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  • Dhrupad: Tradition and Performance in Indian Music
  • David Henderson (bio)
Dhrupad: Tradition and Performance in Indian Music. Ritwik Sanyal and Richard Widdess. SOAS Musicology Series. Hampshire, England, and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2004. 395 pp., with photos, illustrations, ISBN: 0-7546-0379-2 accompanying CD.

This book is, quite clearly, the culmination of many years of work, a long-standing collaboration between dhrupad performer and musicologist Ritwik Sanyal and dhrupad student and ethnomusicologist Richard Widdess. It is dense without being unnecessarily obfuscating, sophisticated without pretending to be profound. Like much Indian musicology, this work is not easily accessible to ethnomusicologists working outside of South Asia. Nor is it meant to be. The authors expect some fluency in the history, performance, and interpretation of South Asian art musics, just as a C. P. E. Bach scholar would assume substantial knowledge of European art music among his readers. If a phrase like "The singer thus continues his laykārī without a break rather than ending it with the tihāī—like a cricketer unexpectedly taking an extra run" (264) means little to you, then you might consider reading something lighter. However, for readers prepared for this book, it is very rewarding and provides detailed historical evidence for the emergence and development of dhrupad, and substantial and convincing analyses of selections of recorded performances from the latter half of the twentieth century. Given the extent to which Indian musicians and musicologists of many stripes exalt the refined classicism of dhrupad, it should be obvious that the value of Ritwik Sanyal and Richard Widdess's history and analysis extends far beyond the small community of dhrupad scholars. Their work illuminates the larger history of Indian art music and opens up new ways of thinking about how "improvisation" in Indian art music unfolds in performance.

The book itself unfolds plainly and without fuss. The first chapter works to define dhrupad in a variety of ways. Recognizing that "there seems to be no one feature that consistently and unequivocally distinguishes dhrupad from other genres" (4), Sanyal and Widdess discuss the predilections of dhrupad in terms of "vocal style and technique, metrical structure, rhythmic style, instruments, [End Page 139] poetry, performance structure, historical tradition and social and religious identity" (42).

The following three chapters are primarily historical, drawing largely on written sources. The second chapter traces the emergence of dhrupad in the sixteenth century to its apparent decline in the nineteenth century; the third chapter investigates, nonetheless, how four separate bānī, or performance styles, arose in the nineteenth century, and discusses their role in contemporary performance. Chapter 4 traces the Dagar lineage, more precisely working to understand how the Dagar bānī has been continuously fashioned and refashioned by the Dagar family in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This chapter, in part, sets the stage for the ensuing analysis of a complete dhrupad performance by co-author Sanyal, who studied with two members of the Dagar family, Zia Mohiuddin Dagar and Zia Fariduddin Dagar.

In the next four chapters, the authors lay out their analysis. Chapter 5 provides a framework for listening to and comprehending the form and style of the alap sections of a dhrupad performance, and chapter 6 proceeds with an analysis of Sanyal's performance, a forty-minute studio recording made at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London in 1987. Likewise, chapter 7 gives a framework for understanding the role of compositions in dhrupad performance, and chapter 8 focuses on how Sanyal uses a composition and elaborates it through varied improvisations. The latter chapter is also comparative, as the analysis of Sanyal's performance, exemplary of the Dagar style, is set against a consideration of the improvisational strategies of the Talwandi and Darbhanga styles.

The final chapter is perhaps the most widely accessible, returning to the historical trajectory of the earlier chapters but looking, in particular, at the dhrupad revival of the latter half of the twentieth century. The authors invoke the key terminology of much ethnographic work on South Asia—"tradition and modernity" and "continuity and change"—in looking at how dhrupad's past is invoked, extended, and modified, particularly in the dhrupad festivals that have...


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