The Dhrupad, which is played on the Rudra Veena, is North India’s oldest still practiced classical music tradition. Primarily a vocal music tradition that has its origin in the chants of
Vedic hymns it developed initially into devotional temple songs. Under the patronage of Moslem and Hindu courts it evolved later into a classical art form with its own complex aesthetic and grammar.
As a general concept in Indian music, the human voice is acknowledged as the most original and important instrument. The aesthetic of the instrumental music is therefore closely oriented on the vocal music form.
Typical melodic ornaments like Meend and Gamak which are used in the vocal Dhrupad music are adopted in the Veena playing as well as the overal performance structure.
The resonance and overtone rich sound makes the Rudra Veena an ideal instrument for the interpretation of a Raga in the Dhrupad style, which is primarily characterized by emphasizing the microtonal flow of sound and melody.
Initially being an accompaniment instrument for the vocal performances the Rudra Vina developed later its own soloistic musical form.
Like in all other Indian classical music forms melody an rhythm in Dhrupad are based on Raga and Tala.
Ragas are melody models, which are time and again newly improvised within their outline rules. Each of them possess it’s very own recurrent moods and character.
The Raga performance on the Rudra Veena follows a structure which developed itself over the centuries. In the introducing part (Alap) the defining notes in their specific microtonal intonation (Shruti) and characteristic melody phrases are gradually presented in slow tempo. In the following sections (Jor, Jhala) the musician plays with increasing tempo more complex melodic structures which have a perceptible underlying rhythmical pulsation.
The Tanpura, a lute instrument constantly played in the background, creates a over-tone rich bourdon on which the improvisation of the Raga can unfold.
The concluding part of a Veena performance can vary from the presention of a precomposed composition as sung in the vocal Dhrupad (Bandish) to a mainly improvised elaboration of a short melodic theme (Gat).
In this performance section vocal and instrumental performances are accompanied by the percussion instrument Pakhawaj, a predecessors of the today popular Tabla. While playing together or taking turns with virtuoso soli the musicians create a lively dialog by improvising melody and rhythm.
The composition as well as the improvisation are set in a rhythmical time cycle (Tala).
Rhythm in Indian music moves similar to the Indian philosophical idea of time not linear but in circles. Talas are characterized by their numbers of basic beats (Matra) and the accentuation of those beats within a cycle.
Typical Tala performed in the old classical Dhrupad style are Chautal, Dhamar, Jhaptal, Sooltal and Tivratal.