November 25, 2022

Dhrupad, Dalit poetry, Ghalib – how a Delhi singer challenges the purity of music

New Delhi: Dhrupad, Dalit poetry and Delhi’s privileged and well-heeled Nehruvian scholars came together on Thursday at an innovative raga event in Delhi. It offered a journey from classic Tamil Nadu in Maharashtra of Ambedkar to the streets of Ghalib in Delhi.

The occasion was the International Center of India’s ‘A Year of Poetry’ series, and anti-caste editor S. Anand was the interpreter of the first edition. Anand, the co-founder of the Delhi-based publishing house Navayana, is also a student of Ustad Wasifuddin Dagar, a master of the dhrupad style of singing and the dean of the famous Dagar. gharana. In the program titled “A Lamp in the Sun”, Anand explored how Tamil Sangam era poems, vachanas (Kannada), abhangs (Marathi), nirgun shabads (Braj), suttas (Pali) and ghazals find solace in ragas.

It was unlike any other music event in Delhi. It was an act of resistance against the purist insistence in music, literature and performance.

The atmosphere, the tone, the setting

At the event, a humble setting with a small stage, a few wooden chairs in front and the photo of BR Ambedkar sitting in the corner on a white platform with a few flowers around set the mood. The silent room soon began to resound with harmonious sounds from a tanpura played by S. Anand. The audience was taken on a poetic journey wrapped in ragas and multiple Indian traditions.

Anand began with a poem by Sempulapeyaneerar, a Sangam era poet around 200 BCE, brought into harmony by Anand. Title As Pbear Rain Rwith Earth, the poems depicted love and desire and, as Anand said, also reflected how desire is beyond caste. His second poem, a 12th century vacana by Saint Basavanna and translated by AK Ramanujan, reflected the faithfulness of a humble devotee. This is explained by :

“The rich will make temples for Shiva,

What should I do, I who am poor?

“These vachanas are what constituted the language. These are the first utterances of the language. It was written by a community of poets belonging to different castes and professions. Brahmins also contributed,” Anand told the audience during the performance.

He then sang two abhangs – one by Sant Tukaram Maharaj and the other by a 14th-century Dalit poet, Sant Soyarabai. “I discovered this poem in the book by Neela Bhagwat and Jerry Pinto An ant that swallowed the sun, which is based on a lesser-known Marathi poetess. Soyarabai writes her spell and complains against God that she is not allowed to see due to her Dalit identity. She ends the poem with the phrase ‘Chokhyachi Mahari’, where Mahari was a caste slur, possessing her Dalit identity,” he said.

Kiti kiti bolu deva, kiti karu aata heva (O God, how much more do I have to plead? Jealousy I have to bear until you realize it)” said the abhang of Soyarabai. His impotence turns to anger:Ataa na dhari tumchi bheed, maaja nahi duuji chaad (I’m not afraid of you, I’m not afraid of anyone)”.


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Go against tradition

Anand said he was particularly drawn to the abhang after knowing that Ambedkar used to publish them in his journals as he knew they were sung in praise of Vitthala – a popular god in Maharashtra who is considered to be the manifestation of Lord Vishnu.

Anand ended his performance with a nirgun shabad, a sutta and the famous ghazal of Ghalib”Na tha kuch toh khuda tha…— composed in Raga Bhairavi and Khamboji, respectively (the sutta and the ghazal).

Throughout his performance, Anand did not limit himself to the purest style of dhrupad. “It’s an Aalap pradhan style, but in today’s poetry-based program I wouldn’t just focus on aalaps and traditional Dhrupad style,” he told the audience at the start. of representation. The flowing, dhrupad-infused singing style helped the audience connect with the emotions the poetry carried.

Anand mentioned that he stopped singing for 15 years, from 1999 to 2014, to fight the Brahmanical system that prevailed in the Carnatic musical tradition. He grew up in Hyderabad in a Tamil Brahmin family and learned Carnatic music for a few years until he started questioning the poems he sang. He started singing again in 2014 and in 2018 started learning dhrupad from Ustad Wasifuddin Dagar. Dhrupad is a more abstract singing style that emphasizes meaningless syllables to weave together music. “I wondered why we weren’t singing great poetry from the anti-caste movement through the Indian Ragas,” he said.

“In this country where hierarchy, inequality and cruelty reign, two fields of unequaled excellence have been opened up to everyone: music and poetry. Poetry, sometimes secular, sometimes dressed in the colors of belief, is mostly memorized and passed on as songs,” Anand added.

(Edited by Humra Laeeq)