Sonic Saturdays

Rhythmic interplay marks Nasir Aminuddin Dagar and Nasir Moinuddin Dagar's rendition of raag Kafi

This is the second episode of our series on the raag.

Hindustani musicians often profess the oneness of all music, whether from India or elsewhere, but their responses to the immediate musical reality around them leave much to be desired in this context. They are bogged down by loyalties to particular musical forms, gharanas and individual gurus.

Thus, many dhrupadiyas or dhrupad singers consider themselves to be the conscience-keepers of what they consider a pure and authentic tradition, in contrast to khayal and thumri singers, who they believe have deviated from this tradition. The khayaliyas or khayal singers on their part do not think much of the thumri singers.

Notably, prejudices such as these existed in previous centuries too. For instance, vocal music was regarded as the highest strata of music-making with instrumental music and dance following at the second and third tiers. Similarly, accompanists to vocalists, instrumentalists and dancers, were relegated to the lowest rung.

Many of the older prejudices have disappeared or are not noticeable. But there is no doubt that the openness that is otherwise touted, needs to be seen on the ground as well. Sadly, die-hard Hindustani music lovers also seem to harbour such biases.

Fortunately, every generation has seen some musicians go beyond these imaginary walls to draw inspiration from a variety of sources. The reasons for doing so may have been many, ranging from a possible passion to the desire to enhance their creativity to the more mundane purpose of garnering support from patrons who perhaps desired a change.

Coming together

Horis are songs specific to the celebration of the Holi festival and contain imagery related to the festival. Dhrupad vocalists usually sing horis that are set to Dhamaar, a cycle of 14 matras or time units played on the pakhawaj, and the song-form is also called dhamaar. These renditions are replete with layakari or rhythmic interplay that is one of the hallmarks of dhrupad-dhamaar gayaki or vocal style.

We begin the second episode of our series on the raag Kafi (you can read the first piece here) with a recital by maestros Nasir Aminuddin Dagar and Nasir Moinuddin Dagar that bears evidence of these crossovers.


This track featuring the Dagars, known as chief representatives of the Dagar gharana of dhrupad singing, contains a hori sung by them in the thumri style set to Deepchandi, a 14-matra taal. The ease with which the maestros present this hori reveals the manner in which they have internalised thumri gayaki too.

They employ devices that are integral to thumri singing, such as bol banaav or free melodic elaboration using the words of the song-text over the rhythmic canvas, pukaar or the stretching out of the voice to create a feeling of yearning, ornamental devices like khatka and murki, and short taans. As per the conventions of thumri recitals, they change from Deepchandi to the eight-matra Kaherva after singing the antara. Listeners will note the laggi patterns played on the tabla during this phase.

They conclude their recital with a bandish ki thumri, composed by Wajid Ali Shah, the last Nawab of Awadh known for his patronage to music and dance. Set to the sixteen-matra Teentaal, this composition is also in Kafi describing scenes associated with Holi and the escapades of the god Krishna.

Unfortunately, there is no mention of the tabla player on this track, but several rhythmic responses from the tabla lace this recital.

As mentioned last week, many performers choose to deviate from the formal structure of Kafi to include the shuddha Gandhara and shuddha Nishad, the natural third and seventh notes. The Dagars also incorporate these in this recital.

We welcome your comments at
Sponsored Content  BY 

As India turns 70, London School of Economics asks some provocative questions

Is India ready to become a global superpower?

Meaningful changes have always been driven by the right, but inconvenient questions. As India completes 70 years of its sovereign journey, we could do two things – celebrate, pay our token tributes and move on, or take the time to reflect and assess if our course needs correction. The ‘India @ 70: LSE India Summit’, the annual flagship summit of the LSE (London School of Economics) South Asia Centre, is posing some fundamental but complex questions that define our future direction as a nation. Through an honest debate – built on new research, applied knowledge and ground realities – with an eclectic mix of thought leaders and industry stalwarts, this summit hopes to create a thought-provoking discourse.

