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Gharanon ki Gayaki: Chhote Ghulam Ali Khan


Ustad Chhote Ghulam Ali Khan

Chhote Ghulam Ali Khan was a fearless and adventrous singer brought up in Kasur, Punjab.  He was born in 1910 at Kasur in a family of professional musicians. He studied music with Ustad Chhajju Khan (later his father-in-law) and Ustad Mian Buddhay Khan Beenkar (a disciple of the Delhi-based Qawwal Bacha clan) and other elders of what was then already being called the Kasur Gharana of singing. Chhotay Ghulam Ali began to sing on the radio-mike soon after its advent in the subcontinent. No music conference was complete without him in those years. And what a sensation he proved to be: a Kasuri lad roaming the whole of undivided India, conquering it wherever he went: Amritsar, Lahore, Delhi, Banares, Calcutta, Bombay. In singing competitions he defeated Ustad Amanat (nephew of Ustad Rajab Ali of Devas state), matched the legendary Ustad Amir Khan of Indore, and became the first and only vocalist from Punjab to take on the untamed Ustad Tawakkal Hussein, the man whose musical genius lives on in Pakistan in the hundreds of melodies composed by his great disciple, the music director Khawaja Khursheed Anwar[read the rest of this very interesting article on Chhote Ghulam Ali Khan]

The Qawwal Bachon gharana as its name (children of the qawwals) suggests is a specialist gharana associated with qawwali. Having said that, it does not follow that all music produced by this group of singers is strictly qawwali, the Sufi-influenced devotional music of South Asia.  Here is a lovely, intimate history of the gharana as told by an insider.

Track Listing:

ghar 13

01 Sohni

02 Deskar

03 Tilak Kamod

04 Naiki



Gharanon ki Gayaki: Asad Amanat Ali and Hamid Ali Khan


Hamid Ali and Asad Amanat Ali 

Continuing with the Patiala gharana this volume (the 12th) features the voices of Asad Amanat Ali Khan, son of Ustad Amanant Ali Khan and Hamid Ali Khan, youngest brother of the same great man and his brother Ustad Fateh Ali Khan.

Hamid Ali has a significant following in Pakistan though it has been hard to break out of the shadow of his two big brothers who are regardest as some of the finest classical vocalists ever to emerge out of the South Asian soil. His voice is slightly more gravelly than his siblings but when combined with that of his famous nephew, Asad Amanant, it works very nicely.  In recent years he has been re-discovered for a new generation of fans by the innovative (and sometimes maligned) fusion-folk Coke Studio television series.

The younger Amanat Ali made his name in the 80s and 90s as a popular film and ghazal singer with a voice that inhabits the lighter sweeter side of things. Its a pleasure to hear him in the present classical setting.

The Punjabi gharanas (Patiala, Talwandi, Sham Chaurasi) are famous in large part for their pairing of two males voices and on this wonderful recording it is such a pleasure to listen to two men who know each other’s style so well.  Hamid Ali and Asad Amanant have made many recordings together (mostly ghazals) and are therefore, simpatico partners able to bring out the best in each other. This is one of my favorite volumes in this series.

ghar 12

Track Listing:

01 Malkauns

02 Behag

03 Marva

04 Purvi Dhanshree


Gharanon ki Gayaki: Fateh Ali Khan

Fateh Ali Khan

Ustad Fateh Ali Khan

Fateh Ali Khan is one of those singers who is consistently described in the most superlative terms and compared to the greatest of previous generations.  To learn more about this amazing artist here is must read article full of information and anecdote.

The Patiala gharana like the Kirana gharana is an illustrious one. Home to the giant (in more ways than one) Bade Ghulam Ali Khan as well as the legendary Barkat Ali Khan the Patiala gharana is one of three Punjabi lineages.

This gharana tends to favour pentatonic ragas for their ornamentation and execution of intricate taans. Ektaal and Teentaal are the most common taals chosen by members of this gharana. Besides khyal, exponents sing the Punjab-Ang thumri.

