An Old Tradition in the Land of the Pure: Hafeez Khan Talwandiwale



Some years ago I posted a recording of some dhrupad singing from one of my favorite gharanas, the Talwandi. You can read about the history of that gharana and its connections with Pakistan (as well as download the recording) here.

While some have pronounced the Talwandi gharana extinct it does still live and the last surviving keepers of this dhrupad tradition are the brothers Mohammad Afzal Khan Talwandiwale and Hafiz Khan Talwandiwale.  To read a bit more bout this dhrupad tradition from Western Punjab check out this article by Khalid Basra and Richard Widdess.

Today’s music is from a live concert at Lahore’s Chitrakar Studio in which Hafiz Khan takes pains to explain various aspects of the ragas he performs.

Hafiz Khan presents a distinctive ideology of dhrupad, in which Islam 
entirely replaces the Hindu frame of reference adopted by most dhrupad 
musicians (both Hindus and Muslims) in India. Nayak Khanderi and the 
Nayaks who succeeded him were all Muslims, according to Hafiz Khan, and 
they received their inspiration directly from God; there is thus for 
him no element of folk or temple music in the historical background to 
dhrupad. The distinguishing characteristic of alap and dhrupad is 
their spirituality (ruhaniyat), and the objective in singing them is 
zikr-e-ilahi, “Praising the name of God”. Thus in place of the mantra 
“om ananta narayana hari om” used by Indian dhrupad singers in alap, 
Hafiz Khan sings “nita tarana tarana Allah tero nam”; even the word 
alap derives, in Hafiz Khan’s opinion, from “Allah ap”. Training in 
alap is divided into four stages called sari’at, tariqat, haqiqat and 
ma’rifat : these are named after four stages of successively deeper 
mystical experience and understanding — respectively, “Islamic law”, 
“way, path (to enlightenment)”, “truth”, and “knowledge”. (Basra and Widdess)

Enjoy this rare and excellent recital.


Track Listing:

  1. Patdeep
  2. Multani
  3. Kafi Khwaja Ghulam Farid



Too much loss: Ustad Bade Fateh Ali Khan



Eighty two years ago Fateh Ali Khan was born into a family of courtly singers in the Indian princely state of Patiala. His father and grandfather had established themselves as prized royal servants and indeed, had been instrumental in founding an entirely new gharana of classical Indian music.


The young boy grew up learning the intricacies of khyal and the ancient mode of singing, dhrupad. He was an excellent student. He would sit at the side of his elder brother Amanat Ali to perform for the maharaja who quickly promoted the lads to official positions in the court.


The brothers travelled across India to sing at the major music festivals and ‘conferences’ where they wowed the staid and serious audiences. In the rarified world of north Indian classical music, Amanat and his younger brother, Fateh were as close to superstars as you could get.


Though they were blessed with golden voices (Fateh specialized in the lower registers, balancing the elegiac tenor of his brother) they shared a curse with an entire generation of Indians.


In 1947 their country was divided. A sort of inchoate whirlwind swept up Indians from all across the northern tier of the country and dropped them to earth, crushing families, livelihoods and dreams by the million.


Like countless other Muslims, Fateh’s family made its way to a new place called Pakistan, the Land of the Pure, hoping and praying it would a mini paradise on earth.   Whatever the country eventually became, in those early years, Pakistan was in chaos. The country needed administrators, soldiers, judges and teachers. Classical musicians, no matter how gifted, were completely ignored.


The family scraped together a meagre living, teaching and performing from time to time. There were offers and invitations from fellow musicians to return to India where at least some musical structures existed. Where audiences still existed. Where patronage still existed.


But Fateh and Amanat declined. They stayed loyal to Pakistan and eventually garnered a name for themselves. Radio and then TV welcomed them. Private mehfils were still few and far between but at least they were singing and recording.


Disaster struck again in 1974 when Amanat by now one of Pakistan’s most loved and accomplished voices, passed. Fateh sank into despair. In a grand gesture he refused to sing for several years, and when he at last took the stage again, tears stained his cheeks.