From how relevant (or irrelevant) is our constitutional framework, to how we can beat the global one-upmanship games, from how sincere are business houses in their social responsibility endeavours to why water is so crucial to our very existence as a strong nation, these are some crucial questions that the event will throw up and face head-on, even as it commemorates the 70th anniversary of India’s independence.

Is it time to re-look at constitution and citizenship in India?

The Constitution of India is fundamental to the country’s identity as a democratic power. But notwithstanding its historical authority, is it perhaps time to examine its relevance? The Constitution was drafted at a time when independent India was still a young entity. So granting overwhelming powers to the government may have helped during the early years. But in the current times, they may prove to be more discriminatory than egalitarian. Our constitution borrowed laws from other countries and continues to retain them, while the origin countries have updated them since then. So, do we need a complete overhaul of the constitution? An expert panel led by Dr Mukulika Banerjee of LSE, including political and economic commentator S Gurumurthy, Madhav Khosla of Columbia University, Niraja Gopal Jayal of JNU, Chintan Chandrachud the author of the book Balanced Constitutionalism and sociologist, legal researcher and Director of Council for Social Development Kalpana Kannabiran will seek answers to this.

Is CSR simply forced philanthropy?

While India pioneered the mandatory minimum CSR spend, has it succeeded in driving impact? Corporate social responsibility has many dynamics at play. Are CSR initiatives mere tokenism for compliance? Despite government guidelines and directives, are CSR activities well-thought out initiatives, which are monitored and measured for impact? The CSR stipulations have also spawned the proliferation of ambiguous NGOs. The session, ‘Does forced philanthropy work – CSR in India?” will raise these questions of intent, ethics and integrity. It will be moderated by Professor Harry Barkema and have industry veterans such as Mukund Rajan (Chairman, Tata Council for Community Initiatives), Onkar S Kanwar (Chairman and CEO, Apollo Tyres), Anu Aga (former Chairman, Thermax) and Rahul Bajaj (Chairman, Bajaj Group) on the panel.

Can India punch above its weight to be considered on par with other super-powers?

At 70, can India mobilize its strengths and galvanize into the role of a serious power player on the global stage? The question is related to the whole new perception of India as a dominant power in South Asia rather than as a Third World country, enabled by our foreign policies, defense strategies and a buoyant economy. The country’s status abroad is key in its emergence as a heavyweight but the foreign service officers’ cadre no longer draws top talent. Is India equipped right for its aspirations? The ‘India Abroad: From Third World to Regional Power’ panel will explore India’s foreign policy with Ashley Tellis, Meera Shankar (Former Foreign Secretary), Kanwal Sibal (Former Foreign Secretary), Jayant Prasad and Rakesh Sood.

Are we under-estimating how critical water is in India’s race ahead?

At no other time has water as a natural resource assumed such a big significance. Studies estimate that by 2025 the country will become ‘water–stressed’. While water has been the bone of contention between states and controlling access to water, a source for political power, has water security received the due attention in economic policies and development plans? Relevant to the central issue of water security is also the issue of ‘virtual water’. Virtual water corresponds to the water content (used) in goods and services, bulk of which is in food grains. Through food grain exports, India is a large virtual net exporter of water. In 2014-15, just through export of rice, India exported 10 trillion litres of virtual water. With India’s water security looking grim, are we making the right economic choices? Acclaimed author and academic from the Institute of Economic Growth, Delhi, Amita Bavisar will moderate the session ‘Does India need virtual water?’

Delve into this rich confluence of ideas and more at the ‘India @ 70: LSE India Summit’, presented by Apollo Tyres in association with the British Council and organized by Teamworks Arts during March 29-31, 2017 at the India Habitat Centre, New Delhi. To catch ‘India @ 70’ live online, register here.

At the venue, you could also visit the Partition Museum. Dedicated to the memory of one of the most conflict-ridden chapters in our country’s history, the museum will exhibit a unique archive of rare photographs, letters, press reports and audio recordings from The Partition Museum, Amritsar.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Teamwork Arts and not by the Scroll editorial team.