The training of both khayal and dhrupad-dhamar, being imparted together is not very unique. In fact in all khayal gharanas, some training of dhrupad is always given. However it requires to be noted that both dhrupad and khayal were sung in Agra Gharana till recently, which is significant. In other gharanas hardly any training is now given in dhrupad gayaki. But dhrupad and khayal have influenced each other mutually in Agra Gharana with obvious advantage. Though insistence was upon khayal in the Gharana, certain musical features of dhrupad-dhamar were so mingled in khayala that it became enriched. This characteristic blending of the two forms was prominently present in Natthan Khan's singing. The techniques of dugun, cogun, athgun, layakan, bola-tana, tihai of bola-tana, lapet of bola, balancing the words of bandish with stressed and unstressed beats, bola-bant, openness of utterance, etc. were used by Natthan Khan in khayal. It is not easy to combine these dhrupad features with bandisa, only a creative artiste could accomplish such a task.
While discussing the Agra gharana, certain features have to be taken into account. These are- Utterances of svaras: Svaroccara, Raaga-vistara, Cija and bandisa, Laya-tala and Tana. In any discussion on gharanas, the voice of a prominent singer in the gharana and his characteristic use of it become the basis for explaining its subtleties but the gayaki of a gharana and an individual's voice quality are two different beauty aspects.
Svaroccara of Agra Gharana
In dhrupad-dhamar, the svaras when uttered are open and bare (i.e. without grace notes). Even the projection of voice is more forceful and vigorous than in khayal. Because both khayal and dhrupad were parallel in training in Agra Gharana, the voice factor which ought to be different from each other did not remain so. The "Voice device" of dhrupad, became an integral part of khayal. This unique feature got an impetus in Faiyaz Khan, in whom the voice became impressively powerful and voluminous. Faiyaz Khan gharana bass tonal range and Agra became, as it were, synonymous. On the other hand, many women singers, with high pitched voices also mastered the gayaki of this gharana, so kharaj svam did not remain an inseparable part of Agra gayaki. In nom-thom, in presenting a bandisa, or in employing minda or gamaka, in dhrupad or khayal the svaras are sung open-throated. This typical use of forceful and vigorous voice is a special feature of Agra Gharana, and a bandisa or a cija sung in such a voice is considered a mark of distinction.
Raaga vistara can be done in two ways. One way of doing it, is to minimize the dominance of a cija, develop a raaga through an elaborate exposition of the raaga-anga keeping raaga in the centre. Another way is to use cija as a medium and create a form within a form by cijavistara or cija-ki-badhat. Agra Gharana belongs to the latter fold. In Indian classical music, what is presented is a raaga, which emerges through a bandisa in case of vocal and through a gata in instrumental music. A bandisa is a special melodic design of a raaga. In Agra Gharana the training in singing Cija or bandisa was considered important as it facilitated the training or teaching of a raaga. It can be said that the cija frequently sung in Agra style was considered as belonging to Agra Gharana. They say that a raaga is infinite, and can be seized only through a finite cija, which gives a form to the formless raaga. A cija embodies a raaga in its composition. To liberate a raaga from it, there is its vistara. Singing a cija by elaborating its various parts, is elaborating the very form of a raaga.
Cija and Bandisa
Singing bandisas has been a matter of tradition and style as well as of repute for Agra Gharana musicians. Bandisa is a successful device to display different facets of a raaga. Each bandisa has a special musical aesthetic mood, which cannot be explained through literary jargon. When a bandisa is sung with a proper understanding of its mood on the singer's part, it becomes all the more beautiful. Rhythm-devised and internal stresses of a tala, are closely related to a bandisa, the quality of which is judged by its co-ordination with the tala. A singer has to manage tala, while going into vistara through bola-badhata, bola-bant tana, etc. Thus, svams, laya, tana and bola together create a distinct form of a raaga and Agra gayaki manages these four things with utmost aesthetic propriety.
All gharanas utilize cija, but from the training point of view the importance given to cija in Agra Gharana is missing elsewhere. Their belief in unfolding raaga through cija has led to uncommon and unknown raagas being sung in the gharana, depending largely on cija. As a result, a raaga can be easily identified by its cija. In khayala raaga-vistara or alaap employs either svaras or bola, or both. Bola-alaap can musically exploit the "phonic" or the "sound" elements of the words. Agra Gharana uses both akara and bola-alaap.
Layakan follows cija and alaap in khayal. It mainly uses bola-tana, and bola-bant, to manage which laya has to be increased. This development to proper laya is an attractive characteristic of the gharana. The gharana's exposure and study of hon and dhamar, have influenced its psychology of music. Hon is a delightful composition, usually erotic, sung to the accompaniment of pakhavaj. There is a lot of scope for playing upon the meanings of words, laya, laya and svara, etc. This kind of indulgence into vocal acrobatics of laya and the accompanying pakhvaja create a tumultuous atmosphere. Khayala can ceate some such tumult only when laya is wrestled with. Agra gayaki uses bola-tana, bola-banta, khanapun, forceful utterance, etc. in khayala revealing the shadow of dhamar. Agra gayaki has successfully adopted vigour, force, masculinity, etc. of dhamar, which become apparent in tana, gamaka and the very pitch of voice. Overall loudness of voice and the voluminous delineation of svara became integral parts of Agra style.
Tanas are a part of raaga-vistara. They produce variety in the manifestation of a raaga. Differently paced and designed movement of svaras creates various patterns, which help in providing richness, rests, paragraphing, all leading towards a completeness of a raaga presentation. Agra Gharana excels in rendering tanas befitting each aspect of khayal. Tana-matching laya, tana stretching over more than one avartana of tola, jadbe-ki-tana, gamaka, sapat tana and firat, are frequently used. Sapat tana of very fast laya is almost absent. The gharana also differentiates between tana for asthayi and tana for antara. In rendering firat according to tala and laya, people like Natthan Khan, have made the Agra Gharana unparalleled.
One gets to know the form of Agra gayaki when the components mentioned above are presented as a coherent whole. Individual voice, mood, preference for a particular aspect of gayaki have led to a characteristic style being formed.
The question whether Agra Gharana has its own dhrupad gayaki, can be answered if there are various gharanas of dhrupad existing at present. Dhrupad is said to have different gharanas on the basis of the kinds of bam. Yet the distinctiveness which one can easily mark in various khayala gharanas is missing in the so-called different dhrupad styles. Dhrupad of today is of one kind. Dhrupad of Bengal kirtans tradition and of Haveli Sangita can be differentiated, yet the stylishness of gharana would be missing from them. Agra dhrupad certainly has that uniqueness which is found in Dagar Brother's dhrupad. But dhrupad has diminished in popularity. Khayal has become the dominant form of Agra Gharana. The gayaki of this gharana extends only to the khayala.
It must be stated here that in comparison to all the other gharanas, the Agra Gharana is the richest and most comprehensive in its repertoire of raagas, as well as cijas (compositions).
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