Yesterday, Fateh Ali Khan himself passed away. His life was bittersweet and touched repeatedly by death. His nephew, Amanat’s son, Asad, himself a master singer passed away at a young age. Despite his lineage, accomplishments and talent, Fateh was never able to make much money as a singer. The old patronage system had died in 1947. The only regular support he could count on was state TV and radio. Hardly enough to raise a family on.


He did find audiences outside of Pakistan, not just in India but in Europe, Japan and North America, too. Teaming up with his younger brother, Hamid or his son, Shafqat, Fateh Ali continued to make impressive music for many years.   But a certain sadness accompanied him throughout his life. In his eyes, voice and words there was always the tinge of regret and loss. As if all things irreplaceable had been snatched from him before their time.


We will miss you Ustadji.


Track Listing:

01 Raga Bageshri

02 Raga Naraini

03 Raga Madhmad Sarang

04 Raga Multani

05 Raga Bheemplasi

Ustad FAK

Bahauddin Dagar: Scion of Dhrupad

Bahauddin Dagar

Bahauddin Dagar

I can’t get enough of the rudraveena. So to share the glory here is an older recording of the scion of the Dagar family, India’s guardians of the dhrupad tradition. I’ve copied a short interview from The Hindu newspaper for you to read as you listen to his (Bahauddin Dagar) music.

Rudraveena exponent Ustad Mohiuddin Bahauddin Dagar, torchbearer of the Dagar legacy of Dhrupad, says that there are no short cuts to assimilating the exacting grammar of this genre of Hindustani music.

The word ‘Dhrupad’ immediately triggers in our memories the names of the Dagar brothers, Zia Mohiuddin Dagar and Fariduddin Dagar. A musical tradition which has a grammar that is not too easy to be assimilated by the impatient learner, Dhrupad remains the domain of practitioners who are unfazed by the demands of the market to generate popularity by packaging. “There are no short cuts,” was the discernible refrain in the words of Ustad Mohiuddin Bahauddin Dagar, who was in Thiruvananthapuram with his offering ‘The Sound of Siva’ in Dhrupad on the Rudraveena. An A-Grade artist at All India Radio, Mumbai, Bahauddin is the recipient of the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award for 2012-2013. In an interview Bahauddin speaks about his legacy and the way forward for Dhrupad as a musical tradition. Excerpts…

Do you feel the responsibility of being the torchbearer of the Dagar vani demanding? In changing times how does the meditative element reach the new learner?

The Dagar vani follows the ‘Sadharani geethi’. To maintain the tradition lies with each one of the practitioners. There are many who follow this style. Anyone who has three preceding generations following a particular style can become a proponent of the vani. Of course, each person brings his own quality to the music, some take the variations too far, some adopt measures to popularise it. In the end, those who strike a balance between what has been handed down over generations and adapt without corrupting, will become the pillars of the tradition.

Dhrupad has receded from popular spaces with the advances made by Khayal. Will it be possible to reclaim the lost ground?

The bad times were during the post-Independence period. Then came the festivals within the country and abroad and efforts by SPIC MACAY to protect and preserve the arts. As far as Dhrupad is concerned, there is a certain level of maturity required, and that is a pre-requisite to training and attaining perfection. Only then will the learner develop the stamina for the long haul. It takes close to 15 years to master three or four ragas. The ‘alaap’ has no poetry to it. Khayal on the other hand has a bandish or poetry and appears more concrete to the learner.

Often, people take to Khayal initially, and, after decades of exposure, come to Dhrupad. This by itself is indicative of a maturity that is necessary to assimilate the essence of Dhrupad. Few relate to the nuances. In South India, probably due to the strong Carnatic music tradition, audiences relate better to Dhrupad.

How much have the efforts of organisations such as SPIC MACAY helped in garnering interest and bringing in new learners?

In an audience of 5,000 there will at best be five persons who will come up and talk to me about the recital, the finer points of handling a particular raga and so on. In such a situation organisations like these play a significant role by creating a platform and in nurturing young talent. However, the approach has to shift now. Rather than get 100 or 200 young learners, they should bring in parents who would form half the strength of such sessions. Since two generations have the shared experience, music will have earned its space at home. This is an aspect I appreciate in South India where music is ingrained into the lifestyle.

