In the context of Indian music, Gharana represents a tradition which nurtures a particular style of rendition and the philosophy behind practicing that particular style. It is passed on from generation to generation among its followers.
As is known all over Northern India, the system of music followed is one. However, every region has enriched it by giving its own colour and style in its rendition. Various schools of music came into existence due to the musicians employed by various regional rulers in their Durbars. These musicians practiced “Shastrokta” music tinged with the colours of the regions to which they belonged. This has enriched the style of renditions of Ragas in North Indian classical Music.
Since the advent of Muslim rule in India, Delhi had been an important seat of power and a great patron of art and culture. Apart from Court music, a new form of music evolved here among the Sufi saints who came from Central Asia and settled in and around Delhi. According to the Sufi traditions, devotees sought communion with the Almighty through music which was an essential part of the daily ‘Samaa’. The style of the music, i.e. qauls and qawwalis, performed in the samaa was more akin to Persian music than to the prevailing indigenous music. It is believed that Amir Khusro, who was an employee in the Delhi Sultanate, skillfully mixed this music with the contemporary Indian music and gave rise to a new form of singing that was called ‘Khayal’. Though this is the popular belief; not a single mention of this form of singing is found in the books written by him. However, he wrote many verses which qawwali singers adopted in their singing and later, have also been adopted by the Khayal singers. This might have given rise to this notion. According to most musicologists, the seeds of Khayal were in these qawwalis which gradually evolved and became established as one of the most popular forms of North Indian Classical Music in the 17th Century. Since the form evolved in Delhi, it is obvious that musicians of Delhi were the first to adopt it.
The present clan of Delhi Gharana dates back to the time of Amir Khusro. Their ancestry goes back to Hassan Sawant and Bula Kalawant – contemporaries of Amir Khusro who were Qawwals in the service of the famous Sufi saint Nizamuddin Auliya in Delhi. Hasan Sawant was related to Samti Qawwal, an ancestor of Qawwal Bachche of the famous Qawwal Bachchon ka Gharana. Hassan Sawant is connected from maternal side where as Bula Kalawant is connected from paternal side to the present clan of Delhi Gharana. Later on, the family had a chain of musicians who were employed as court musician in Delhi and surrounding riyasats. Some famous names among them are Mian Achpal and his disciple Tanras Khan.
After the fall of Mughal rule in Delhi, Abdul Ghani, the great grandfather of present head of Delhi Gharana Ustad Iqbal Ahmed Khan, went to his grandfather Mir Aila Bux, the court musician of Ballabhgarh, for protection and rehabilitation. Abdul Ghani, though a good singer, also played Sarangi to provide accompaniment to the main vocalist. He was scolded for this by Mir Aila Bux; as according to him this act degraded the status of the musicians of his clan. Abdul Ghani couldn’t see the logic behind the scolding and he left for Delhi taking a vow that he will take up Sarangi and raise its standard to command respect and recognition. As a result he dedicated himself totally to playing Sarangi; which brought fame to him and respect for the instrument; so much so that he began being known as Sarangi Khan and later Sangi Khan. After him his son Ghulam Mohammed Khan, popularly known as Ustad Mamman Khan, also took Sarangi as his profession. However in old days all musicians would primarily be put through rigorous vocal training, whether they later took vocal music as their profession or not. Mamman Khan too had sound training of vocal music though he took Sarangi as his profession following his father’s footsteps. Later he also developed a new instrument by bringing some innovations in Sarangi and the Raja of Datia was so impressed by the instrument that he named it as Sursagar. As two successive generations took playing Sarangi as their profession status of Delhi gharana depreciated.
However Ustad Mamman Khan’s son, the young Shafiqul Rehman Khan, who was also called Chand Khan due to his birth on the first lunar night of Moharram Sharif, was drawn towards vocal music. At first his father was not ready to accept his intentions. However after much persuasion by his family and well wishers Ustad Mamman Khan accepted to train him as a vocalist. Ustad Chand Khan thus deviated from the path of his father and grandfather and set himself to the task of reviving the tradition of vocal music in his clan. He was talented enough to master the genre of Khayal and its allies.
Talent of Ustad Chand Khan was recognized at a very early age and he was appointed as court musician of Maharaja of Patiala where his father was already a senior court musician. Father and son both returned to Delhi around 1935 when Ustad Mamman Khan suffered a paralytic attack. From then on Delhi Gharana reinstated its existence in Delhi at his ancestral residence in Suinwalan in the interiors of Old Delhi. On 2nd June, 1940 Ustad Mamman Khan left for heavenly abode and Ustad Chand Khan being the eldest of his three sons was declared as ‘Khalifa’ of Delhi Gharana.