The special feature of Patiala is its rendering of taans. These are very rhythmic, vakra (complicated) and firat taans, and are not bound by the rhythmic cycle. Taans with clear aakar are presented not through the throat but through the naabhi (navel).

This gharana has been criticized for neglecting basic raga characteristics such as the primary development octave and for overusing ornaments and graces without considering the nature and mood of the raga.

While singing khyal the khatka and murki are utilized, and the presentation of the khyal is embellished with bol-banav, bol-taan, sargam, meend and keeping to the laya and rhythmic cycle. (Wikipedia)

ghar 9

Track Listing Vol. 9:

01 Bageshri

02 Naraini

03 Madhmadh Sarang

04 Multani


ghar 10

Track Listing Vol. 10:

01 Bheempalasi

02 Megh

03 Shahana

04 Shyam Kalyan


ghar 11

Track Listing Vol 11:

01 Bhopali

02 Kedara

03 Bairagi

04 Patdeep


Gharanon ki Gayaki: Roshan Ara Begum

Roshan Ara Begum

Roshan Ara Begum

The girl who would one day be known as Roshan Ara Begum was born in Calcutta, the great cultural capital of Bengal, in or around 1916. Her real name was Wahid-un-Nissa. Her mother Chanda Begum was in those days a well-known singer, who early on spotted in her daughter the singing talent. Consequently, the young Wahid-un-Nissa was sent to one Mumtaz Hussein and then to one Laddan Khan for vocal training. The child was precocious, but even then it took 10 full years of rigorous practice before she was ready for the stage.


In those days Calcutta was the center of artistic life in North India, owing to its status as the first British-colonial city in the land. This is where some of the first Indian films were made; this is also where HMV’s first recordings of Indian vocalists took place. (The first Indian singer ever to be recorded was a famous courtesan by the name of Gauhar Jaan Calcutta-wali.)


It was in this busy and bustling Calcutta that the young Roshan Ara Begum made her singing debut. At once she was noticed: her incredible command of raags and the lightning-fast speed with which she rendered them marked her out as a discernibly accomplished singer. And at such a young age! Instantly she began to tour the country, lighting up mehfils in Bihar and Bengal. In those days she was singing everything: raags as well as thumris, ghazals and geets, and was recording at all the big radio stations of India. Her name was announced on the radio as ‘Bombay-wali Roshan Ara Begum’ because she had married a Punjabi police officer who was stationed in those days at Bombay. (It is said that they lived in a large colonial bungalow.)

Abdul Karim Khan

Khansahib Abdul Karim Khan


It is around this time, in the early 1930s, that the great Ustad Abdul Karim Khan, a singular and eccentric genius of his generation of singers, heard the young woman’s rendition of Raag Multani and decided to take her under his wing. So, at the peak of her career, Roshan Ara  humbly submitted herself to the ageing Ustad’s mentorship. She learned from him for just a few years, but it was enough to give her the golden polish of the Kirana Gharana’s style of singing, in which sur or ‘truth of intonation’ stands above every other aim.


In the 1940s Roshan Ara  was singing for radio as well as film. Just before Partition, she had scored a hit with her song ‘Des ki pur kaif rangin si fizaaein’, which was part of the score for film ‘Jugnu’, in which the young Noor Jehan had acted. (Noor Jehan was insanely jealous of Roshan Ara ’s singing abilities. But her jealousy is said to have vanished on the day she met Roshan Ara, who was unusually sweet and generous in appearance as well as demeanour.)