Traditionally training started with the ‘been’ and now in its absence the sequence is the sitar, the surbahar and the rudraveena, which is further reinforced with training in vocal. In present times is it possible to take this extended rigour to learn Dhrupad?

Teaching was minimal when I started learning under my father, Zia Mohiuddin Dagar. It was just practice on a singular raga for four or five years. Unless he was satisfied it was practice only. In that practice, there was an exploration of the raga taking place for me.

I have gone back to the gurukul system of training after my uncle Ustad Zia Fariduddin Dagar passed away. The students start riyaaz by 2.30 in the morning. One masters not just the music, it is a way of life that is being shaped. What to wear, how to present and perform, all of this, one absorbs watching the guru. I therefore insist that my learners who are abroad must spend time with me in India. To the students who are serious, I demand three to four hours daily for about eight years. Vocal training is essential to understand the counterpart. The yantra complements the voice, chisels your phrases, beautifies the voice, gifts exactness and lends perfection to the total delivery. Art forms are most alive – instils tolerance and resilience in a culture, an openness to accept the old and yet renew the form. (


Track Listing:

  1. Ragini Todi, Alap
  2. Ragini Todi, Jod, & Jhala
  3. Gat In Chautala


Expand your Consciousness: Shamshuddin Faridi Desai

Shamshuddin Faridi Desai

Shamshuddin Faridi Desai

Dhrupad and the adjective, ‘ancient’ are joined together so regularly and frequently that that is about all the casual listener knows about this form of Indian (in the pre-1947 Partition sense) of classical musical art. And I must confess that that knowledge of its hoary origins and long tradition does add a certain pleasure to the listening.

Yet, when I listen to the rudra veena being played in this style what strikes me is how thoroughly contemporary, modern and fresh the music sounds. In this time of instant accessibility to the most far away places, click-gratification and ever more sparky pop music (including the sounds coming out of Indian cinema studios) designed to make you twerk your booty, when pop music is delivered fast and faster, the drawn out cadences, shivering gaps and unhurried single notes of the dhrupad veena are an unexpected source of relief.

Dhrupad singing (the original vehicle of this style) is intended to expand our human consciousness as well as to entertain. It relies on vibrations, deep and mortal, to shake loose the excess of thought and transport the soul to another plane. Long and fat slides, whether of the vocal chords or the strings, produces an upsurge in energy. The Buddhist saying, “go slow to go fast’ is evidenced in the long alaps of the dhrupad.

Listen to the recording in the spotlight tonight. In the sparse deliberate plucking and the resounding vibrating that ensues, you will experience a completely modern and minimalist sound. Setting the scene (alap) is the show stopper and focus of dhrupad. And in this way you could argue (in opposition to my opening claim) that dhrupad is anti-modern. It eschews pace and it does not want you to shake your booty or any other part of your body. It does not care about being snappy. Like consciousness, dhrupad simply is.

Rudra Veena

Rudra Veena

This recording by Shamsuddin Faridi Desai is a gorgeous delight. Music of the deepest kind and yet so friendly. Desai was born in 1936 in the Indian state of Gujarat. His family was one of traditional courtly musicians who had honed their art over centuries. Shamsuddin was immersed in music from his birth but did confess that he had his eye set on a stage career, hoping to hook up with the great Indian actor Prithviraj Kapoor. But then the veena the long gourded string instrument he has mastered, took over his being and music became his life.

“An important part of our music is the link between our spiritual beliefs and pursuit of music. We belong to the Qadri sect of Sufism, which regards music as the path to the realization of God. The fountainhead of our gharana, Ustad Bande Ali Khan, is reported to have offered penance at the shrine of the Sufi saint, Khwaja Garibnawaz in Ajmer, and obtained a boon that he and his heirs would have the power to make people laugh or cry at will. It is that boon that inspires our music.” (

Be Moved!

The Tradition of Dhrupad on Been Khandarbani

01 Yaman- Alap

02 Yaman-Jor

03 Yaman-Jhala

04 Komal Rishabh Asavari – Alap

05 Komal Rishabh Asavari – Jor & Jhala