often commented on the ability to stand the test of the tanpura. It
is believed Dhruva-pada helps to create irresoluteness or unwavering fidelity
to the tanpura.

says the tanpura “is not an instrument, it is a system. You have to play the
tanpura in a way that every string is heard at the same time.  The simultaneous playing of all four strings
of the tanpura must resonate with the alignment of our body represented by the naval,
chest, throat and cerebrum. When this vertical alignment matches the Sam
(Ultimate Sound), then the feeling of oneness creates sublimity and a
meditative feeling. Dhrupad and other Indian music strives to achieve that

the singer sees the Sam, and achieves oneness, the wheel of musical energy
begins to revolve, says Ramakant. “It generates, runs, and further generates
the momentum of the music. The music becomes a generator in itself, creating
new pathways of exploration.  The singer ‘sees’
this vision of music and performs it at the same time.  He has to see, absorb and execute it
simultaneously. The musician has control it or it can overwhelm him and that
overwhelming is a kind of limitation. You have to absorb that energy and go
beyond it.”

Vyas recounts his experiences in a class with his guru Ustad Zaiuddin Khan.
“Ustad would avoid getting emotional on stage. But when he used to sing while
teaching us, he would at times start weeping – not for one minute, two minutes,
but for half an hour, one hour, two hours when he would realise the actual
sound and see the picture of the Sam. At times, he was so awed by this
experience that when he was himself singing he would say, Wah, Kya baath hain!”

ability to see this vision of music varies from musician to musician and the
greater the saadhana towards aligning oneself with the tanpura, the clearer is
the thought process, says Ramakant.

one were to take the note Ga, even as the singer focuses on Ga, it expands. The
small Ga becomes bigger, and then you have to zoom in again, and when you
concentrate it expands. You keep zooming in, there is no end to it. It all
depends on how microscopic your ears are. 
That needs lots of concentrated energy. The sound first emerges in the
brain, which then commands the body. Depending on what pronunciation you want
to render you are pulling the vibration from your body in a particular way,”
says Ramakant.


was Ustad Zakiruddin Khan Dagar, who on the behest of Maharana Fateh Singh of
Mewar, revived links with Samvedic scholars, musicians and musicologists
researching the connection between the Vedas and Indian classical music.

Zakiruddin Khan along with Vyas Pandit Shambhu Ram Shastri, the Kulguru of the
Mewar state, studied the Samaved and a few allied texts such as Pushpasutra,
Rktantra, Samtantra, Akshartantra, Chhandogyaupanishad, Tandyabrahman,
Shathpathbrahman, Panchvinshbrahman and six Brahman books of Samved and other
books related to Vedic Saamagaana.

Vyas says these texts talk about how Sam should be, what are the notes of Sam
and the intricacies of Saamagaana, explained in the sutra method. “They explain
the nature of the notes, the melody and the ras of a particular melody called

India has largely had an oral tradition of imparting both Vedic as well as
musical knowledge, the validity of any one authentic rendering tradition is
absent with practioners following different styles. “The oral songs that were
sung during the Rig Vedic period have been lost. I have spoken to people who
were singing the music of Saamagaana and they mostly sing in one unvarying
tune,” says Prof Vyas. They have theoretical knowledge of the Seven Geethis
prescribed in Saamswarkramani but cannot differentiate between them, he says.

Professor Vyas, Umakant Gundecha and Ramakant Gundecha

was Ustad Zakiruddin Khan, who developed the Sadharani Geethi style of Dhrupad
singing and Rudra Veena playing combining elements of the Seven Geetis
(Gayatri, Aindri, Roudri, Paavman, Chhandasi, Agneyi and Mahanamni) and the four
Vanis (Gauharvani, Khandarvai, Dagarvani and Nauharvani) reviving the Saamagaana
tradition of music.

Gundecha brothers have always sung together and while this was a conscious
choice, it is also a tradition of Saamagaana. The Dagar family, to which
tradition they belong, often sang together. It is a Vedic tradition which
required three people to sing together, without which Saamagaana was not
possible. It was necessary to have an Udghata (the main singer), Upagatha, Prasthotha
(beginner), and praharkartha to give a complete sound experience.

they perform, sometimes one singer utters the lower pitch, the other traversing
the higher octaves a practice mentioned in Saamagaana. Samaved is always sung
with three or four persons and two persons are assigned the duty to utter the
same corresponding note that the main singer is singing, but in a lower pitch.

Vyas says when he listens to the Gundecha Brothers, he can see the theory he is
researching being executed. “When I listen to them, I think - here is Gaudi,
here is Bhinna. They use shruthi, coming from 12th shruthi to 6th
shruthi. Nowadays people say we cannot utter shruthis in Saamagaana, but the
brothers are using it. The commentaries of Saamagaana mention that without Shruthi
there is no music. There would be no sur.”