The Partition of the Indian subcontinent flung Roshan Ara far away from her cosmopolitan life. She ended up residing with her husband at Lalamusa, a small, nondescript town in West Punjab. It was here that Roshan Ara spent the rest of her life. A citizen now of Pakistan, she would come down to Lahore to participate in concerts. In Pakistan too she was widely accepted as the best and brightest of singers. Her renditions in particular of the raags Shankara, Shuddh Kalyan, Maru Bihag and Kedara were awe-inspiring. [All are captured in these volumes]


nat02In fact, if there was any comparison to be made with a contemporary of hers, it was with Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan. I remember one occasion on which the two great singers happened to share a stage. It was one of Radio Lahore’s annual Jashn-e-Baharan festivals of the 1950s, and it spanned over 7 days. On the first day Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan rendered his favourite Raag Malkauns with full vigour and strength, and after him Roshan Ara  sang her own favourite Raag Shankara with zeal and aplomb. The audience was riveted by both performances; there was no agreement about whose song was superior. The next evening Roshan Ara was scheduled to sing first, and she picked Raag Basant. Now it was the month of March, and Lahore was drenched in the smells and colors of spring. Roshan Ara ’s rendition of the taunting-joyous raag seemed to dance with the elements, and was so enchanting that the audience threw flowers on her while she was singing. Next up was Bade Ghulam Ali, and though he tried his very best to continue in that vein of delicacy and enchantment with an accomplished rendition of Raag Kafi Kanra, he could not even enter, let alone break, the spell cast by his magical predecessor. In the end the great Ustad was compelled to praise and bless Roshan Ara Begum before the audience; and she stooped to his knees in a gesture of humility and graciousness.


Unlike other famous women singers of the time, Roshan Ara Begum was not physically beautiful. She was short, dark and fat, and had a large nose. But everyone agreed that when she began to sing, her voice, which had in it the essence of womanhood, would issue from her mouth like a sacred light and transform her whole appearance, giving her a luster that can only be described as queenly. That she was eventually bestowed with the title of ‘Malika-e-Mauseeqi’ (Empress of Music) is a testament not only to her singing talent but also to the effect it had on her audiences, who became her subjects of sorts.


Towards the end of her life Roshan Ara Begum spent more and more time in Lalamusa. The dark age of General Zia-ul-Haq had begun, and musicians of all kinds were adversely affected by the new religious-minded agenda that was being peddled on radio and television. At home Roshan Ara spent time with birds, cats and all the other animals that she kept as pets. In a TV interview from that time, when asked to comment on the potential of young singers in Pakistan, she replied that the new generation was too impatient and distracted to pursue the musical tradition. And indeed she was right: when she died in 1984, a whole era of superior singing came to an end, not just in Pakistan but in the whole of the Indian subcontinent. [from Friday Times]


Kirana Gharana


The origin of the Kirana gharana is shrouded in an air of mystery and, to some extent, controversy. It is generally believed that Gopal Nayak, a contemporary of Amir Khusrau, is the fountainhead of the gharana. He lived on the banks of the Jumna River in a town called Dutai. Later, when Dutai was ravaged by floods he moved inland to Kirana, a small town in the Muzaffarnagar district. He is believed to have embraced Islam. Four different offshoots of the Kirana dynasty are claimed to have descended from him. One of the branches boasts of great names like Ustad Azim Baksh, Maula Baksh and Abdul Ghani Khan. The second branch is studded with names like Ustad Bande Ali Khan, Nanne Khan, Kale Khan and the legendary Ustad Abdul Karim Khan. Yet another offshoot includes in its Kirana lineage the names of Gafoor Khan, Abdul Wahid Khan, Shakoor Khan, Mashkoor Ali and Mubarak Ali. Finally, the distinguished family tradition of Mehboob Baksh, Rehman Khan, Abdul Majid Khan, Abdul Hamid Khan, Abdul Bashir Khan, followed by his sons Niaz Ahmed and Fayyaz Ahmed Khan, express their allegiance to the Kirana tradition.



