Dhrupad is essentially a poetic form incorporated into an extended presentation style marked by precise and orderly elaboration of a raga. The exposition preceding the composed verses is called alap, and is usually the longest portion of the performance. This aspect of dhrupad has been the most influential, and is reflected in other North Indian musical formats, especially in instrumental music and even khayal singing.
The term dhrupad itself means "the literal rendering of verse into music" and so the songs have a particularly potent impact. The actual dhrupad song-form is set in the rhythm chautal (4+4+2+2), and rendered in steady declaration in an austere style. Some performances in this idiom include related songs, especially the called dhamar, in dhamar tala (5+5+4 beats), but there are also other rhythmic forms which sometimes appear. These are usually somewhat lighter in content than the dhrupad proper. The rhythmic sections are generally accompanied by the two-head drum pakhawaj (similar to the mridangam of Carnatic music).
Dhrupad is often presented as the oldest Indian music, with an explicit continuity to ancient times. In this respect, it is perhaps the most direct development of Vedic chanting, and the literal respect for text in dhrupad is representative of those scriptural ideas. However many of the codifications of dhrupad are dated more specifically to the same period as the origin of khayal, and the two might be viewed more accurately as parallel developments, although dhrupad is certainly more austere in its formalism.
This music provides a wealth of depth in melodic nuance, with the smallest motion elaborated for minutes in a variety of time-tested techniques. The sophistication of the unmeasured exposition is nearly impossible to match in the world's music, and is buoyed by a variety of patterns derived from the original melody of the raga. Today the Dagar family dominates the scene of dhrupad vocal performance due to their dedication and world-wide prominence, but there are other styles remaining.
At this point, this list represents only a third of the available dhrupad vocal recordings. I have heard most of the others, and they are generally good or at least interesting, but I have decided to remain selective here. There are still not too many recordings available, although there are still some significant older recordings which have not reappeared on CD. The recorded sound quality is excellent for all citations.
More comments on specific recordings can be found in the individual files.
It is generally difficult to make distinctions among these recordings, as it often comes down to which raga one wants at a particular time. Dhrupad seems especially sensitive to "time of day" constraints based on classical theory.
Although the Dagar style of dhrupad is certainly the best-known, the Renaissance of dhrupad has allowed dhrupad singing by performers in other styles to be recorded as well, and these examples can also be interesting. I have not listed them, but this should be seen more as a reflection of the size constraints of this page than as any sort of condemnation.
Alongside vocal music, the ancient instrument rudra veena (also called the bin) is associated quite strongly with this repertory. The performance exhibits the same wealth of melodic nuance and sophisticated development. There are also other instruments on which dhrupad style renditions have been performed, and in recent years this range has been extended considerably, even into Western instruments. Dhrupad must therefore be seen first as a musical style.
The possibilities of this instrument appeal to me rather strongly, and so this discography is perhaps relatively larger than it "should" be based on the overall significance of the instrument. As an aside, the sonorities and potentials of this instrument are perhaps most analogous to those of the Chinese guqin.
The late Z. M. Dagar was an instrumental artist unique in the world of music. His exploration of timbre and the internal relationships between notes was almost unprecedented. Hopefully more posthumous recordings will be released. His son Bahauddin Dagar is the primary musician carrying on his style.
Asad Ali Khan plays a different style of dhrupad (and consequently rudra veena) from the Dagar family. The phrases are generally more angular and the pace is faster. He plays in the traditional posture, with one gourd over the shoulder, as opposed to Z. M. Dagar's innovative posture which corresponds more to the Carnatic veena.
Dhrupad has become increasingly significant on the international stage, and hopefully this list will serve as a reasonable orientation to its intricacies.
To some reflections on the tanpura by Martin Spaink.
To Indian music menu.T. M. McComb Updated: 5 December 2005