Gharanon ki Gayaki: Hameed Ali Khan and Fateh Ali Khan


Fateh Ali Khan and Hameed Ali Khan

Thank you to a reader of this blog for pointing out that in wrapping up this series of  20 volumes of classical singing from Pakistan I have neglected Volume 18!  And he is right! Apologies for that!

I had the pleasure of hearing Ustad Fateh Ali Khan, one of the featured voices on this volume, in an openair concert in Karachi several years ago. He was a mesmerising presence. I remember he sang an old raga Malkauns and held the audience in the palm of his hand. He sat tall and straight holding his swarmandal in his lap. With eyes closed he started slowly sometimes seeming to do nothing more than groan. But as he sang on the intensity and urgency built and before long his eyes were fully dilated and his open palm at the end of his long extended arm rising and falling with drama.  This was the first I had heard him and of course he stole the show. A genuine master for whom the title ustad is absolutely appropriate.

Bearing the same name as one of the all time great singers of gayaki Fateh Ali Khan‘s life is less well known and documented than his namesake and brother of Amanat Ali Khan.  Even more so his brother and singing partner Hameed Ali Khan. So sadly, I’m not able to share many biographical details with you but then again, probably if you asked them, they would refer you back to the music anyway.

The brothers were proponents of the Gwalior gharana (the other Fateh Ali Khan and Hamid Ali Khan belong to the Patiala gharana) about which I’ve provided a bit of information in earlier posts. But here is another take on that old school of singing which you might enjoy as well.

And so, though a bit out of chronlogical order, this series on Gharanon ki Gayaki does end with this post. I hope you’ve enjoyed it and that these recordings will accompany you on your way for many years in the future.

ghar 18

Track Listing:

01. Kafi Kanra

02. Gandhari

03. Bairagi

04. Bhopali

05. Gujri Todi

06. Puriya Kalyan


Gharanon ki Gayaki: Ustad Hafiz Khan and Ustad Mohammad Afzal Khan Talwandiwale


Ustad Hafiz Ali Khan Talwandiwale

And so dear (and patient) friends, we come to the end of this amazing collection of Hindustani classical gayaki (singing).  Volume 20 is probably my favourite because it features the truly unique approach to khyal of the Talwandi brothers, Mohammad Afzal Khan and Hafiz Khan.  The history of the Talwandi gharana and its two great proponents is beautifully and comprehensively described in this article which I transcribe in full below.  I have no doubt you’ll find it fascinating and illuminating. Not to mention the wonderful music absolutely riveting.


Khalid Basra and Richard Widdess

The traditions of dhrupad that are current today can perhaps be grouped
together on a regional basis. The centre stage, geographically
speaking, is held by the temple and court traditions of Mathura, Agra
and Rajasthan; these traditions are interconnected and are especially
associated with the Dagar bani.1 To the east are the court traditions
of Bihar — primarily those of Darbhanga and Bettiah — and of Vishnupur
in Bengal; these traditions are again interconnected, and are
associated with the Khandar or Kandahar bani.2 In the west, dhrupad is
said to have been popular as recently as the 1920’s or ’30’s in the
Panjab, where it was cultivated by, among others, members of the
Talwandi gharana. Today, however, few singers of dhrupad are known to
represent this western tradition; this article is therefore a
preliminary attempt to establish the history and characteristics of the
Talwandi gharana, and its relationship to the other regional traditions.
It is based on conversations with Ustad Hafiz Khan Talvandivale of
Lahore, who claims membership of the Talwandi khandan and is one of the
very few dhrupad singers currently active in Pakistan; and supplemented
with information from other sources, especially Pandit D. C. Vedi of
Delhi, who was trained in dhrupad by members of the Talwandi gharana in
the 1920’s.

Ustad Hafiz Khan3 was born about fifty years ago in Faisalabad
(Pakistan) in a distinguished family of dhrupad singers. He and his
elder brother, Ustad Muhammad Afzal Khan, received training from their
father, Miyan Mehr Ali Khan (born 1913), for about forty years until the
latter’s death in 1976. This training included learning hundreds of
“family dhrupads”, other genres of vocal music, musical grammar, the
repertoires of ragas and talas, and the distinguishing features of the
Talwandi gharana style. The long years of learning, practice and
performance have given Hafiz Khan a thorough command of the musical
tradition handed down by his father. Claims to the antiquity of Hafiz
Khan’s heritage are supported by the richness and internal logic of his
body of knowledge and by his practical mastery. Today he and his elder
brother sing together; his nephew, Labrez Khan, is in training.

