In the 1980s, when ghazal was finding a firm footing in the music world in both film and non-film categories, when Mumbai was the go-to destination for finding success in the world of music, two young men from Ujjain decided to move to Bhopal to learn a complex and relatively rejected art form — dhrupad.
Brothers Umakant and Ramakant Gundecha learned under the aegis of Zia Fariduddin Dagar and his brother Zia Mohiuddin Dagar — cousins of the two significant forces in the second half of the 20th century, the senior Dagar Brothers (Nasir Moinuddin and Nasir Aminuddin) and the junior Dagar Brothers (Nasir Zahiruddin and Nasir Faiyazuddin) — and began to perform four years later.
In the years to come, armed with their detailed training and with no gharana backing them, the Gundecha brothers became a force to reckon with in the world of the rare and once extremely valued art form of dhrupad.
Ramakant Gundecha died on Friday. The younger of the two brothers was on a train to Pune when he suffered a heart attack.
“It’s shocking, and I find it difficult to believe he is no longer with us. We started learning together in Bhopal. He relentlessly worked for the cause of dhrupad in India and worldwide. This is an irreparable loss for the world of dhrupad and Hindustani music,” said dhrupad exponent Uday Bhawalkar, whose association with the Gundecha Bandhu goes back to 1974, to Ujjain, where they first met and understood the basic concepts of music.
Dhrupad is a style of rendering a raga under a rigid composition and rhythm structure, and is sung or played on a rudra veena with a pakhawaj and tanpura. Dhrupad is a more rigid form than khayal or thumri, in which the rhythm can vary. It isn’t folk and erotic like a thumri, and does not have taans and sargams like a khayal.
The meditative, leisurely pace of the music had in the last few years reduced the takers of the dhrupad, but the Gundechas along with the Dagar family have been at the helm of a revival of the genre, which originated in the 12th century and is said to be the oldest surviving form of classical music in India.
Unfortunately, the most dedicated audience for the art form is not in India but cities in Europe, where dhrupad concerts are regular. However, the very vocal Ramakant always aimed at the revival of dhrupad and attempted to do it with his brother by making their performances less academic and more lucid and melodic. The two brothers were awarded the Padma Shri in 2012.
“They created the much-needed new compositions in dhrupad. It’s devastating news. The world of dhrupad will never be the same again,” said dhrupad vocalist and Ramakant’s gurubhai Pt Nirmalya Dey.
Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath expressed his condolences. “Padma Shri Ramakant Gundecha made his mark in dhrupad singing across the world. He won many prizes for his talent. The entire art fraternity is in shock by his death,” he said.