The Rudra Veena Comes to Delft

The evening of 14th May 2023 saw a Rudra Veena concert followed by a lecture-demonstration at the theatre hall at X, TU Delft. The program began with SPICMACAY volunteers Sandhya and Aparna introducing the artist – Ustad Bahauddin Dagar.

The Ustad then briefly spoke about what he would be playing and launched into an alap in the raga Rageshri. Throughout, he was accompanied by another volunteer – Parth – on the Tanpura. The alap began on a meditative note, and Rageshri came alive in the theatre. The alap gently transitioned into a jod and the pace of the concert quickened. The jod was delightful, and injected a lively rhythmic component into the performance. This was followed by a swift jhala which packed all the vibrancy of Rageshri into just over ten minutes.

After the concert, it was time for the lecture-demonstration component of the evening to begin. The Ustad spoke briefly about Rageshri and demonstrated the scale. He explained the importance of the vocal aspect of the tradition, demonstrating each point in detail with representative phrases. He also explained how the identity of a raga is different from its melodic framework.

The next part of the lecture-demonstration involved the instrument, going through its centuries of history. He explained the symbolisms behind the different parts of the instrument and showed the modifications in structure and material made in recent times. The change in playing posture that came with the shift from bamboo to heavier wood such as teak was especially interesting. A consequence of this shift was a change in playing techniques, with the highly developed techniques for the right hand giving way to newer playing techniques for the left hand. The Ustad then opened the floor to questions from the audience.

The first question was about the emphasis on using the Rudra Veena for the Dhrupad style and this opened up an arguably less-heard aspect of the instrument with the Ustad explaining its use in the Khyal style and pointing out that instruments themselves had no attributes specific to any styles but had to be adapted by the musicians. The next question was also related to the Dhrupad style, this time about ragas. This sparked an interesting insight into the role of history in the development of music. The Ustad began by explaining that there were no specific ragas used with the Dhrupad style, and that different ragas came to be associated with different schools or gharanas partly through the patronage of different kings. Ragas gradually became part of the public image of the school or gharana, and while everyone played a wide variety of ragas, only a specific few were performed in public – a point which the Ustad again illustrated with the examples of Vardhani and Kanakangi, both of which have compositions but are not commonly performed. He also explained how in the olden days, compositions were passed on from one family to another through marriage and treated almost as tangible entities – when a family sent or gave away a composition to another, they did not perform it again.

The next set of questions came from those joining online, and these were relayed by Ravi, another volunteer. The first of these was about the importance of the pakad, to which the Ustad mentioned that greater importance is given to phrases, with each phrase being a seed capable of growing into something more. He then explained how useful the pakad can be while navigating fast taans, with a quick demonstration in the raga Jog. There was also a request for a khyal in raga Malkauns, to which the Ustad happily obliged.

With many in the audience hearing a Rudra Veena for the first time, the enthusiasm in asking questions was palpable. This continued with a question on the effect of temperature and humidity on the instrument and its shruti while traveling, and about alternative materials being used. To this, the Ustad pointed out the difficulty in using deer antlers or ivory, with these materials being replaced with rosewood and tamarind, and even fiberglass for parts such as tuners (and the ethical reasons for making the change). He brought up the difficulty in obtaining pumpkins of the right size and described the idea of splitting smaller pumpkins and joining the parts that came from a Miraj instrument maker. With Burma teak wood becoming more and more difficult to acquire with the only source being old buildings that are being demolished, the need for alternative materials is becoming urgent. The Ustad also told us the story of how his own Rudra Veena had been crafted, how he and a craftsman had opened up and reverse-engineered an older Rudra Veena to decide about changes to be made, and explained the idea behind the different artistic elements we could see on the instrument.

The last of the questions was about the possibility of using the Rudra Veena to play other styles of music such as Karnatik music. This led to an interesting insight on how the difference in the heights of the frets in the Rudra Veena and the Saraswati Veena makes it challenging or even impossible to interchange their roles in music. The program ended with a few words by Ustad Bahauddin Dagar about SPICMACAY in which he described the work done by the organization across the world and urged the audience to volunteer and help. Heiko Dijker, a tabla artist from Amsterdam who was also present, also spoke briefly. After a brief vote of thanks to TU Delft, X and Gemeente Delft, the discussion moved outside the hall where everyone had a chance to interact with the artist.

A deeper insight into the role of laya would have been welcome, but perhaps this was difficult in the absence of a pakhwaj. The volume balance between the Rudra Veena and the Tanpura could perhaps have been better, but all in all it was a melodious and memorable evening


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