Characterized by the rhythm of the Dhadh(small hand-held drum), Dhadhi is a tradition that began in the courts of Guru Hargobind. One of the three main music styles that developed in that era, Dhadhi is an amalgamation of both classical and folk music of Punjab, and this gives it its wide appeal. Featuring the rhythms of the Dhadh accompanied by the unique sounds of the Sarangi, Dhadhi exists in both the Sikh and Sufi traditions. Although it can still be found all over Punjab in India, today this musical form is on the verge of extinction.
Dhadhi is a four hundred-year-old tradition that originated during the rule of Jahangir. During the period of the Gurus (great Sikh spiritual leaders), three types of musicians flourished. They were known as Rababis, Ragis, and Dhadhis. Guru Nanak started the Rababi tradition while Guru Arjan encouraged the Ragis tradition. It was Guru Hargobind, the sixth of the Ten Sikh Gurus, who was responsible for the development of the Dhadhi tradition, sometime around the seventeenth century. After the sad demise of his father, Guru Arjan, Guru Hargobind built the Akaltakth (throne of God) within the complex of the Amritsar Darbar (Golden temple), the most sacred of the Sikh shrines. He then invited musicians to his court to sing heroic ballads (vaars) to infuse courage and confidence among the Sikh community and to inspire them to perform acts of heroism and valor. The first of these musicians were Bhai Abdullah and Bhai Natha, experts in the Sarangi and Dhadh respectively. The melody that they performed for the first time before the Akaltakth was one that had just been composed two years earlier.
Today a Dhadhi ensemble consists of two or more singers, with whom one plays the Sarangi and another plays the Dhadh. One may discourse on the contents of their repertoire and may lead the performance. The ensembles are referred to as ‘Dhadhi Jatha’. Dhadhis do not necessarily belong to a specific religious community. Sikh Dhadhis traditionally sing in the Gurudwaras and perform vars of scripture, however, they may often perform their own renditions of episodes of Sikh warriors and martyrs. Sufi Dhadhis sing to the Divine Power and perform at mazaars of saints, or sing about legendary tragic love stories at melas (fairs) and festivals. Though they are typical to Punjab it is not uncommon to find Dhadhis in various locations across Haryana.
Dhadhi songs express both appreciation and criticism. If either of these elements is missing from a composition that song is considered incomplete. There is no specific syllabus or even written material for learning Dhadhi as the tradition is ancestral and has been passed down from generation to generation. Though it has developed over hundreds of years it has remained faithful to its roots with regard to its musical compositions and the instruments on which they are performed. These compositions are both unique and easily recognizable as they are characterized by the rhythms of the Dhadh and the melodious tunes of the Sarangi without which they cannot be termed Dhadhi.