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Rahim Fahimuddin Dagar - A Legacy

Obituary by Amelia Cuni
(September 2011)

Rahim Fahimuddin Dagar, doyen of the Dagarbani (style of dhrupad singing), passed away last July 27 in New Delhi, at the age of 84 after prolonged illness. He was shortly preceded by beenkar Asad Ali Khan, a close friend of his and leading exponent of a unique instrumental tradition in dhrupad music. With their demise, it seems like a major chapter in Hindustani musical history has come to a close. They both belonged to a time when life had a different pace and people were ready, for instance, to spend the entire night in so-called ''music conferences'', listening to great artists well into the morning hours. Both of them had witnessed enormous changes in society: while their own fathers had been court musicians, they had to adapt to the free-lancing artist life of post-independence India. In spite of such major shifts of values and lifestyle, they made it possible for younger people to experience and learn music belonging to another era. Through their uncompromising dedication to the art, they had preserved a treasure which, in this very same shape, is not available to the world anymore.

I first met R. Fahimuddin Dagar in 1982 in Calcutta. when he was teaching at the Rabindra Bharati University while giving also private classes to small groups of students at his home. Every day, he would sit with them for at least two hours, exercising alap and patterns over and over again, giving priority to the quality of akar (vocalizing on the sound of ''aa''), to the purity of intonation and to rhythmic accuracy with an intensity new to me. At once, I found his method fascinating and rewarding and I kept on studying with him for about five years. During this time with him, I have been introduced to the basics of dhrupad music and its philosophy through direct experience according to the traditional guru-shishya-parampara system of transmission. He did not seem to follow a strictly structured method and taught me as if I would be able to spend my next 30 years learning with him (as he himself had done with his own father and guru, A. Rahimuddin Dagar).

After all these years, I feel that R. Fahimuddin Dagar's teachings and practical demonstrations are still working inside me. Again and again I find myself elaborating on some of the principles he was able to transmit in all their self-generative power, possibly because he did not try to adapt them to modern times and needs. While his uncompromising and conscientious nature has not helped him to face the overwhelming social changes taking place during his lifetime, his truthfulness to the tradition has preserved that inherent quality of timelessness, the original sparkle, linking dhrupad to the highest expressions of Indian classical culture. I realize that the aspects connecting dhrupad to the yoga-of-sound (nadayoga) keep on getting clearer to me with practice, continuously unfolding their significance and potential. Thanks to Dagar Sahab's deep understanding of these principles and his adamant belief in their relevance to dhrupad, I am able to gradually absorb them through the memory of his example, even at this later stage. Through his non-sectarian approach to religious belief, I have been able to experience Islam from a very privileged point of view, that one of a Muslim musician offering his singing to Allah and to Shiva in one single breath and honoring the concept of nadabrahman through his own dedication to music as a spiritual path. The awareness of the subtle effects of sound and its metaphysical correspondences made of R.Fahimuddin Dagar's dhrupad singing an art in its noblest acceptation, nourishing the soul and elevating the spirit, a path leading to the higher Self. In his teachings, singing becomes a way to tune oneself to the harmony of the cosmos, rather than expressing emotions or demonstrating one's own achievements. Here, the focus is not on the individual and his / her talents and skills but rather on the process of manifestation of ragas itself, requiring art and surrender both.

I have experienced Dagar Sahab's most brilliant and effective singing during his classes, while searching for the musical translation of a philosophical or poetic thought. Sometime, in a unique and remarkable way, he would demonstrate the extent of human perception by ''conjuring'' svaras (pitches) without actually singing them, just leading the listener's mind to hear them by its sheer power of concentration, as an illusionist with deep understanding of the psyche is able to make his audience see actions which do not actually take place. I attribute this ability of his to the ancient, powerful knowledge of which R.Fahimuddin Dagar considered himself a humble custodian.