According to Hafiz Khan the musical style of the Talwandi gharana
is the “Khanderi bani”; this style was originated by one Nayak
Khanderi, who lived before Amir Khusrau. From him the tradition passed
in turn to Nayaks Mahagat, Baiju, and Baksu, and from Baksu to two
musicians at Akbar’s court, Nayak Cand Khan and Nayak Suraj Khan.
According to D.C. Vedi, these two were the founders of the Talwandi
gharana (cf. Gosvami 1971, ch. 8, citing B.K. Roycaudhuri). Cand Khan
of Gwalior, singer, appears as no.20 in the contemporary list of Akbar’s
court musicians recorded in the Ain-i-Akbari(Jarret 1949:612). Suraj
Khan’s name is not in the list, but according to Ahmad (1984) he was
Cand Khan’s younger brother. According to Hafiz Khan, however, it was
a third singer at the Mughal court, one Nayak Malk Nathanji, to whom
Akbar gave the village of Talwandi in the Panjab; Nathanji does not
appear in the Ain list, and his relationship to Cand and Suraj is not

Until 1947 Hafiz Khan’s family were landowners in Talwandi Rai, a
small town in the Jagraon tahsil, Ludhiana District, situated about 6
kilometres north-west of Raikot (Census of India, 1971); Mr Vedi
independently confirmed that the seat of the Talwandi gharana was in
Ludhiana district. This Talwandi was reputedly founded in the 15th
century by the Rai (Muslim Rajput) chieftain Kalha I, whose descendents
were feudatories of the Lodi and Mughal empires (Suri 1970:73 ff.). One
of the Rais is said to have been executed by Akbar (for refusing the
emperor his daughter), as a result of which land in the neighbourhood of
Talwandi could have become at Akbar’s disposal; the practice of donating
land to favoured court-musicians is well known, at least from a later
period (cf. Vyauhar 1986). There is no reference to Talwandi Rai in the
Ain-i-Akbari, however; the Talwandi listed there was in the Rechnau
Doab, in modern Sialkot District (Jarrett 1949: II, 323; cf. Akbar-nama
III, 537-8; Habib 1982: Map 4A).

Hafiz Khan remembers the names of numerous descendents of
Nathanji, but their relationships and dates are not always clear.
Nathanji’s six sons were allegedly in the employ of Jahangir, and their
names include Malk Jahangirdad Khan, Parvezdad Khan, Khurramdad Khan,
Chatar Khan, and Hamza Khan. These musicians are attested in the Iqbal-
nama-i-Jahangiri (Bibliotheca Indica edition p. 308), where their names
are included in a list of six “Indian musicians” (naghma-sarayan-i hind)
active at the time of Jahangir.4 The sixth member of the Iqbal-nama
list, Makhu, is replaced in Hafiz Khan’s list with either Mullah Khazar
or Sheikh Noi; the latter is perhaps to be identified with the Ustad
Muhammad Na’i who appears in the Iqbal-nama as a musician of presumably
non-Indian origin, but if so it is unlikely that he was a son of

Hafiz Khan’s list of ancestors continues with Bade Mannu Khan,
Chote Mannu Khan, Qaim Khan, Burhan Khan, Islam Khan, Miyan Attar, and
Qalandar Bakhs. Although all are said to have been employed by the
later Mughals or other rulers, we have not yet identified them through
documentary evidence. Qalandar Bakhs was a binkar in the service of the
Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir about a hundred years ago, and his name is
remembered by binkars today (information from Shamsuddin Faridi). From
this point the family relationships become more clear:

Qalandar Bakhs
———————————– ———————————– ———-
Qurban Ali Haidar Bakhs
| |
———————————– ———————————– ———-
| |
Fateh Ali daughter
———————————– ———————————– ———-
Maula Bakhs
| |
Mehr Ali
———————————– ———————————– ———-
(1913-76) | (d. 1988)
———————————– ———————————– ———-
Mohammad Afzal Mohammad Hafiz

Having lost his father while still young, Mehr Ali Khan learned
mostly from his uncle and father-in-law Maula Bakhs6, who was known to
D.C. Vedi in Lahore in the 1920’s as a fine dhrupad singer and the
teacher of Mehr Ali. Hafiz Khan himself learned music from his father,
but he heard much of the family’s oral history from his mother, Maula
Bakhs’s daughter; he has a fund of colouful stories about Nathanji and
other musicians of the Mughal period.

