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The premier gharana of sitar

Published : Feb 5, 2018, 1:26 am IST
Updated : Feb 5, 2018, 1:26 am IST

Ustad Imdad Khan was truly a memorable musician, from the stories linked with him.

Vilayat Khan
 Vilayat Khan

The recent Padmavibhushan Award to 91-year-old Pandit Arvind Parekh, oldest student of Ustad Vilayat Khan, preceded by the awarding of the Sangeet Natak Akademi Fellowship to him at a glittering reception at Rashtrapati Bhawan last month brings into focus his gharana. Six generations of unbroken lineage; several top exponents in the world of music even today; path-breaking innovations on the instrument of this house, the sitar – the Imdadkhani gharana truly has an illustrious history. The gharana is universally known by this name, after the 19th century sitariya Ustad Imdad Khan, though the tradition of music was started by his grandfather; some people also refer to it as the Etawah gharah as the original Ustads lived in Etawah, a small district near Agra.

Ustad Imdad Khan was truly a memorable musician, from the stories linked with him. It is said he was born in Etawah in 1848, and trained mainly under his father Ustad Sahabdad Khan, but later also with Ustad Bande Ali Khan the great beenkar who lived in Indore, and was associated musically with one of the founders of the Gwalior vocal gharana, Ustad Haddu Khan (he was his son in law too). He was the first sitar player ever to be recorded, and it is said he performed in front of Queen Victoria. Ustad Imdad Khan was court musician of two of the biggest patrons in India in his time – the Maharajas of Mysore and later Indore. He was so immensely rigid with his practice that is it said he would sit for his riyaaz at the same time every evening, regardless of whether he was traveling or not, in sickness and in health. If he was on a train, he would hop off, complete his riyaaz, then wait for the next train to board for his destination. Knowing this habit of his, concert organisers used to insist he arrive a few days before the concert date, so that even if he de-boarded and missed a few connections, he would still arrive in time, a few days later!! In a recording with the Sangeet Natak Akademi archives, a certain Gottu sahib from Dharwar visited Indore, heard Ustad Imdad Khan play Raga Puriya, and a year later he again heard him, still playing Puriya. When he asked the Ustad why he did not play anything else, and if he had really only played Puriya in the intervening months, the Ustad is said to have replied “beta, Puriya mein tel hai, nikaalke chorenge” (there is still heavy matter in Puriya for me to dig out; I will leave exploring it only after I have extracted it fully)

Ustad Imdad Khan had two equally worthy sons – Ustad Inayat Khan acknowledged as the finest sitar player of his times (Ustad Hafiz Ali Khan is on record saying “unki ungaleeyon se pareeya tapakti thee” – fairies danced from his fingers when he played) and Ustad Wahid Khan, who specialized in playing the surbahar. Ustad Inayat Khan had two sons – legendary Ustad Vilayat Khan called the “Yug Purush” of instrumentalists in his times, and Ustad Imrat Khan, today, the senior most sitariya of his gharana, though largely forgotten as he is a resident in the US. (Shamefully, he was awarded the Padma Shri, the junior most of the Padma awards, in his twilight years, last year, which he refused, saying he was too senior to accept the honour).

Ustad Vilayat Khan undisputedly over shadowed the world of instrumental music in his times; most instrumentalists even today, privately acknowledge the influence he has had on their music.

Ustad Inayat Khan’s grandsons today dominate the world of the sitar and surbahar – late Ustad Rais Khan, Ustad Shahid Parvez Khan, Ustad Shujaat Khan, Ustad Nishat Khan, Ustad Irshad Khan. Illustrious disciples include Pt Budhaditya Mukherji, and Anupama Bhagwat.

Ustad Irshad Khan, the youngest Ustad, but by no means a light weight musician, talking of his musical heritage remarked, the life of a professional musician is never easy; the heritage means you don’t have the choice of pursuing any other career, as the music is in your blood.

He recalled telling words of his grandmother, Begum Basheeran Inayat Khan (widowed in her thirties, she was the daughter of Ustad Bande Ali Khan in the Nahan court).

She told him “beta yaad rakhna, kabhi ghee khaane ko milega, kabhi muthi bhar chane, kabhi voh bhi nahin” (Son in this line you sometimes get to eat with butter, sometimes it’s just a handful of gram, sometimes not even that) Poignant words indeed!

Tags: padmavibhushan award, pandit arvind parekh