Gangubai Hangal

The precise roots of the gharana are lost in antiquity and shrouded with controversy. There are some who believe that Ustad Abdul Karim Khan is the true fountainhead of Sawai Gandharva, Roshanara Begum, Balkhshnabuva Kapileshwari, Behrebuva, Sureshbabu Mane and Hirabai Barodekar. From this mainstream of Ustad Abdul Karim Khan, in turn, came Pandit Sawai Gandharva whose centenary was recently celebrated with great fete in Bombay, and the ranks of the gharana have swelled, majestically. The leading lights include Gangubai Hangal, Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, Pandit Feroze Dastoor, Dr Prabha Atre and Pandit Sangame-shwar Gaurav. Among their disciples, Krishna Hangal Shrikant Deshpande, Madhav Gudi, Narayanrao Deshpande, Ramkrishna Patwardhan, Milind Chittal and Alka Joglekar have already made their mark and ensured the continued popularity of the gharana.


This phenomenal popularity has been achieved through the characteristic expansive alapchari which unfolds the raga note by note with tantalising languor. The induction of sargams was another alankar which Abdul Karim Khan inducted into Hindustani music with a Carnatic flair. Admittedly, the gharana has undergone a vigorous transformation with the vibrant personality of Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, who has brought into play his own stylistic nuances. It is obvious that the Kirana gharana is riding the wave of popularity. the gharana and the lineage that emanates from him is the main stream of the gharana, while the rest are tributaries. Be that as it may, it is an incontrovertible fact that the Kirana gharana remains the most popular and prolific in the sheer number of its practitioners on the contemporary scene. Ustad Abdul Karim Khan ushered in a new era of romanticism in the rendition of Hindustani classical music which was captivating because it was at once sweet, soothing, serene and sensuous. Although the Ustad’s own singing seemed to lack fullbodied masculine sonorousness, his romanticism won for the Kirana gharana a strong following which included names that have become legends. (Saxonian Folkways)

ghar 5

Track Listing Vol 5:

01 Bhibhas

02 Jaunpuri

03 Basant

04 Bahar


ghar 6

Track Listing Vol 6:

01 Lalit

02 Bhatiyar

03 Maru Behag

04 Adana


ghar 7

Track Listing Vol. 7:

01 Kamod

02 Shudh Kalyan

03 Kalavati

04 Anandi


ghar 8 

Track Listing Vol 8:

01 Des

02 Shankara

03 Nai Ki Kanra

04 Jhinjhoti




Gharanon ki Gayaki : Salamat Ali Khan


Ustad Salamat Ali Khan

Gharana is one of the essential concepts and structures in modern north Indian classical music.  Stemming from the Hindi word for house/home ghar, the addition of the inflexion ana gives the word the meaning ‘of the house’.  In north Indian classical music gharana has been loosely translated as ‘tradition’ or even ‘school’ (as in a particular ‘school’ of thought or practice).  Most knowledgeable writers prefer the word lineage which implies a continuous line of practice traceable to an original founding figure.

Daniel Neuman, author of the fantastic book, The Life of Music in North India: The Organization of an Artistic Tradition, defines gharana as

The concept may be said to include, minimally, a lineage of hereditary musicians, their disciples, and the particular musical style they represent…the closest analogues…in the West are loosely structured European intellectual circles.

Today’s dominant North Indian classical music, khyal (Persian for ‘imagination’), emerged out of the Turko-Indian courts of Delhi around the 13th century and is attributed to the innovations of the courtier Hazrat Amir Khusrau.  After his death, musicians in the service of the sultans of Jaunpur in Eastern UP, continued to develop this lighter more accessible form of singing which by the 15th century virtually supplanted the ancient temple-based dhrupad.  For the next several centuries khyal developed within royal courts across north India but there was little cross fertilization. Certain raga were created, nurtured and developed within specific courts or regions of India; other regions it seems were either unaware of particular raga or relegated them a lower rank than those performed in their own areas and courts.