The Talwandi gharana as represented by Hafiz Khan gives the
appearance of an almost self-contained family tradition, maintained over
many generations through the ownership of land (giving some measure of
financial security) and through cousin marriage, a practice that in many
Muslim gharanas served to restrict access to the family’s hereditary
knowledge (Neuman 1980:98). In the past, however, there were other
musicians that claimed affiliation to the Talwandi gharana: they
included one Murad Ali Khan, active in Calcutta in the mid-19th century
(Ray 1980), and D.C. Vedi’s first teachers, Uttam Singh (of Amritsar)
and Gurumukh Singh, neither of whom were professional musicians. These
names are not known to Hafiz Khan, and we do not yet know how they were
connected to his family, which he claims is the central khandan and now
the only practising branch of the gharana.

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”7; 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)”8, “truth”, and “knowledge”.

Alap and dhrupad of the Talwandi gharana are thus religious in
character and objective, as in most other traditions, but in an Islamic
guise. Whether this has always been so is impossible to say; on the
one hand the experience of partition has no doubt influenced the
religious perspective of musicians on both sides of the border (it may
be noted that Mr Vedi does not promote an Islamic interpretation of
dhrupad), but on the other hand it is quite possible that a similar view
would have been held, for example, by Muslim singers at the Mughal court
in the 17th-18th centuries, or at Lucknow in the 19th century.

The primary focus in alap is of course development of the rag, in
both its structural and aesthetic aspects. Hafiz Khan lays great
stress on maintaining the “purity” of the rag at all times. The
kalavant should observe not only the structure of the rag but also the
appropriate rasam — one of four emotional states that the kalavant has
to enter for proper rendition of the rag — and the appropriate cal or
gait; there are four cals named after different animals — elephant,
deer, snake and lion. Correctly performed, a rag has not only
aesthetic but also magical or medicinal properties; thus Pilu is a cure
for melancholia, Bhimpalasi cures excessive worldliness, Darbari cures
insomnia, headaches and fever, and Malhars and Kalyans increase and
reduce blood-pressure respectively. Hafiz Khan’s colourful musical
lore is entirely typical of the 19th and early 20th century Muslim
gharanas, though its elements go back many centuries earlier.

The musical repertory of the Talwandi gharana, as demonstrated by
Hafiz Khan, includes many different genres of vocal music: alap,
dhrupad, dhamar, sthayi-antara (an old name for vilambit khyal), khyal
(= drut khyal), ghazal, dadra, kafi, etc. Alap is the finest of these,
from which all the others are derived; he treats it as a separate genre
from the others, not merely as an introduction to the main item of
performance. It is only in alap that the rag can produce its effect;
a minimum of words is employed so as not to overburden its delicate
passages, words being seen as ultimately foreign or intrusive elements.
Alap employs twelve tans or methods of linking successive notes; these
tans are analogous to the ten laksanas of the Dagar bani (Sanyal 1986).
Their names are as follows (the order is variable; discussion of their
musical characteristics will be reserved for a future study): sarak,
marak, lag, dat, rula, capka, gidda, dhamalla, thok, mind, gamak, sut.

These tans have been allocated to different rags in varying numbers.
For instance in Bhairvin, Malkauns and various other suddh rup rags all
the 12 tans can be employed, but in Adana-Bahar only gamak and capka
tans are permitted. Ornamentations associated with the lighter styles
— including murkhi, phanda, gitkri, and zamzama — are forbidden in alap
as they would destroy its serious character.

The four stages of alap — sari’at, tariqat, haqiqat and ma’rifat —
demand progressively more elaborate development of the rag. In sari’at
the artist should display the essential grammatical structure of the
rag, including aroh, avroh, vadi, samvadi, ang, rup, and sur ke darje.
Ang refers to the location of vadi in uttarang or purvang; rup denotes
the use of vakra passages. The darjas are microtonal increments of
pitch, there being seven to each scale degree: four below the suddha
pitch (komal, at komal, sinkar and at sinkar in descending order), and
three above (tivr tam, tar tivr, and tivr, in ascending order9). Only
in the fourth stage, ma’rifat, would all the tans be used (if permitted
in the rag), and only in this stage would medium and fast tempi, as well
as slow, be employed. The development of the last two stages, haqiqat
and ma’rifat, is said to be a speciality of the Talwandi gharana.

