Young artists preserve a valued musical heritage through sustained mentorship

Dhrupad Sansthan in Bhopal for over two decades have trained talented young musicians through a fellowship scheme propagating the practice of India’s oldest form of classical music

The Gundecha Brothers are a name to reckon in the Indian classical music space as flagbearers of Dhrupad — the oldest surviving classical form of Indian music. The brothers received their tutelage from Ustad Zia Fariduddin Dagar and his brother the ‘Rudraveena Maestro’ Zia Moinuddin Dagar of the Dagar Gharana, whose, students are known as practitioners of Dagarvani form of Dhrupad in Rajasthan.

In 1999, the brothers set-up Dhrupad Sansthan — a gurukul for pedagogical training of Dhrupad music imparted through the ancient technique of ‘guru-shishya parampara’. Set up in Bhopal, the primary purpose of creating the gurukul was to establish a new generation of Dhrupad performers who would rejuvenate the practice that began to diminish owing to circumstances ranging from interest amongst young artists to train under other gharanas, dearth of Dhrupad mentors and lack of financial support towards the art form.

In 2006, the Tata Trusts set-up a partnership with Dhrupad Sansthan to build the institution’s pedagogical infrastructure. The partnership saw the Trusts initiate a fellowship scheme for students with artistic excellence looking to pursue training and a career in Dhrupad. Initially, 10 students were shortlisted to avail the fellowship that covered accommodation, stipend and tuition fees. As part of the grant, the fellows received extensive training of the voice, were taught compositions of Dhrupad in various ragas, learnt the extensive use and practice of the ‘rudraveena’ (ancient string instrument) and pakhawaj (percussions) and took part in pedagogical outreaches conducted by the gurukul on a regular basis.

The Tata Trusts’ support helped Dhrupad Sansthan to run a series of masterclasses and condensed training modules for young artists and music enthusiasts from wider communities keen to learn specific nuances in of ragas and classical compositions of Dhrupad singer. Over 60 young artists received the fellowships created through the grant support since 2006 and a significant lasting impact from the programme has been the creation of Dhrupad alumni networks across India to help in propagating the practice of the art form. Past fellows helped setup alumni chapters in their respective cities to run Dhrupad-based music pedagogies engaging musicians to connect with the diversity of the art forms. The pedagogies varied from baithaks, informal listening sessions, masterclasses, lecdems and performances that were crucial to build in awareness of the practice which in term positively impacts the art form.

The Trusts’ support also enabled Dhrupad Sansthan to identify and award training fellowship to women artists of excellence, who, not only enrolled as vocalists but also as musicians particularly to train as ‘pakhawaj’ players. The gurukul through the fellowship programme helped tilt the traditional gender narrative the art form witnessed until now. The Trusts’ support also saw Dhrupad Sansthan develop two crucial cultural products - the ‘Dhruv Naad’ – a raga tuning software that would help restore Dhrupad based ragas to their natural tuning helping musicians with the tonal understanding of Indian raga music, and, the Dhrupad Journal – an information platform that featured articles, media content and documentation related to the art form from across the world.

Today, the partnership between Tata Trusts and Dhrupad Sansthan spans more than a decade in which time the gurukul through its traditional teaching mechanism has built a new generation of active Dhrupad musicians holding forth the intangible value of the art form. In one of their reports to the Trusts, the Gundecha brothers ascertained that the future of Dhrupad was bright and sustainable since a lot of young people were signing up to perform and teach the art form.

One could say that in today’s times the sustainability of traditional Indian art forms and their practices rests firmly in the manner with which their pedagogical initiatives are activated, not only through funding but also with a deep sense of cultural empathy.