Hazrat Amir Khusrau

The European, and especially the British, incursions into India which culminated in the British East Indian Company ‘acquiring’ most of eastern India (Bengal up to Benaras and beyond) by the mid-18th century had an unexpected but revolutionary impact on the development of classical music. The armies and rapacious aggression of the British businessmen who ran the Company were no match for the severely weakened Mughal rulers who found themselves dispossessed of their authority, luxuries and lands.  Where the British could not, or thought ‘native’ administration a more appropriate form of rule, they compelled existing rulers or ennobled ambitious local landlords and petty aristocrats to do their bidding. By granting rights to establish their own kingdoms, call themselves Nawab or Raja and forcing them to eschew any military and political ambitions, the British created a class of toothless sycophants who enabled the Crown to effectively impoverish what had been the second largest economy in the world in the 17th century, while transforming their tiny island kingdom into the most powerful nation in the world.

With not much at all to do, many of these new monarchs turned to patronising education and the arts, including sponsoring classical musicians.  Indian music’s historic continuity has always rested on an intimate, personal relationship between master and student known in the Hindu tradition as guru sishya parampara. A guru (master) accepts a small number of sishya (students) who dedicate their lives to serving the master in exchange for learning his skills, insights, art and secrets. If he is diligent enough, he in turn is recognised as guru and takes on his own sishya who continue and expand the tradition.  As Muslim culture and power came to dominate north Indian life, a similar arrangement known as ustad shagird took hold within Muslim artistic communities.


Guru sishya

From the mid-19th century when the British Crown seized direct administrative control of India, the new princely states of India invited particular ustads to settle in their courts all the more to give them a sense of glory now that fighting and politics had been forbidden. As these masters settled into the kingdoms their style of singing, the ways they interpreted and performed ragas and their illustrious disciples became to be referred to as gharana. And in most cases the name of the lineage came from the town or locality where the court was located. Gwalior, Jaipur, Patiala, Agra and so on.


By the late 19th century and early 20th century a couple of trends came together to loosen up the closed, almost claustrophobic system of art music.  In the big cities of Bombay and Calcutta, entrepreneurs started to open music schools which attracted students who had no connection with the hereditary musical families that up to this point had ‘owned’ the music.  Money, for the first time, became the basis of instruction and a critical element of the ustad shagird / guru sishya relationship.  The audience for khyal expanded beyond tiny circles of the elite to the entire population; festivals, competitions and music conferences brought performers from different gharana on to a common stage. The rigid boundaries between vocal (and instrumental) styles began to break down; performers even began to ‘borrow’ techniques from other gharana and include it in their own personal style.  At the same time performers who had for centuries depended on wealthy or royal patrons for their livelihood started to sell themselves to the highest bidder. Rival rajas vied for the best performers enticing them to move from court to court. As well as earning income from the festivals, radio and then recorded music opened up yet more ways to reach an audience and make money.  While most performers always maintained a spiritual, visceral loyalty to their ustad or guru they no longer needed to remain in physical proximity.


Musicans gather for a group shot at 1948 All India Music Conference

Still, though radically altered, the gharana concept remains an important attribute for most contemporary khyal singers and instrumentalists. If for no other reason then to demonstrate the richness, honour and credibility of their lineage (musical if not familial).


In 1979 EMI Pakistan issued a collection of 20 cassette tapes titled Gharanon ki Gayaki (Singing of the Gharanas). These tapes, along with the Music Pakistan boxset of 57 CDs, are a cultural treasure the value of which is impossible to overstate.  The 20 tapes covered singing performances across 8 gharana several of which (Sham Chaurasi, Talwandi and Patiala) are especially, and in the case of Talwandi, exclusively, kept alive in Pakistan.  The performances by some of the biggest, most respected names in khyal, are simply wonderful.  Unlike the Music Pakistan box set, which suffered from generally poor production, the reproduction of the tapes is excellent.   Over the next few posts I will be sharing all of the tapes (digitized by others) for your listening pleasure. The only change I have made is to replace the dreary grey coloured covers of the original tapes, with something more bright.

We begin with volumes 1-4 which feature the voice of Ustad Salamat Ali Khan and the singing style of the Sham Chaurasi gharana.