Life was not easy for Ustad Chand Khan after he was proclaimed as the Khalifa of Delhi Gharana, as many contemporary musicians were not ready to give the status of Gharana to his clan. According to the Classical Music fraternity Gharanas should be represented by soloists and not accompanists for at least three consecutive generations. If at all in term of solo vocalist category, the gharana begins with Chand Khan. It was also said that Chand Khan though not related to Tanras Khan, was actually a follower of Tanras Khan’s Gharana as his ancestors were disciple of Tanras Khan. However, Ustad Chand Khan strongly stood by his claims and cleared all doubts regarding these. He stated that his grandfather, Ustad Sangi Khan, was the son-in-law of Mian Achpal’s brother Ghulam Hussain Khan and were thus directly linked to the old Delhi Gharana. As far as the issue of solo artiste is concerned, prior to Ustad Mamman Khan and Ustad Sangi Khan his ancestors who lived in Sameypur area near Delhi were vocalists of repute. In many other gharanas there has been occasional deviation from the ancestral art form viz. Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan was a Sarangi player in his early days, Ustad Abdul Karim Khan and Ustad Abdul Waheed Khan were initially Sangi players themselves and Ustad Amir Khan’s father was also a Sarangi player. So if these gharanas were free of any stigma for providing Sarangi accompaniment why Delhi Gharana should be penalized for that.
Gayaki of Delhi Gharana
Soft, subtle and soothing are the three most appropriate words to describe the style of rendition in Delhi Gharana. At no juncture within the presentation one is allowed to deviate from these points. According to stalwarts of the gharana, music should be soothing and soft and should be able to create oneness to the Supreme Being. It should be introspective and meditative. At no point it should leave behind aesthetic, not even executing the difficult Taans. Executing tans with the aid of jaws or tongue is strictly prohibited. The Gayaki is characterized by flexibility and mellifluence.
The vocal rendition starts with a small Aalap with ‘Nom’ ‘Tom’ before taking the Sthayi of Vilambit Khayal. Then Stahyi of Vilmbit khayal is taken and the raga is exposed through badhat till reaching Tar Sa. After reaching Tar Sa the artiste then proceeds to Antara. Badhat is planned according to the nature and mood of Raga. The badhat of Vilambit Khayal is embellished with meend, soot, khatka, murki, taans etc. there should not be any repetition and embellishments should be judicious employed so that the audience does not get bored. After finishing the Vilambit Khayal with ‘mote daane ki Taans’ Drut Khayal is rendered. Varieties of Taans are specialty of Delhi Gharana, very swift taans of chougun speed is also one of them.
Some Prominent Personalities of Delhi Gharana
- 1. Shams-e-Mousiqui Ustad Mamman Khan
Ustad Mamman Khan was born to Abdul Ghani in the year 1865. Following his father’s footsteps he went on to become a great Sarangi Player. Later he evolved a new instrument by adding some elements of Been and Sitar to the Sarangi. Maharaja of Datia once invited Mamman Khan to perform at his Court when he liked this instrument immensely and named it as ‘Sursagar’. Though being an instrumentalist Ustad Mamman Khan had full training of vocal music and had composed many bandishes for Khayal. He had three sons – Chand Khan, Jahan Khan and Usman Khan. The eldest son Chand Khan went on to revive the vocal music of his Gharana.
- 2. Ustad Bundu Khan
Ustad Bundu Khan was son of Ali Jaan Khan and grandson of Ustad Aila Bux who was in the service of Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar. He was married to the eldest daughter of Ustad Mamman Khan. Ha was an extraordinary musician and became famous as one of the best Sarangi Players of his time. He served in the court of Maharaja Tukarao Holkar of Indore. However, after the partition in 1947 he migrated to Pakistan. He died in Karachi in the year 1955.
- 3. Ustad Chand Khan
Ustad Chand Khan was the eldest son of Mamman Khan, who re-established the vocal tradition of Delhi Gharana and was declared as Khalifa of the Gharana after his father’s death. He was a vocalist of great repute. His talent was noticed at a very early age when he accompanied his father at the court of Patiala and the Maharaja of Patiala employed him as court musician along with his father. He was a regular performer at All India Radio since its inception at 1936 and put into the category of Ustads by All India Radio, Delhi. Prior to tat he even performed from Bombay Radio regularly from 1932 onwards. In 1942 AIR conferred the title of Ustad to Chand Khan along with few others. Later in his life he was honoured by many awards some of them are – the title of Sangeet Martand by Lalit Kala Mahavidyalay Kanpur in 1963, award by Sahitya Kala Parishad Delhi in 1969, by Government of Andhra Pradesh at Hyderabad in 1970, and by Dr. Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy, the President of India in 1975.
