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Dhrupad and Musical Instruments

The dhrupad which has sunk into oblivion today, was the predominant form of classical vocal music in medieval India. It was sung to the accompaniment of pakhawaj and not the tabla. The pakhawaj was a cylindrical drum like instrument which was played with the palms. The style of singing the dhrupad was characterized by an elaborate alap, and intricate rhythmic patterns. The application of fast tans (musical phrases) was strictly forbidden in it. Consequently, the stringed instruments in the field of classical music during that period were played strictly in accordance with the conventions of the dhrupad. Special emphasis was laid on the alap and the purity of ragas maintained.

The stringed instruments that dominated the field of classical music in the medieval India were:

  • The Been (North Indian Veena)

  • The Surbahar

  • The Sursringar

These instruments had thick brass strings unlike those of the sarode or the sitar and were tuned at a rather low pitch. The pakhawaj was the only percussion instrument that provided accompaniment to the players of these instruments.

The Been

The been or the North Indian veena is one of the oldest instruments in our country. The name of this instrument is mentioned in the musical treatises written in Sanskrit language by our ancient sages and hermits such as Bharat, Matanga and Sarangdev who were illustrious musicologists. In Mahabharata, the venerable sage Narada has been described as a proficient been player. Subsequently, in the middle ages, the legendary virtuosi Swami Haridas, Baiju Bawra and Mian Tansen who flourished during the regime of emperor Akbar, greatly improved and beautified the style of playing the been, and popularized the instrument throughout North India. During the early decades of the twentieth century, Ustad Wazir Khan of Rampur (who was a direct descendant of Mian Tansen’s son-in-law, the eminent been player, Michri Singh or Nabat Khan) and Ustad Sadique Ali Khan of Jaipur were well known been players and became salubrious figures in the field of Hindustani Music. This instrument is seldom seen at classical concerts today. It consists of a bamboo pole and two hollow gourds. The hollow gourds are fixed at the either end of the bamboo pole. Numerous metal frets and a bridge made of animal-bone are fixed on the bamboo pole with the help of wax and four thick brass strings parallel to one another are attached to the fret board.