Salamat Ali Khan is the younger brother of Nazakhat Ali Khan who as a sibling singing duo dominated the Pakistani classical music world starting in the mid-1950s and 1960s.  Here is an excellent portrait of Salamat Ali.

The Sham Chaurasi Gharana was once a very prestigious gharana. It is said that the Mughal king Mohammad Shah Rangile once paid a visit to this village to listen to the artists of this gharana. He was so pleased that he donated all the income acquired from the 84 villages to the Sufi saint Shami Shah. It is believed that after this episode that became popular by the name Sham Chaurasi taking its name from Sufi saint Shami and 84 villages, Chaurasia adding up as Sham Chaurasi. This village still exists by the same name. The Samadhi of Sufi saint Shami Shah is still there and many people come to pay their homage at this place. Ustad Salamat Ali also used to come to Sham Chaurasi to pay obeisance wherever he came to India.

 \Singers of Sham Chaurasi Gharana

According to Pandit Dilip Chandra Vedi, Sain Karim was a great exponent to Sham Chaurasi Gharana. The vocalist as well as the instrumentalists of this gharana earned a lot of fame. One of the eminent Veena players of this Gharana was Baba Inayat Khan. The proficient artists of this Gharana received tutelage under legendry Baiju Bawra, Suraj Khan and Chand Khan. According to history Baiju Bawra had gone to visit the village Bajwada near Hoshiarpur. It is believed that that during his stay the artists of Sham Chaurasi Gharana had received training from him. It is also possible that the name of this village was named as Bajwada after the name of Baiju Bawra.

 Several artists of this Gharana had shifted to Pakistan after the partition of India. Meer Baksh, Khairdeen, Vilayat Ali, Haidat Ali, Nazakat Ali and Salamat Ali all began singing in jugalbandi. Presently many singers like master Rattan of Phagwda, Om Prakash Mohan have kept up the tradition of the Sham Chaurasi Gharana. They all perform in the All Indian Radio, Delhi.

 Style of Sham Chaurasi Gharana

Sham Chaurasi Gharana has been famous for its simple Sapat taanas that can be performed with ease. The elaboration is done in all the three octaves. The basic feature of this Gharana is the step by step Alap and Taana that gradually returns to the basic Shadaj. The artists of this gharana are popular for their execution of these taanas. The beautiful taanas, murki, khatka and bol banav added to the magnificence of the gayaki of this gharana.

 Even today the essence of the Shaam Chaurasi gharana can be felt in the performance and gayaki pattern of the singers

 The gharana is believed to have been founded in the 16th century by Mian Chand Khan and Mian Suraj Khan who were contemporaries of Mian Tansen at the court of Mughal emperor Akbar. Successive generations of musicians in the gharana specialised in the dhrupad form of singing and evolved a tradition of duet vocal jugalbandi  performances.

 Mian Karim Bukhsh Majzoob, Ustad Ahmed Ali Khan, Ustad Niaz Hussain Shami, and Ustad Vilayat Ali Khan were some of the illustrious members of the Sham Chaurasi gharana.

 The township of Sham Chaurasia (sham = evening, chaurasi =84) was named after a cluster of 84 villages which constituted a land revenue unit in the time of Raja Ranjit Singh (first half of 19th C). According to one legend, the founders were given a parcel of land here as a grant to them by Akbar the Great (16th C). (Saxonian Folkways)

ghar 1

Track Listing Vol. 1

01 Bhairav

02 Gunkali

03 Darbari

04 Abhogi Kannada


ghar 2

Track Listing Vol. 2

01 Mian ki Todi

02 Alaiua Bilawal

03 Gaur Malhar

04 Mian ki Malhar


ghar 3

Track Listing Vol. 3

01 Aiman Kalyan

02 Hem Kalyan

03 Desi

04 Barva


ghar 4

Track Listing Vol 4

01 Shudh Sarang

02 Sri

03 Durga

04 Hameer