Ustad Alladiya Khan
Snapshot
  • A profile of Ustad Alladiya Khan, the progenitor of the prolific Jaipur-Atrauli gharana

Long ago, at the time my friend Manoj Joshi never listened to Hindustani music, we forcibly took him to an evening concert. The young artist performing that day presented Raag Marwa, a beautiful, twilight melody and, luckily, Manoj sat through the entire performance. It was probably the intensity of the raag or the ambience of the informal baithak; our plan worked magically, and Manoj subsequently asked for some more recordings of Marwa. I gave him a folder featuring renditions of Marwa by a range of artists, both new and vintage.

But then, a few days later, my friend came back with a question- why did Ust. Amir Khan’s Marwa sound different from, say, Pt. Vasantrao Deshpande’s presentation? Or why did Malini-tai’s Marwa feel so aggressive compared to the one sung by Heera-bai? The only answer I could give him, at that point, was that these artists belonged to different gharanas and, therefore, differed in their approach to the presentation of the same raag-matrix! So his next question was, what is so special about a musical ‘gharana’?

What exactly are gharanas in Hindustani music?

Most new listeners often have this query about the ‘gharana’ tradition in Hindustani classical music. Since this is a unique feature of our music, let’s try and simplify this important concept at this stage.

Music, the world over, has three basic components- sur (musical notes), laya (rhythm) and shabd (lyrics). However, considering the nature of classical music, the lyrics have the least importance and are used only as a minor tool in the presentation. Instrumental music, by its nature, does not even have words. We can, therefore, safely say that Hindustani classical music primarily uses two components in its presentation, the sur and the laya.

Using these essential tools, our ancestors, with their creative minds and extensive thought, evolved a definite method of presenting a set of notes with a sub-set of rules—a raag-matrix. Moreover, with the immense amount of creative freedom given to an individual within this regulation, different artists evolved different styles of presentation of the raag system of music. Some of these styles had the potential to endure over centuries and, thus, got perpetuated with the help of generations of disciples. These came to be known as ‘gharanas’ in Hindustani classical music.

What is the history of the gharana system?

Essentially, Hindustani music suffers from a lack of documentation. Therefore, we are left to make calculated or educated guesses about the original styles, practices and process of evolution of music through bygone centuries.

Prabandh in mentioned in the scriptures as an early form of singing. However, there are hardly any authentic documents, mentions or descriptions about how to sing prabandh or its definitive form.

Prabandh later gave way to dhrupad sometime in the late 16th century. Sangit Ratnakar, an authoritative text believed to have been written in the 13th century, does not have any mention of dhrupad; so, it can be safely assumed that it had not evolved up till then. However, once dhrupad became an accepted practice, it gained popularity mainly through royal patronage.

The seeds of the gharana system

We see the first, historical clues of distinct individual styles perpetuating in Hindustani classical music with the emergence of dhrupad. These styles, called vani’s or bani’s, became popular, and each of the bani’s had an immense following of aspirants and listeners. The Gauri (or Gohar) Bani, Khandar Bani, Nauhar Bani and Dagar Bani of dhrupad are essentially four different styles or gharanas, as they later came to be known.

Of these, except for Dagar Bani, all other styles are now near extinction- only the Darbhanga gharana, showcasing a combination of strains from Khandar and Gauri Banis, survives to a limited extent today. As mentioned earlier, dhrupad thrived on royal patronage and most of the historical figures known today, sang dhrupad viz. Swami Haridas, his acclaimed disciple Miyan Tansen, Bilas Khan (Tansen’s son) and Tansen’s contemporaries like Bazbahadur, Nayak Charju and Nayak Baiju.

Dhrupad, in a way, ruled the music scene from the 15th to the mid 19th century, when a new style started emerging. With the curtains finally coming down on the Mughal empire, artists began migrating to central and western India from the north. This churning caused not just a geographical rearrangement of sorts but also brought forth new thoughts of presenting Hindustani music- this ‘thought’ literally became khayal, the modern way of singing.