The four stages represent the successive stages of learning; only
the last would actually be performed by a master. In published
recordings of Hafiz Khan and his elder brother a progression of slow
unmeasured, rubato rhythm, through medium fast to very fast pulsed
rhythm is evident, as in most other dhrupad traditions. Two features
of these recordings are particularly remarkable. First, the two
brothers sing in unison or near unison for much of the time; it is only
in the approach to upper sa in the initial slow portion, and for
passages in the subsequent faster portions, that one singer (apparently
Hafiz Khan, the junior brother) sings alone. The proportion of the
alap that is spontaneously improvised is apparently not as large as we
are accustomed to hearing nowadays; one is reminded of early recordings
of the senior Dagar brothers, in which they sometimes sang long passages
in unison, and (significantly) of Mr Vedi’s style of teaching, which is
heavily dependent on memorized passages (see van der Meer 1980: 30-49
and 215-25 for a transcription and analysis of a typical example).
Secondly, the speed of articulation in the fast alap is extreme,
resembling that of the Bihar school.

Hafiz Khan’s repertory of dhrupad compositions includes five distinct

tuk — a vilambit dhrupad comprising two sections (tuk) only, asthai
and antara ; it can be composed in various tals.

aslok — an elaborate composition having four tuks (asthai, antara,
sancai and abhog ). The language is generally Sanskritized. The
laya is fast, and various fast tals such as Sulphakhta, Mat tal and
Git tal (similar to Hindustani Tivra tal) are used.

cautara — the “major” dhrupad genre. It has four tuks and is
composed only in Cartal (= Cautal). The laya is vilambit and allows
for maximum rhythmic variation. The intricate lay-bat is usually
done only in this variety of dhrupad.

drut dhrupad — as its name implies, this type is distinguished by its
fast tempo, in any tal. It is different from aslok in that its
language does not have to be Sanskritized, and it is not essential
for it to have four tuks.

hori dhamar — this variety of dhrupad is sung in dhamar tal. The
poetic content is usually playful, eulogizing spring and natural and
physical beauty. It has a dancing gait to its rhythm and its
rhythmic pattern is different from all other kinds of dhrupad. Hori
is thought to be a “light” genre amongst the dhrupads and is usally
sung after the “serious” cautaras. Accordingly the rhythmic
development in hori dhamar can be more free than in other dhrupads.

Typical subjects for Talwandi dhrupads are the seasons, mysticism,
and Hindu mythology. The authorship of the various compositions is not
yet ascertained.


Hafiz Ali Khan and Labrez Afzal Khan

The major difference between a dhrupad and a khyal performance,
however, is felt not to be the composition itself — since in many cases
the same composition could be sung as either a dhrupad or a khyal10 —
but the method of development. In dhrupad, the development is entirely
rhythmic (lay-bat) the words and melody of the composition are repeated
at different speeds relative to the underlying tal, or with distorted
rhythm. The tans of khyal are of course forbidden. Furthermore the
asthai or antara of the dhrupad is to be sung in its entirety while
singing lay-bat: Hafiz Khan disapproves of the common practice of
improvising on small segments of the composition, except in hori dhamar.
In fact, to judge by available information, the use of pre-composed
rather than improvised lay-bat may be a characteristic of the Talwandi
style. In recorded performances the Talwandi brothers sing lay-bat
simultaneously in perfect unison, even at the fastest speeds; and Mr
Vedi also favours carefully calculated lay-bat, at least as a foundation
for improvisation. Hafiz Khan believes that all lay-bat should end on
sam; he does not recognize the principles of atit and anaghat whereby
the improvisation, in some traditions, can end just before or just after
the sam respectively.