Ustad Chand Khan had a number of students some of whom were not members of his family. It is generally believed that gharana ustads seldom impart training to the outsiders. However, he was very generous in terms of imparting training to his disciples, whether a member of his family or a totally outsider. One of his illustrious students Vidushi Krishna Bisht reminisces when Ustad Iqbal Ahmed the present Khalifa of Delhi Gharana used to take lessons along with her from his grandfather. He always encouraged his students by acknowledging their hard work and talent which inspired his students immensely. Some his students who became successful in their career are – Umrao Bundu Khan, Hilal Ahmed Khan, Naseer Ahmed Khan, Iqbal Ahmed Khan, Shahid Ahmed Barelvi, Smt Sushma Das, Bhagwat Sharan Sharma, Smt. Krishna Bisht, Smt. Bharati Chakravarty, Hifzul Kabir and Sultan Ahmed.
Apart from the vocalists he has also trained many instrumentalists viz: – Nazar Mohammed (Sarangi), Mohammed Ali Khan (Sursagar) Buland Iqbal (Sarangi), Zahoor Ahmed Khan (Violin) zafar Ahmed Khan (sitar), Saeed Ahmed Khan 9Sitar) and Satish Prakash Qamar (Shahnai)
Not many performers are seen drawn to the aspect of musicology, but Ustad Chand Khan had a researcher’s approach towards the theoretical aspect of music. He used to read profusely the books written in Persian and Arabi on Indian music. He had an inquisitive mind and tried to find out explanations to the queries he had about principles of Indian music. He not only dug out answers from the old texts but wrote many books himself on various aspects of North Indian Music for the posterity. Three of his works written in Urdu were published, among which Khayal Gayaki ka Delhi Gharana was translated in Hindi and published as a series in the Hindi magazine ‘Sangeet’.
- 4. Ustad Hilal Ahmed Khan
Born to the younger brother of Ustad Chand Khan Hilal Amed Khan was the eldest son of Usman Khan. He had robust Voice and was proficient in singing khayal, thumri as wellas ghazal. But due to many ailments he could not continue singing for long though he lived around sixty two years and died in 1990.
- 5. Taan Samrat Ustad Naseer Ahmed Khan
Naseer Ahmed Khan was the second child of Ustad Usman Khan, younger brother of Ustad Chand Khan. He was the best known singer of Delhi Gharana and earned a lot of name and fame at an early age. He had immense talent and worked hard to master the art of singing. He built up a soft mellifluous which could create emotional impact on his listeners. His mastery to execute complicated and swift Taans earned him the title of ‘Taan Samrat’. He could sing Khayal, Tarana, Thumri and Dadra with equal expertise.
He trained many disciples; to name a few – Dr. Anjali Mittal, Dr. Najma Parveen Ahmed, Mahaveer Prasad (Flute), Mehmood Dholpuri (Harmonium), Dr. Ramesh Mishra and his sons Tanvir Ahmed and Imran Khan.
Ustad Naseer Ahmed Khan’s illustrated career came to a sudden end with his untimely death at the age of 56.
- 6. Ustad Zahoor Ahmed Khan
Son of Ustad Chand Khan’s Younger brother Ustad Jahan Khan Ustad Zahoor Ahmed Khan took Violin as his instrument and became a violinist of good repute. He played Gayaki Ang of Delhi gharana on the violin. Besides Ustad Chand Khan he was also trained by Ustad Bundu Khan. He was employed in AIR Delhi. He too died at a age of 58. Among his disciples are his younger son Afzal Zahoor Ahmed, Vidya Dingle of Pune and Asghar Hussain, all of whom are successful and violinist of good repute.
- 7. Ustad Zafar Ahmed Khan
Son of Ustad Usman Khan Zafar Ahmed Khan took to sitar and created his own style of playing by incorporating the gayaki ang of Delhi Gharana. Instead of usual Gats he played the Khayal compositions of the ragas on Sitar. He was an ‘A’ graded artiste of AIR Delhi and Served Akashvani Delhi as a staff artiste. Both of his disciples, his son Saeed Zafar Khan and son-in-law Saeed Ahmed Khan are successful Sitar player of good repute.