The initial forays into this form, by pioneers of khayal, led them into creating a framework of rules, outlook, presentation and appreciation of music. Thus, pioneers like Ustad Haddu and Ustad Hassu Khan paved the way for establishing the ‘Gwalior gharana’, the mother of all other traditions.

The growth of the gharanas

Referring to our earlier discussion about the components that make Hindustani music- the sur  and the laya and the inherent freedom for creativity ingrained in classical music, different artists found different facets that appealed to their individual ingenuities. They, thus, presented their art in a way that could highlight their choices.

For instance, the Gwalior gharana gave equal weightage to sur  and laya in its style of presentation. There was Ust. Khuda Baksh who trained under Ust. Nathan Peer Baksh of the Gwalior tradition, but later broke away to present a serene, slow-tempo, dhrupad-oriented style of khayal singing with emphasis on the expansive treatment of the raag-matrix. Thus, the Agra gharana was born .

Similarly, another approach that laid more weightage on the extreme refinement of sur in the presentation was that of the Kirana gharana under Ust. Abdul Karim Khan. Ultimately, today we have four main gharanas—Gwalior, Kirana, Agra and Jaipur—and various gharana offshoot traditions viz. Patiyala, Mewati, Sahaswan, Banaras, etc. that have spawned primarily from the central Gwalior tradition.

A gharana also witnesses a continuous process of evolution, and the best example that comes to mind is that of the Indore gharana as it came to be known after Ust. Amir Khan-saheb (1912-1974).

The birth of the Jaipur-Atrauli gharana

Interestingly, most of the founders of these musical gharanas were initially proficient in the dhrupad style but, in their creative brainstorming, found a new and unique way of presentation. This led them to evolve their own style and become a khalifa (the most superior authority) of that gharana. In a way, they were geniuses who carved a niche for themselves with their path-breaking approaches.

One such genius was born on 10 August 1855, in Uniyara near Jaipur, to a well-known dhrupad singer Ahmed Khan, the court singer at Uniyara. Although Ahmed Khan passed away when Alladiya Khan was just five, he went through intensive taleem (training) under his uncle Jehangir Khan. Ust. Alladiya Khan-saheb later wrote about the intensive training in his memoirs:

“it used to go on all through the night, and my uncle used to sit in front listening to me perfect the composition. I learnt about ten to twelve thousand compositions during those three years of taleem!”
From ‘The Lost World of Hindustani Music’

Alladiya Khan was also a rarity amongst musicians of those times, in that he had completed his academics in Arabic and Persian simultaneously. As a result of the all-round training and exposure to music under his uncle, young Alladiya earned quite a reputation in those days as a successful concert singer. He used to receive numerous invitations to sing at the royal courts of many princely states of the era.

It was at Amleta, an obscure riyasat in Rajasthan where it is said that the Raja made Ust. Alladiya Khan-saheb sing for a whole week- morning and evening- without a break and this adversely affected Khan-saheb’s voice. This incident presumably took place in 1886 when Khan-saheb was about 31 years of age. It took a conscious riyaaz (practice) of several years to bring his singing voice back to normalcy. The magic of the young voice, however, was gone forever, and this caused Ust. Alladiya Khan to think of a different way to present his art- literally speaking, it was a paradigm shift!

The new style that would unfold, over the next few years, contained almost nothing of the alap-pradhan, slow-tempo dhrupad features, but was heavily interspersed with mid-tempo, intricate taan-patterns and gamak’s (oscillating taan of two notes with subtle pressure behind notes). These taan-patterns; oblique and spiral, taken at twice-thrice or four times the basic tempo of the composition, became the hallmark of his style and, ultimately, of the ‘Jaipur gharana’ as it came to be known popularly. It is also known as the ‘Jaipur-Atrauli gharana’.

