Now that I’m settled in Calcutta and getting into a routine I have the opportunity to share with you, or perhaps bore you with, an introduction to the music which is my passion.

I briefly introduced the Dhrupad genre in my last post with regard to how it has more or less disappeared from Sikh music today. This clip which I share with you is taken from the opening stages of a Dhrupad performance by my Guruji, Pt. Uday Bhawalkar, in Raga Bhoop. This opening section is known as Alap which is essentially an improvised, unmetered exposition of the Raga. To help convey the subtlety of meaning to these two terms I would like to introduce an analogy at this point, which relates these concepts to an art form more familiar to you all – painting.

Think of the Raga as an abstract entity, a scene which lies waiting to be painted. The scene exists in its own right, as does the Raga, but its beauty, and the sentiments which it evokes, are experienced uniquely and differently by each who beholds it. The musician is as the artist who attempts to paint the scene, only working through the medium of sound. The set of musical notes is the colour palette, the voice is the brush, the vocal syllables are individual brush strokes and the memory of what is heard is the canvas which records the artwork. In this way, the singing of Alap in a particular Raga is akin to the painting of particular scene. The result is a tangible manifestation or interpretation of the underlying abstract entity. The Alap invokes the Raga which in turn evokes an experience in the listener. No two attempts, even by the same artist, will ever be the same as the result is infused not only with the artist’s personality but also their present state of mind.

In each example, the creative process is highly spontaneous and allows a great degree of freedom but that is not to say that there aren’t procedures which must be followed and frameworks within which the artist operates. For example, in painting base colours must be applied first followed subsequently by shadows, highlights and details. So too, in Alap the mid and lower octaves must be explored before moving higher in pitch. And by omitting or including certain notes each Raga is restricted to its own colour palette.

You’ll note in the clip the lack of rhythm or pulse and the melodic fluidity and expansive approach to exploring a given note. These are qualities which bring to bare the meditative nature of Alap.