Friday, March 8, 2013

About! The Dhrupad Mela in Varanasi - India

Vedic Music Comes Alive at the Dhrupad Mela in Varanasi 

In March this year when Spring is decidedly here, scores of musicians, singers and performers will congregate at the Tulsi ghat in the holy city of Varanasi for a very unique event – the Dhrupad Mela. Held annually in praise of Dhrupad, one of the oldest forms of Hindustani classical music to have survived in its original form, this melodious festival of Varanasi is well attended and very popular with aficionados of Indian traditional music. A trip to Varanasi during the Dhrupad Mela will prove worthwhile for anyone who wants to delve deeper into the nuances of Indian traditional music in the hopes of finding a rare gem.

Dhrupad indeed is precious and valuable in that it has remained unchanged since the Vedic times, when it was the accompanying music to the chanting of Vedic hymns and mantras. Dhrupad was the music at the royal courts of the Mughals and Swami Haridas, the Emperor of Music and Tansen’s guru, was an accomplished Dhrupad singer. With such history lending it weight, it is truly amazing that Dhrupad has survived at all. But musical families like the Dagars and scores of dedicated singers and musicians have ensured that Dhrupad stays alive and the Dhrupad Mela in Varanasi is a step in that direction. The festival dates this year are from March 8 to 10. Read on to know more about this enduring musical tradition.

What is Dhrupad?
A vocal tradition in Hindustani classical music, Dhrupad means ‘fixed words’ and is sung in a prosodic meter. It has its roots in Nada Yoga and in that sense, is music of meditation and making offerings to the divine through music. It is superlative in its aesthetics and is sung to melodious instruments like pakhawaj, tanpura and rudra veena. Dhrupad singers draw lyrics from religious and spiritual poetry as well as romance. A Dhrupad performance usually comprises a lead singer and a small chorus of one or two others as well as instrumentalists. While at the Dhrupad festival in Varanasi, the one thing that is bound to enthrall you the most are the alaps taken by the singers – holding notes for considerable lengths of time.

The Rationale
One of the biggest reasons for holding the Dhrupad Mela is to provide a sustained and prominent platform for Dhrupad singers and instrumentalists to showcase their talent. The Varanasi festival attracts huge crowds to its ‘dawn to dusk’ concerts and with a number of foreign tourists attending; it has also ensured Dhrupad goes beyond Indian shores. Even more importantly, the Dhrupad Mela finds continued presence in mainstream Indian classical music and it can live on instead of teetering at the edge of extinction. 

Why should I be there?
If you are a music lover constantly looking for something new or something unusual then finding a place that celebrates the music of easier, unhurried times is both an exceptional experience and a rarity. The festival in Varanasi is sure to give you a transcendental musical experience unparalleled by any other. Hear great Dhrupad singers like Pt. Prem Kumar Mallick, Sukhdev Chaturvedi, Pt. Ramashish Pathak, Pt. Kartik Kumar, Fayaz Wasifuddin Dagar and Ustad Zia Fariduddin Dagar – the greatest proponents of Dhrupad.

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