The Dagar Family are today's torch bearers of Dhrupad singing, the highest devotional art form from North India's rich and vibrant music heritage. Wasifuddin Dagar represents the twentieth unbroken generation of Dhrupad singers in this remarkable family. As well as successfully passing on the tradition from one generation to the next, the family has also been committed to sharing their vast musical knowledge with devoted students from all corners of the world. The following is an extract from the anecdotes of Ms. Laurence Bastit, a student of the Dagar family for the last twenty years, and accompanist on the tanpura for this special performance.
'I was very happy when Wasifuddin Dagar received the invitation sent by Nandan Mehta to participate in the 21st Saptak Festival of Indian Music, in Ahmedabad. It brought back to my memory so many souvenirs, when he had first come accompanying his father and uncle on tanpura in 1988. Then after his father's untimely demise in 1989, his further visits as partner of his uncle-cum-guru, Ustad N. Zahiruddin Dagar.
I guess it was not a small challenge to perform in his father's place, and that too in front of such a knowledgeable audience. He has always dreaded this feeling to be compared to his elders and has strived to be recognised as an independent upcoming musician. Such a famous family name is a great source of inspiration and pride, but at the same time it puts on the performer an immense responsibility. Since his uncle's death in 1994, having performed, toured and recorded all over the world, some measure of confidence had grown in him. No doubt, the discerning Saptak audience is always warm and inspiring yet for Wasifuddin, the challenge prevails. He was aware that many a listener while hearing his concert will remember his elders' performances over the years, from before the time he was born.
That Sunday, January 20, 2002, reaching the Poonam Hotel gave us both an eerie feeling of home coming. We have stayed in this same hotel since 1988, with its familiar decorations of musical instruments and artistic photo evocations of the greats in Indian music and dance. While settling his mood for the concert in the evening, the musician due to perform after Wasifuddin sent a "messenger" asking him which raga he planned to perform. In his family, they prepare their mood to bring on themselves God's grace that He should inspire them to sing to their best, and according to the prayer, the specific raga may channel itself through the tanpura (a four stringed drone instrument) in the process of tuning it in the green room just before the performance. As his family is very orthodox, they adhere strictly to the principle of the time-theory and would normally sing the ragas at their proper time of day or night, thus he replied that it might be Malkauns or Chandrakauns. In the green room, when he gently plucked the tanpura strings for tuning, Bageshree imposed itself and he started entering the raga in full mood. One person who had been respectfully standing in the doorway of the green room could not help uttering:" Wah!' in an expression of appreciation. "It brings back that extraordinary Bageshree sung by your father and uncle in 1988. It is still ringing in my ear". Shortly after that, a messenger came and observed that the artiste who performed just before had played Bageshree. Understanding the hint and hidden request, he reshuffled his mood back to Chandrakauns. While fully in that raga, yet another "messenger" came up to him, very respectfully, saying that there was a "fermaish" (request) for the raga Kamboji; The "request" for Kambojhi, a raga considered a hallmark of the Dagars and performed only by his family members, brought along quite a bit of confusion as it is a raga that is so majestic and rich that it likes to be developed at least over an hour and half, and possibly more!! Eventually, on stage, he presented Raga Chandrakauns. For him this Raga is of particular importance. Of course, already because it is a specialty of the Dagars as they present a rare variety of Chandrakauns with the note rishab (natural second). But for him personally, it has even a deeper resonance. Just three weeks after the sudden death of his father, who succumbed in just a few minutes to a massive heart attack, the yearly Dhrupad Conference was to be held in Delhi. Within that short period of time, his uncle made up his mind to take him as his singing partner. So he had to sit in his father's place at the side of his uncle in spite of his very limited stage experience. His uncle sang Chandrakauns, and he recalls that he felt his father came to save him and sang through him that day! It triggered an emotional experience that he will never forget.
Chandrakauns is an evening raga. Wasifuddin Dagar loves to dwell leisurely in the slow part of the alap, where the notes and their patterns are revealed subtly, leisurely and systematically; then also in the third part, (drut) with fast and powerful moments, known as gamaks. Alap is that first part of the rendering of the raga which is improvised, with no constraint of text nor of rhythm; the only strict rule is to remain within the musical frame of the raga by avoiding the prohibited notes, and respecting the proper hierarchy between the swaras (notes) belonging to the raga. The composition, that part of the recital when music, text and percussion converge, is set to Chautal, a rhythmic cycle of twelve beats. The beat sequence and relative importance of each beat is illustrated hereunder with the mnemonic syllable played on the pakhawaj, the horizontal drum with two membranes. The charm and challenge of the composition resides in the fact that the text should be perfectly pronounced so as to be clearly understandable, while simultaneously singer and percussionist weave separately their rich and intricate improvisations yet to meet up again invariably on the sam, (the first beat of the rhythmic cycle) with the pertinent syllable of the text and the pertinent note of the raga pattern. The text is a philosophical invocation of Lord Shiva typically described through what He is NOT, "the One who has no shape, no form."
The Raga Khamboji that follows is sung exclusively by his family members. Apart from being musically a raga with a wide scope for improvisation, it is also quite interesting from the textual point of view. The Bhakt movement in India was characterized by the idea that pure and total surrender to God through devotional love and fusion will bring about "moksha", that is deliverance from rebirth. To feel in divine union with God, the Bhakta, devotee will spiritually mould himself in the female worshipper yearning for the Lord's love, and speak like a female devotee. Here, on top of it, the devotee identifies himself in one line interwoven in the poetry, as Raskhan. This is a wonderful example, out of the many of that time, whereby a devout Muslim sings the praise of a Hindu deity, in this case, Krishna. The concluding item was a short rendering of Raga Shankara in the brisk tempo of a Sultaal composition (ten beats).'
Notes: John Ball