He borrowed heavily from dhrupad compositions of the Gwalior and Agra traditions, and converted them into khayal compositions. Jod-raags (a judicious mixture of two or more raag-matrices) and anavat (unheard) raag-matrices became his forte. Nat-Kamod, Sampoorna-Malkauns, Basanti-Kedar, Bhoop-Nat, Savani-Kalyan, Malavi and Basanti-Kanada are just some of the examples of the raag-matrices he sang frequently and popularised.

The rise of the gharana

Eventually, Ust. Alladiya Khan-saheb moved to Kolhapur in Maharashtra as the Raj-Gayak (court musician) to the Maratha King Shahu Maharaj. This step augured very well for him and his gayaki, as well. In this musically fertile land, he spread Jaipur gayaki far and wide and also trained many disciples. The lineage of his disciples is quite impressive!

Two of his three sons became well-known singers and revered gurus, following in the footsteps of their illustrious father. It is said that Ust. Badruddin ‘Manji’ Khan—‘Manji’ from ‘manjhale’ because he was the ‘middle’ of the three siblings—was a splitting image of his father, musically, and was the ‘chosen inheritor’ of the gharana mantle.

However, he did not live long (1888-1937) and Bade Khan-saheb- as Ust. Alladiya Khan was fondly known as- later groomed his youngest son Ust. Shamsuddin ‘Bhurji’ Khan to take over from him (‘Bhurji’ shortened from ‘Bhure-ji’ because he was unusually fair-skinned). Sadly neither Bade Khan-saheb nor Manji-khan left any recording for posterity. What we know of their singing is only through memoirs written by their disciples and anecdotes handed over by music-lovers over generations.

One of the foremost disciples of Ust. Alladiya Khan-saheb was Surashree Kesarbai Kerkar. The original grand-dame of Hindustani classical music hailed from Keri in North Goa and had her initial training under various masters like Ust. Abdul Karim Khan (Kirana Gharana), Pt. Ramkrishnabuwa Vaze, Ust. Barkatullah Khan (sitarist) and Pt. Bhaskarbuwa Bakhale.

Eventually, she received rigorous and extensive training from 1921, for more than a decade, under Ust. Alladiya Khan-saheb. It is said that she had Bade Khan-saheb sign an exclusivity agreement with her before beginning her training. With a long and illustrious career, highlighted by felicitations like the ‘Sangeet Natak Academy Award’ and ‘Padma-Vibhushan’, Kesarbai is considered to be one of the foremost artists of the Jaipur Gharana till date. Here is an extensive Raag Lalita-Gauri, a trademark matrix of Jaipur repertoire:

Ust. Alladiya Khan-saheb, now popularly known as ‘Gan-Samrat’, also trained Gaan-Tapasvini Mogubai Kurdikar. She was another Goan, who had migrated to Mumbai with a burning desire to learn music and make a mark. Legend has it that Bade Khan-saheb himself offered to teach her, after hearing her practice at her home. Alladiya Khan-saheb was in Sangli for medical treatment during those days, and Mogubai used to take singing lessons from Ust. Inayat Khan there.

Interestingly, there was a lot of power struggle between Kesarbai Kerkar and Ustad-ji when he took on Mogubai as a disciple because of the exclusivity contract he had signed. An amicable mid-way was reached, and Mogubai’s training resumed, albeit intermittently! But Mogubai was a keen student and was soon recognised as one of the top performers of the Jaipur Gharana. Listen to her signature Jaipur raag-matrix Nayaki-Kanada here:

Bade Khan-saheb’s two illustrious sons also trained some of the best-known vocalists, in the pure Jaipur tradition. The foremost among them was Pt. Mallikarjun Mansoor.

‘Anna’, as he was fondly called, began in the typical fashion of running away from home, during childhood, with a theatre troupe to learn music. Having trained under various teachers for a few years, he was taken under the wings of Ust. Manji Khan.

Sadly, Manji Khan passed away shortly after taking on Mansoor-anna as a student. But he had given Anna enough of his flavour in that short time. Mansoor came to be recognised as the ‘true Inheritor’ of Manji Khan-saheb!

