A dhrupad performance is a rarity in Pakistan but in the past week about four concerts were held in the cities of Lahore and Karachi by the Gundecha Brothers, Umakant and Ramakant, visiting from India. On the pakhawaj they were accompanied by their third brother Akhilesh Gundecha.
Hafiz Khan and Afzal Khan, the two dhrupad vocalists in Pakistan belonging to the Talwandi scion of musicians, were always frustrated due to lack of opportunities to perform. As dhrupad had gone out of favour, the two brothers hardly ever got a chance and were very bitter about this state of neglect. This is a little ironical, perhaps, because Punjab had four major centres of dhrupad — Talwandi, Kapurthala, Sham Chausari and Haryana. Though kheyal started gaining currency in Delhi by the middle of the eighteen century in the Punjab, it could not gain a foothold even a century later. Only in the last couple of decades of that century did it start to be counted as a serious form alongside the dhrupad.
The father of Hafiz Khan and Afzal Khan, Ustad Mehr Ali Khan Khanderay, was also a very competent dhrupadia and he sang on the radio and in a few live concerts around the country. Born in Talwandi, he migrated to Lyallpur, now Faisalabad and performed to the acclaim of the initiated audiences. But other than him and his sons, in the early days of the Music Conference, the elder Dagar Brothers came from India to perform.
And then many years later, probably in Sanjan Nagar and in private houses like that of Haris Noorani, the doyen of dhurpad Zahiruddin Dagar gave a good demonstration of dhrupad. A few years later Wasifuddin Dagar who was very young when he accompanied Zahiruddin Dagar on a subsequent visit to Pakistan displayed the progress that he had made.
There was a revival of dhrupad by the middle of the twentieth century and probably a Dhrupad Society was formed in Paris. That led to a renewed interest in this form of music and, as it happens in the subcontinent, that proved to be infectious as the Indians woke up and started to take note of this because it had been initiated in the West.
The leading Dagar vani dhrupad singers, Umakant Gundecha and Ramakant Gundecha, known as the Gundecha Brothers have always sung together. Born in Ujjain they moved to Bhopal in 1981, for training under dhrupad master, Zia Fariddudin Dagar and his brother Zia Mohiuddin Dagar. These gurus were second cousins of the two major forces in the second half of the twentieth century, two duos known as the senior Dagar Brothers — Nasir Moinuddin & Nasir Aminuddin, and the junior Dagar Brothers — Nasir Zahiruddin & Nasir Faiyazuddin.
After training for four years, they performed in public for the first time in May 1985 at the Uttaradhikar Dance and Music Festival in Bhopal. Umakant and Ramakant have good voices with strong lower registers. They have worked to expand the dhrupad repertoire by incorporating texts by poets such as Tulsidas, Padmakar and Nirala.
Dhrupad was once the most significant form of music in the subcontinent. It is said that one of the creators of this form was Man Toomar, the Raja of Gwalior and his court musician Bakshoo and the greatest exponents were Baiju Bawara, Swami Haridas and reputedly the greatest musician ever born Mian Tansen.
From about the fifteenth century to the end of the nineteenth century, dhrupad dominated classical music and was considered to be the major form of singing. The grandeur of the Mughal court in Delhi, Fatehpur Sikri, Agra or Lahore, wherever the capital was shifted, was given final touches by this form of music. The provincial courts emulated the example established by the highest court of the land and most of the great names of our music are listed as performers in these courts.
Kheyal probably crawled and took its tentative first steps for a while, only reaching adulthood as late as the reign of Muhammed Shah Rangeela in Delhi. This was the period of decline of the central empire in India and soon the patronage shifted to the autonomous and semi-autonomous states. Kheyal prospered when there was a weak central court, and the courts thrived only at the provincial level. The entire growth of kheyal took place in the lengthening shadow of the waning Muslim rule.
During the course its development dhrupad evolved four vanis (roughly translated as style) — Gaudi vani, khandar vani, nowhar vani and the dagar vani. With the passage of time, the distinct features of each style were blurred and then started to run into each other. With the near demise of dhrupad it is very difficult to say which style is being followed as it is impossible to assess, now, how different this form of dhrupad is from the dhrupad as it existed in its heydays.
Gundecha Brothers have set up a dhrupad institute outside Bhopal called Dhrupad Sansthan where they teach students from all over the world according to the guru-shishya style of teaching that has been prevalent in the Indian subcontinent for teaching of the arts. This institute has been recognised by some of the leading cultural bodies of the world and its functions are also facilitated by the Indian Council of Cultural Relations. Two of the Pakistani musicians — Aliya Rashid, the vocalists and Ateequr Rehman — on the pakhawaj have also benefited from this institution.
Situated in a vast sprawling compound, this residential facility functions in the manner of a traditional institution — imparting knowledge with emphasis exclusively on oral transmission of musical knowledge. That transfer takes place in a very personalised manner. The ustad shagird ethos has been preserved and made to appear relevant in this day and age. The students or shagirds are from all over the world, most wanting to be musicians while some imbibe the ethos and the spirit, and a few firm up the theoretical side of the traditional classical forms.
Gundecha Brothers have received M.P. Govt. Scholarship from 1981 to 1985, National Fellowship from 1987 to 89, Ustad Allauddin Khan Fellowship in 1993, Sanskriti Award in 1994 and Kumar Gandharva Award in 1998 by Govt. of Madhaya Pradesh, Dagar Gharana Award by Mewar Foundation in 2001 and Padma Shri for 2012.