Dagar Dynasty: The Mysticism of Dagar “Vani” Dhrupad

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    Dagar Dynasty: The Mysticism of Dagar “Vani” Dhrupad
    The seven Dagar Brothers at their gharana in Poona (Hindustan Times file photograph)

    Through the millennia prophets, mystics, poets, painters and musicians have heard a voice in the silence of the heart, which is, of course the soul. In every case it happens thus: As light is produced when electricity is passed through the filament of a light-bulb, the consciousness stirs when Spirit meets Matter. Their meeting place is the soul which in man, stands as the middle principle between Eternal Spirit, The Breath of God in Man, and the human ego or personality. Prophesy has resulted in this discourse because of the intervention of The Divine.

    The Psalmists, who like the Prophets, stood in an intimate relationship with God celebrated the moral law as a guide of human conduct; they welcomed the ordinances of worship and rejoiced in the privilege of access to the presence of God in the Temple, as the crowning glory of life. The 150 devotional poems of The Psalms resulted. Great art can also ensue. The great Benedictine monk, Dom Henri Le Saux (1910-1973), later known as Abhishikteshvarananda (“Bliss of the Anointed Lord”) wrote a breathtaking treatise about his experiences from meditating in a hermitage at Uttarkasi during the 1950s and this is revealed in Saccidananda. As William Blake (1757-1827), the English poet and seer wrote: “The Human Imagination…appear’d to Me…throwing off the Temporal that the Eternal might be Establish’d”.

    Beethoven (1770-1827) also discovered (almost certainly through the voice in his soul) an equally mystical experience in the process of his composing and advised, “Don’t only practice your art, but force your way into its secrets, for it and knowledge can raise men to The Divine.” Of course, sages and mystics knew this at a time much further than the great German composer of the iconic Ninth Symphony – The Choral. Long before him, though Hildegard von Bingen (1096-1179) was an ecstatic mystic and from 1141 she had a series of 26 visions which she dictated to the monk Volmar and recorded in a book Scivias. The language of these visions and the religious poetry that she set to music, is highly personal and full of startling images, both apocalyptic and sensual.

    The sages of ancient India had similar experiences and these were set down in the Hindu Sanskrit text Natyashastra (~200BCE–200CE). These were also described in other ancient and medieval Sanskrit texts, such as chapter 33 of Book 10 in the Bhagavata Purana (~800–1000CE), where the theories of music and devotional songs for Krishna are summarized. The great Sufi Hazrat Inayat Khan posited that “music is the Divine art”. He went on to say that “We may see God in all the arts and in all the sciences, but in music alone we see God free from all forms and thoughts.” In other words, he was talking of “pure sound”. “In every other art there is idolatry,” he continues, “Every thought, every word has its form. Sound alone is free from form. Every word of poetry forms a picture in our mind. Sound alone does not make any object appear before us.”

    More clarity comes from the Sama Veda and from Nada Yoga, an ancient Indian metaphysical (and philosophical, among other) system. The system’s theoretical and practical aspects are based on the premise that the entire cosmos and all that exists in the cosmos, including human beings, consists of sound vibrations, called Nada. This concept holds that it is the sound energy in motion rather than of matter and particles which form the building blocks of the cosmos. The Nada Yoga system divides music into two categories: internal music, anahata, and external music, ahata. While the external music is conveyed to consciousness via sensory organs in the form of the ears, in which mechanical energy is converted to electrochemical energy and then transformed in the brain to sensations of sound, it is the anahata chakra, which is considered responsible for the reception of the internal music, but not in the way of a normal sensory organ.

    When devotional practice started to become aligned with the energy of anahata Dhrupad was born. It is the oldest surviving form of Indian (Hindustani) music and its roots go back to the practice of Nada Yoga, and thus may be traced back to the Natyashastra. Through the ages there have been many great practitioners of this music who founded schools or gharanas. Some musicians were absorbed into the Mughal court. Their exploits have been chronicled in the Ain-e-Akbari (1593) of the Mughal Emperor Akbar. These musicians – called beenkars – faded in the 19th century, and this is when the art of Dhrupad began to rise in popularity, also favoured by late-Mughal and the courts of Rajputana.

    It was to one of these courts – of Maharaja Sawai Ram Singh of Jaipur, to be correct – that Baba Behram Khan was appointed. Earlier Baba Behram Khan (1753–1878) traveled to Benaras to learn from Kalidas Dagur. One he landed in Jaipur his legacy began to grow, as he thrived enormously until he gave birth to one of the greatest “gharanas” that later came to be shepherded by his descendants, the Dagars. It all began with Allabande Khan (1850-1927) was the younger son of Mohammad Jan Khan and grand-nephew of Baba Behram Khan, lived in Udaipur with Zakiruddin Khan, and later in1912 was appointed the principal musician in the court of Alwar. Rahimuddin Khan Dagar (1901-1976) was his second son and trained under his father and uncle Zakiruddin Khan and also under his elder brother Nasiruddin and cousin Ziauddin.

    Today the Dagar Dynasty is known for their singular style that arose from the deeply mystical practices of their ancestors. Their “gharana” as its own name – Dagar “Vani” – which, as Subroto Roy once put it in The Hindustan Times (August 01, 2017), “The Dagar Vani is unlike the Gharana of Khayal. While ‘Vani’ has linguistic, musicological, and even esoteric connotations, gharana is a socio-cultural term which by design is family centric.”

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