There is an interesting anecdote about Ust. Alladiya Khan refusing to listen to Mansoor’s records, when HMV had come out with them. Bhurji Khan-saheb kept insisting that Bade Khan-saheb should listen to them, Alladiya refused with, “Na-na, wo sunkar Manji bada yad ata hai!” (No-no, I don’t want to hear them- they remind me so much of Manji Khan!) So although we have no way of listening to Manji Khan-saheb, here’s a very rare, Jaipur-specialty Raag Vihang sung by Pt. Mallikarjun Mansoor:

Besides those mentioned already, Ust. Alladiya Khan-saheb and his two illustrious sons also trained some other noted disciples such as Ust. Azmat Hussein Khan (nephew), Ust. Haider Khan (Bade Khan-saheb’s younger brother), Ust. Gulubhai Jasdanwala, Pt. Govindrao Tembe, Pt. Nivruttibuwa Sarnaik, Sardarbai Kardagekar, Pt. Gajananbuwa Joshi, Pt. Madhusudan Kanetkar, Pt. Govindrao Shaligram, Pt. Wamanrao Sadolikar, the late Pt. Anandbuwa Limaye, and Baba Azizuddin Khan. The subsequent generations of these disciples carried the legacy forward by meticulous and selfless efforts.

The de-facto torchbearer of the Jaipur gharana, in contemporary times, is Vidushi Kishori Amonkar- the daughter of the illustrious Gaan-Tapasvini Mogubai Kurdikar. A deep-thinker and philosopher at heart, Kishori-tai thoughtfully blended the gharana taleem received from her mother with subtle influences from other gharana traditions and enriched the listeners’ experience still further. Renowned world over as a mercurial performer and someone who is not afraid of elevating the benchmark each time she takes to the stage, Kishori-tai has also recorded prolifically. She has been instrumental in attracting generations of younger music-lovers to music concerts.

Vidushi Kishori Amonkar/Photo by Prasad Pawar, Nashik (MH) Vidushi Kishori Amonkar/Photo by Prasad Pawar, Nashik (MH)

Taking Mogubai’s legacy further, she has trained a number of disciples such as Smt. Manik Bhide, Meera Panshikar, Raaghunandan Panshikar, Devaki Pandit and Arti Ankalikar-Tikekar amongst others. Many of her pupils have gone on to achieve fame and admiration from aficionados in their own right. Here is a link to her Raag Lalit-Pancham recorded for Door-Darshan, a few years ago:

Even amongst the later generations those with musical aspirations have been attracted attracted to the Jaipur-Atrauli gharana. Notable amongst these are Shruti Sadolikar-Katkar, Pt. Arun Dravid, and Ashwini Bhide-Deshpande. Especially popular amongst the younger artists is Manjiri Asnare-Kelkar, who trained under Pt. Madhusudan Kanetkar (who, in turn, trained under Ust. Bhurji Khan-saheb), and is currently receiving taleem from Kishori-tai herself .

In the opinion of the connoisseurs and other musicologists, she is the torchbearer of the Jaipur Gharana of the next generation. Discipline, purity and imaginative presentation are the hallmarks of her performances. You can listen to her Jogiya-Asawari (again a Jaipur-specialty jod-raag) here:

Ust. Alladiya Khan-saheb lived to the ripe age of 91 and saw the roots of the Jaipur gharana take firm hold, in the minds of music lovers. They, in turn, celebrated his life by conferring upon him the honorific title of ‘Gaan-Samrat’- Emperor of Music. Although he was a staunch follower of his gharana tradition, he also was a true connoisseur and listened to the music of all gharanas and types. A great admirer of the natya-sangeet gayaki of Balgandharv, he always encouraged his disciples to have an open mind. As the times change, so does the music of the times! Had Bade Khan-saheb been alive today, maybe he would have been the first one to experiment further in his style, raise the benchmark still higher and evolve yet another gayaki!

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