Dhrupad one of the four main genres of Indian classical music. The word dhrupad is a shortened form of dhruvapada (dhruva, meaning something that is stable, fixed and true, + pada, meaning the text of a song). Dhruvapada or dhrupad therefore means a genre of songs that is stable, deep and true.

The origins of the form are uncertain. According to some musicologists, it dates back to the time of Bharat (c 1st century BC - 3rd century AD). Others suggest that it goes back only to the 9th-10th centuries. Other musicologists consider Gopal (c 14th century) and his contemporary Vaiju to be the creators of this form. Most musicologists, however, ascribe the dhrupad to King Mansingh Tomar (1486-1517) the ruler of Gwalior, whose wife, Mrganayani, also sang the dhrupad. The Mughal emperor akbar was a great patron of the genre, which was sung by all the musicians of his court, including Mian Tansen (1505-1585). The dhrupad was the most popular classical genre of the subcontinent until the first half of the 19th century.

Dhrupad songs are known for their tenderness of thought and purity of language. They may be hymns to the Creator or eulogies of heroes. They may also narrate historical events. The dhrupad is a sober song, rendered in easy style and slow measure.

The dhrupad usually has four tuks or segments, such as sthayi, antara, savchari and abhog. Dhrupad songs with sthayi and antara tuks are more common. These songs are usually composed in Hindi, urdu or brajabuli. Dhrupad songs may be sung in a variety of tal, such as chautal, surfank, brahmatal, teoda, rudratal and jhanptal and may be accompanied by the Pakhwaj or Mridabga.

The dhrupad is rendered in two main parts: alap and vandish. In the alap the singer conveys the essence of the raga. No percussion instrument is used and, instead of pronouncing the words of the song, the singer uses meaningless sounds such as om, re na, nya, na tom te nana ri da na to emphasise the pure notes. At this stage the artiste uses either a tanpura or a similar musical instrument. In the vandis, the artiste, accompanied by the musicians with a variety of musical instruments, sings the words of the song, drawing out the notes.

There are four different dhrupad genres: Shuddha or Gaohar vani, Khandar vani, Dagur or Dagar vani and Naohar vani, associated with the homes of four prominent musicians of Akbar's court. Gaohar vani is named after Tansen who came from Gwalior. Tansen's compositions were very clear and generally of slow measure. Khandar vani is named after Tansen's son-in-law, the Vina player Mishri Singh or Sammukhan Singh (later to be known as Naubat Khan), who came from Khandar. His compositions were slow and more ornamental than Gaohar vani with the words sung in segments. Vrjachanda came from the village of Dagur and his compositions came to be known as Dagur or Dagar vani. These had the specialty of being simple and straightforward. Shrichanda came from Naohar and his dhrupad compositions became known as Naohar vani. Its words permit movement from one note to another. Naohar vani is usually characterized by speed. Dhrupad singers are known as kalavanta.

In the late 18th century, Bhattacharya composed and sang dhrupad songs in Bangla, beginning what came to be known as the Visnupur gharana. Among the disciples of the Visnupur gharana were kshetramohan goswami, Ramkeshab Bhattacharya, Keshablal Chakravarty, Anantalal Banerjee, Ramprasanna Banerjee, Gopeswar Banerjee, Surendranath Banerjee and Jadubhatta. The Tagore family of Jorashanko was closely associated with the dhrupad tradition; rabindranath tagore composed a number of dhrupad songs.

Famous singers of dhrupad from eastern Bengal, who practiced this genre of song in different parts of India included Ustad mohammad hossain khasru, ustad munshi raisuddin and Ustad gul muhammad khan. Though the dhrupad is not very popular in Bangladesh today, cultural exchanges between India and Bangladesh are still keeping it alive. [Mobarak Hossain Khan and Krishnapada Mandal]