The slow, quiet lower octaves, almost inaudible at first, gradually accelerated, becoming powerful and vibrant as the rhythmic pulse and melody merged to create an ethereal feel. The song “Shambho – Bholanath” became experiential and as the devotional fervor became all-encompassing, the surroundings immediately seemed like the very abode of the lord to whom the musical offering was made.
Eminent musicians Dhrupad Sanjeev Jha and Manish Kumar who wrote this composition during the covid pandemic talk about the intrinsic beauty and spiritual nature of Dhrupad music which is the oldest style of classical Hindustani music known to induce peace and harmony. contemplation in the listener. The Bihar musicians who sing together and call themselves “Dhrupad Bandhu” studied music at the Hindu University of Benares during the same period and learned from the same guru at the Dhrupad Sansthan in Bhopal.
They are the odd team who are not related and chose to sing together and are unequivocal that isolation during the pandemic has helped unlock their true potential. Although they missed the regular concerts and interaction with music lovers whose applause and appreciation are encouraging in more ways than one, they had ample time to introspect, to increase their riyaaz (practice) and to better understand music and life. “The artist and his art are not separated. There is no such thing as professional or private for me because my life is not separated from my music” declares Sanjeev Jha. Agree with Manish Kumar “Dhrupad music by definition is not for Manoranjan (entertainment). It is for ‘Atma-Ranjan’ (moving the soul) and ultimately leads to ‘Atma-bodha’ or self-knowledge .
A unique experience undertaken by them is the chanting of some selected shlokas from the Bhajagovindam of Shankaracharya in the Dhrupad tradition. The essence of Shankaracharya’s teachings, shlokas hold eternal truths about human life compared to a drop of water on a lotus leaf, which loses its shape in no time and urges people to take the name of the lord before their lives end the same way. Sanjeev Jha and Manish Kumar feel blessed to learn the work of the great Vedic scholar and Advaita teacher of Kerala and sing it in the musical style that emerged from the northern part of the country which emphasizes synthesis and harmony. Composed in raag Bageshree, the song was part of the concert repertoire the musicians performed at the LV Prasad Eye Institute in Hyderabad organized by the Dhrupad Gurukulam Foundation, Hyderabad. The monsoon ragas based ‘Dhrupad Varshotsav’ also featured Surdas famous composition ‘Nis din Bharse nein hamare’ which was sung in Dhrupad style for the very first time. The overwhelming applause from the many premieres from the audience only reiterates the power of music that transcends all barriers, inequalities and preconceptions. Music can also be enjoyed by those with no musical training when the notes are in tune, which is what musicians feel. “Music needs no language. Most of our alaap has only pure notes and reaches people from all regions and cultures,” says Sanjeev Jha. “There is only good music or bad music. All other classifications are just nomenclature” adds Manish Kumar.
Questioning that Dhrupad chanting, despite its universal nature, remained confined to a select few, musicians realized that most people were not sufficiently exposed to it and were perhaps overwhelmed by its classical label which seemed to make it difficult to grasp. . Classical music had to come out of its elitist circles and be made accessible to ordinary people like other popular musical genres. This thought led to the announcement of a “Dhrupad Yatra” covering the whole country. “We are planning to go to different rural pockets of the country and organize week-long Dhrupad teaching camps to enable people to understand and appreciate Dhrupad Music. Not all of them may become not performers, but at least they will become an informed public. It will be a great revival,” said Sanjeev Jha. “Music is therapeutic and has the power to heal body and soul. Our camps will be educational and create the right atmosphere to learn and perhaps inspire many young people to take up Dhrupad chanting,” adds Manish Kumar who points out that many students over 70 have experienced improved breath control and concentration at Hyderabad Gurukulam where he conducts Dhrupad Course.
The Dhrupad Yatra will start from the holy city of Benares in January 2023 and move to various Tier 2 cities and rural areas under their jurisdiction for which modalities are being worked out. Shravanam or listening has been an important part of learning in India and getting people to listen and learn about the antiquity and special features of Dhrupad is the real challenge. Dhrupad chanting dates back to the chanting of Vedic hymns and mantras and evolved over time with the introduction of verse and meter which coincided with the Bhakti movement in the country. He gradually moved into a form of sophisticated classical music frequented by the royal courts. The pristine nature of Dhrupad music has survived to this day with the continuation of temple and concert forms, but has unfortunately been confined to a limited audience due to dwindling patronage and lack of awareness. Dhrupad Yatra will hopefully fill this gap, say Dhrupad Bandhu Sanjeev Jha and Manish Kumar who have made spreading Dhrupad their life’s mission. Their musical journey only grew stronger and deeper with this lens because music endures even where words fail.