Ajinkya Shenava

Arts Research and Documentation

Grant Period: One year and six months

This grant will support Mumbai-based researcher Ajinkya Shenava to study the Dhrupad tradition and the process of its transmission through the practice of the Dagars. Located in the Dagar gurukul in Panvel, the research shall focus on notions of ‘authenticity’, the ‘construction’ of gharanas and the process of teaching and learning within the framework of tradition. Dhrupad is considered one of the oldest forms of Indian classical music, and the Dagar gharana is regarded as the foremost authentic carrier of this genre. The Dhrupad of the Dagars was confined primarily to the Dagar family, until the decline of court patronage compelled the family to make their music available to an eclectic circle of students. The Dagar gurukul in Panvel is symbolic of this, which caters not only to Indian students and rasikas but also to students and connoisseurs from the West. It has three fulltime resident students and many ‘part-time Dhrupadiyas’ like Ajinkya himself. 

Ajinkya first experienced Dhrupad when he attended a workshop conducted by Ustad Zia Fariduddin Dagar as a child. During his seven years with the Dagars, Ajinkya was intrigued by how the notions of parampara and gurukul were expressed in the Dhrupad-Dagar context. The inventions, interpretations and reinforcement of rituals, anecdotes and conventions that construct the guru-shishya relationship and the Dagar gharana of Dhrupad, will form the crux of his research.

Ajinkya’s research will attempt to extricate parampara and gurukul from the extreme positions of either an abstract romantic perception, or a fierce critique of its feudal structure, understanding instead, the aura of tradition in everyday terms. Ajinkya will examine the layered interactions between the gurus, shishyas, music enthusiasts and rasikas, to understand the continuity, rupture and construction of tradition. Academically, the research will engage with several well-established frameworks for studying tradition as put forth by T.S. Eliot, Gadamer, Hobsbawm and Geertz, seeking a new paradigm for the study of arts practice and tradition. Ajinkya’s position as a researcher and a shishya of the parampara, will place him in a complex ‘insider-outsider’ position, which, although precarious, offers the potential to add an important dimension to the research. 

Much of this research will be based on oral historical evidence. Ajinkya shall hence conduct extensive interviews with the gurus, students and other ‘social actors’ in the Dagar community. In addition, Ajinkya will analyse Dhrupad texts including bandishes and other historical literature about the gharana and the gurukul system. The research shall culminate in a monograph. Ajinkya will also undertake audio-video documentation of significant events at the gurukul, like the Guru Poornima, Bade Ustad’s barsi and other baithaks.