- 8. Ustad Iqbal Ahmed Khan, the present Khalifa of the Gharana
The eldest son of Ustad Zahoor Ahmed Khan young Iqbal Ahmed was adopted by Ustad Chand Khan due to his extraordinary talent. He accompanied his grandfather from a very early age in all his concerts. Ustad Chand Khan too groomed him to perfection. He has won a number of medals and distinction in his childhood and has been honoured by many awards and accolades when he has evolved as a matured vocalist of excellence. After Ustad Chand Khan’s death he was considered as the most suitable successor of Ustad Chand Khan’s legacy; so the Khalifa-hood of the gharana was bestowed upon him.
Besides being a ‘Top’ Grade Vocalist of All India Radio he is a very good composer too. He has trained many light music artistes who are successful performers. He has also composed music for many TV serials, Documentry Films and Plays.
He has many students, to name a few are – Late Smt. Nilam Sahni, Late Smt. Indira Mishra, Ishrat Jahan of Banglasesh, Anis Ahmed, Asghar Hussain (violin), Afzal Zahoor Ahmed (Violin) and his son Saeed Iqbal.
- 9. Saeed Zafar Khan
Eldest son of Ustad Zafar Ahmed Khan is a very quiet natured and soft spoken person. He took to Sitar and learned from his father ustad Zafar Ahmed Khan. He is a Top graded artiste and presently serving a staff artiste in AIR Delhi. Like his predecessors he too plays Gayaki Ang of Delhi gharana on his sitar. He is a avery successful artiste and performs regularly in India and abroad.
- 10. Vidushi Krishna Bisht
Vidushi Krishna Bisht is one of the best exponents of Delhi Gharana out of its lineage. She has taken extensive training of music from ustad Chand Khan Sahib as his ‘Gandabandh Shagird’ from 1961 to 1980 when her mentor left for heavenly abode. She is known for her melodious voice, precision of notes, steady ‘alaap’, scintillating ‘Taans’ and aesthetic sense. While reviewing one of her records, Dr.ChetanKarnani, Professor emeritus of English and veteran music critic, in his book ‘Listening to Indian Music’ observes “….. She has the ability to create atmosphere peculiar to the raga. She sings brilliant ‘taans’ in her typical Delhi style. Her ‘taans’ are as impressive as her ‘alaap’. With her mellifluous voice and lyrical approach, Krishna Bisht has added a new facet to the Delhi Gharana”. She is also credited with evolving a style of gayaki suited to female voice without comprising the brand value of the Delhi gharana.
Academically she had been a meritorious student too and did her Ph.D. from University of Delhi. She has taught generations of students for more than four decades at the Faculty of Music and Fine Arts, University of Delhi, of which she was thrice the Dean and has mentored almost fifty PhD scholars.
She is a Top grade artiste of AIR Delhi and has performed extensively in all over India. She has been honoured with many prestigious awards and accolades. Apart from being a performer par excellence she is a very generous teacher too who honed the skill of her students towards perfection. Prof. S.K.Saxena in “Doyen of Delhi Gharana” observes “She has inherited her mentor’s noble attitudes, and has been very liberal in imparting the musical skills and wisdom of the Gharana, even to those who are quite beyond its limited circle. Most of her disciples have won the ‘Sur Mani’ award from Mumbai’s well-known society Sur SingarSansad, and are AIR/TV/concert artists”. She has trained many among them to name a few are – Dr. Mallika Banerjee, Dr. Sunanda Pathak, Dr. Renu Rajan, Dr. Neeta Mathur, Dr. Renu Jain, Dr. Asita Jain, Anjana Chatterjee, Kaveri Mandal, and Pramode Mehta who are successful in their respected fields.
- 11. Dr. Bharati Chakravarty
Dr. Bharati Chakravarty is the elder sister of Vidushi Krishna Bisht. She learnt from Ustad Chand Khan along with her sister Krishna. In the initial stage of their performing career both the sisters used to sing in duet and became very successful as well as popular. But later due to her posting at different places both the sisters started singing individually. She was an “A” graded artiste of AIR Delhi.
In the year 2011 she left for heavenly abode.
- 12. Dr. Mallika Banerjee
Dr. Mallika Banerjee is one of the senior most disciples of Vidushi Krishna Bisht. She was initiated in Music by her mother Smt. Parul Banerjee. Later she came under the wings of Vidushi Krishna Bisht and started learning from her as a “Gandabandh Shagird” since 1984. She is equally proficient in Khayal, and Thumri/Dadra. She is an “A” grade artiste of AIR Delhi and has sung extensively in all over India. At present she is working in the School of Performing and Visual Arts, IGNOU.
(Part of this article published in ICCR Journal Horizon in its August 2012 issue)