Young maestro with a lineage of 20 generations

Photo credit: Avinas Pasricha
Photo credit: Avinas Pasricha

With his ponytail, he looks like a cool dude, but with the intensity of his music and the gravitas of his persona, you realise that Bahauddin Dagar is indeed the great musician he is acclaimed as, the one who took on a difficult task of carrying forward the mantle when his father, the legendary Rudra Veena maestro Ustad Zia Mohiuddin Dagar, passed away unexpectedly in 1990. At that time, Bahauddin was 20 years old.

His parents had had an inter-faith love marriage. His mother, Pramila, herself a musician of immense calibre, has played a very important role in his life. In the early years, from the age of seven, it was his mother who initiated him into music, as his father was often travelling. At that time, Bahauddin was like any other child, wanting to play all day long, and avoid exams at any cost.   It was not music that attracted him, but painting. He would happily spend hours painting and even considered joining the JJ School of Art.

“As is the tradition of many beenkars of our Gharana, I too began with the sitar under my mother’s guidance, before going on to play the surbahar and then the rudra veena, once my father decided that I had acquired sufficient skills,” recalls Bahauddin. “Actually, teaching was minimal when I started learning under my father Zia Mohiuddin Dagar. It was just practice on a singular raga for four or five years. Unless he was satisfied, we never moved on. So I remember it as long hours of practice only. In that practice, there was an exploration of the raga taking place for me.”

After his father’s demise, he continued to learn from his uncle, the renowned Ustad Zia Fariduddin Dagar, who worked on his vocal skills, the foundation of the Dagar Bani of Dhrupad and an essential prerequisite to playing the Rudra veena. “I am also very grateful to my mother’s brother Chandrashekhar Narangekar, who kept me grounded,” acknowledges Bahauddin Dagar.

Bahauddin’s father, Ustad Zia Mohiuddin Dagar, belonged to the 19th generation of a family of brilliant musicians. His own father, Ustad Ziauddin Khan Dagar, Bahauddin’s grandfather, had seen great days as the court musician of the Maharana of Udaipur. But with the fall of the princely states and the birth of the new nation of India, like many other court musicians, this family too went through a bad phase.

Despite the fact that the family faced many challenges when it moved to Mumbai seeking greener pastures, Zia Mohiuddin’s passion for music never dimmed. In way, he thrived on challenges. He brought the privately played Rudra veena on the public platform, adapted it for the demands of the stage, for which it is called the Dagar veena, and loved playing it with just a tanpura as accompaniment. This enlarged version of the veena demanded an accompanying change in playing style. It could now be played not with one end on the shoulder, but horizontally as the South Indian veena is played. This was the version of the veena that Bahauddin inherited and which he trained on.

Bahauddin Dagar sees himself as a link in a long line of musicians. His father’s dream of a gurukul was finally realised in 1982 at a village near Panvel

He has evidently imbibed the inventive genes of his father for with the help of research he conducted at IIT Mumbai, Bahauddin has also created a new veena and named it the Ras Veena. It brings together music traditions of both the north and the south as one can play both the styles on it. This exploration brought the realisation that if the number of veena players was sparse, veena makers were even rarer.

The Dagars grew up in an interesting area: Mumbai’s Chembur. This suburb really came into the limelight after independence,  with an influx of Partition refugees. Over the years, it also housed a sizeable population from south India. Bahauddin acknowledges the impact of his surroundings on his attitude and mind during his growing years. “Having many friends from this culturally mixed area, I enjoyed different festivals, foods and arts. My association with so many different people is responsible for the free, open mind I have,” he explains. It could also be responsible for his natural inclination to the gravitas oriented art that he practices and also his fondness for playing ragas from the Carnatic tradition.

Bahauddin`s music clearly reflects the training he has received from his father. But no self-respecting musician remains a photocopy of the original, so Bahauddin too has incorporated a personal dimension to the depth and exploration of the raga, that bears the signature of his rigorous vocal training he has received from his uncle. He has successfully incorporated the Dhrupad syllables (te, ta, ra, na) that are part of the vocal tradition in the playing of the Rudra Veena. This gives a unique and precise sense of timing in the cutting of phrases while presenting the three parts of the ragaalap, jod and jhala. A unique aspect of Bahauddin’s mental architecture of the raga is the appropriateness of the duration of the three parts — a structure that keeps his listeners hungry for the next experience.

In his lifetime, his father Ustad Zia Mohiuddin Dagar chased the concept of a Dhrupad gurukul. He envisioned this gurukul to be a musical sanctuary, a place where he would sit with his disciples and impart them training in the guru- shishya parampara, the ageold method of training in which a few selected students study under one roof whilst sharing the space and musical knowledge with the guru. The dream of the gurukul was finally realised in 1982 at Palaspa, a village near Panvel.

Bahauddin is well aware of his responsibility towards Drupad. He sees himself as a link in a long line of musicians and an even longer tradition. In taking the Dhrupad tradition to future generations, Bahauddin consciously teaches both, vocal and instrumental forms of music, as he recognises, perhaps more than any other person, how each can complement the other. His students hail from different backgrounds and come from various parts of the country. Many of his students come from overseas as well from countries as far spread as Argentina and Greece.

“I went back to the gurukul system of training after my uncle Ustad Zia Fariduddin Dagar passed away. The students start riyaaz by 2.30 in the morning. One masters not just the music, it is a way of life that is being shaped. What to wear, how to present and perform — all of this one absorbs watching the guru. I therefore insist that my learners who are abroad must spend time with me in India. To the students who are serious, I demand three to four hours daily for about eight years.” What is really unique is that his role as a teacher has compelled him to slow his pace, allowing him the greater joy of slow savouring. He is as additionally grateful to his own students as they are to him, for he firmly believes that teaching is integral to his own learning and growth as a musician.

Ten years ago, when in his thirties, Bahauddin Dagar’s potential was recognised when he was selected for the Sanskriti Puruskar (2006) and the Raza Award (2007) followed by the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award (2012). Today, he is sought the world over as a young maestro of a difficult instrument.

Bahauddin acknowledges that Dhrupad is demanding. “It demands discipline. My art has no poetry, but needs to create poetic abstractions. For this mastery I need to practise specific scales, every day, for years. I can’t take things for granted. I am not interested in popular and exotic gimmickry. Lack of economic up gradation doesn’t bother me. But less of true music does,” he says with a finality that comes when you have seen the light.

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