Ustad Zia Mohiuddin Dagar born on 14th March 1929 was a scion of an illustrious family of dhrupadiyas and beenkars from the former princely state of Udaipur in Rajasthan. Fondly known as Bade Ustad, he was one of the world`s most renowned exponents of the Rudra veena, the instrumental ancestor of the Sitar. He was also one of the few masters of Dhrupad, the slow, austere, meditative traditional music still performed as it was centuries ago by Dagar forefathers. He was only seven when he began his training under the tutelage of his father, Ustad Ziauddin Khan Dagar, court musician for the Maharaj of Udaipur. The training was in both vocal and instrumental music. Even while he learnt to sing dhrupad, he was also acquainted with the styles of playing instruments like the veena, the sursringar, the sitar, the surbahar and the sarod. He was the first member of his family to break with tradition and become a rudra veena player instead of a dhrupad singer. He stood against all odds to pursue his chosen course because he felt it imperative to save this instrument from passing into oblivion.
Although research and teaching were his main pursuits, his music as a performer offered the very quintessence of the best virtues of the dhrupad parampara pioneered and popularized by his distinguished forebears. Ustad Saheb`s playing Veena was devoid of showmanship or superficiality. Endowed with a sharp artistic sense, he chose to deal with the most fundamental, austere and refined aspects of Hindustani music. By performing mainly Alap he made the profound musical statement that in Alap alone the essence of Raga could be revealed. He revived the majestic Rudra Veena as a concert instrument, modifying it to enhance its tonal quality, resonance and sound sustenance, adapting it to the subtle and expressive nature of the Gayaki.
The first musician to take the North Indian veena abroad, he performed all over the world and was affiliated with the American society of Eastern Arts in Berkeley, California and taught for many years at the University of Washington in Seattle and Rotterdam Music Conservatory in Holland.
Towards the last decade of his life and with a deep belief in the oral tradition of learning, Khan Sahib or Bade Ustad as he was called by his students, along with his brother Ustad Zia Fariduddin Dagar built his gurukul, Dhrupad Kendra in Bhopal where Dhrupad was taught in the guru-shishya parampara way. Among his protégés and shishyas were the Ustad’s brother-in-law, Chandrashekhar Naringrekar and Pushparaj Koshti, who learnt the surbahar under him, his only son, Bahauddin who learnt the veena, and vocalists, the Gundecha brothers, Uday Bhawalkar and Ritwik Sanyal.
The prestigious Kalidas Samman for classical music, instituted by the government of Madhya Pradesh on the Ustad in 1986, truly came as a fitting recognition of his contribution to the traditional music of North India. He had also received the Sangeet Natak Academy Award, Rajasthan Sangeet Natak Academy award, Maharana Kumbha award and many more. His untimely death on Sept 28, 1990 was a great loss to the Dhrupad tradition.