In conclusion, it is clear that the Talwandi gharana, as represented
in Pakistan by Muhammad Afzal and Muhammad Hafiz Khan, constitutes a
distinct and important tradition of vocal art-music, with special
emphasis on alap and dhrupad.11 Deshpande’s statement that “some
gharanas, like … the ‘Tilwandi’ gharana … have already disappeared
from the scene” (1973:5) is apparently premature. The style of dhrupad
performed by these brothers is perhaps closer to that of the Bihar and
Bengal traditions than to that of the Dagar family: this is suggested,
for example, by the extremely fast concluding portions of alap, and by
the highly complex, pre-composed rhythmic variations in chegun and
atgun. Another feature common to the Talwandi, Bihar and Vishnupur
traditions is the fact that they all claim the Khandar, Kandahar or
Khanderi bani. Musical links between these three traditions, if
correct, could perhaps be attributed to their common origin in the
Mughal court at the time of Akbar. Considerably more research is
needed, however, both into the styles and repertories of all the
surviving dhrupad traditions, and into their social histories, before
the broad picture tentatively sketched here can be confirmed or
superseded.12  (original article with footnotes)

ghar 20

Track Listing:

01. Adana Bahar

02. Mian ka Malhar

03. Multani

04. Hussaini


Gharanon ki Gayaki: Asad Ali Khan


Asad Ali Khan 

It has been a while folks. And I apologise. I’ve been on a long road trip to several countries in connection with my job,. Most of the locations I visited had huge internet challenges, making Australia’s own piss poor internet service (now ranked 68th in the world, right after Kosovo!) seem like greased lightning.

But I digress.

Volume 19, the penultimate edition in this series showcases the Agra gharana, whose most famous son is non other than the magisterial Ustad Faiyaz Khan.

The history of the gharana is shrouded in mystery. Its earliest musician is believed to be Nayak Gopal of Devagiri (now Daulatabad). When in 1307 Allauddin Khilji declared war on and defeated King Ramachandra of Devagiri, the legendary Amir Khusro is believed to have accompanied him with the specific intention of meeting Nayak Gopal. The defeated king was restored to his throne at the insistence of Amir Khusro on the condition that Nayak Gopal would accompany them to Delhi. Nayak Gopal thus established a distinct music system in Delhi that later came to be known as the Nauhar Bani. (Read all about Agra’s gharana here.)

The voice featured on this recording belongs to Ustad Asad Ali Khan, the nephew of none other than Faiyaz Khan.  Born in Agra in 1910, Asad Ali Khan migrated to Pakistan, as did a number of other classical musicians after the declaration of Independence in August 1947. He recorded and received a pay check from Radio Pakistan but passed away in Karachi in 1981.


ghar 19

Track Listing:

01. Raga Barva

02. Raga Jaiaivanti

03. Raga Chandni Kedara

04. Raga Chhayanat

05. Raga Nat Bihag


Gharanon ki Gayaki: Ramzan Khan and Umrao Bundu Khan


The gharana centered around India’s capital, Delhi, is considered by its proponents to be THE original gharana. Older even than Gwalior which is often said (by me, even) to be the oldest.  But if we do consider the arguments of the Dilliwale, they do make a good case.  The seat of Imperial power of successive Islamic dynasties, not just the grand Mughals, Delhi was the very birthplace of a couple styles of singing, said to be the innovation of Hazrat Amir Khusrao: qual (qawwali) and khyal (north Indian classical vocal music).


Delhi certainly had the patronage and audience for music not to mention the best artists.  Royal courts always attract talent from across the region and while places like Gwalior did have influence and glory, it would be hard to imagine a singer or sarangi player passing up the chance to perform and be sponsored by the greatest ruler of all Hindustan.


The Delhi musicians are famous for the wide range of their singing and musical styles as well as their prominence in developing the performance of the sarangi and tabla. Two of Pakistan’s/India’s giants of classical music Ustad Bundu Khan and Ustad Shaukat Hussain are recognised as the very best masters of the sarangi and tabla respectively.


Soft, subtle and soothing are the three most appropriate words to describe the [singing] style of rendition in Delhi Gharana. So opens a very informative essay on the Delhi gharana by Malika Bannerjee.


Here are links to two other interesting essays and presentations about the Delhi gharana that are worth a few minutes of your time.  At the crossroads tells of the current state and struggles of classical musicians in contemporary Delhi.  Dili Gharana is a multi-media presentation full of interviews, performance and historical photographs. Really excellent.



Of the two singers featured in Volumes 16 and 17 we know little. I’ve been unable to find anything at all reliable about Ramzan Khan. There is some mention of an Ustad by the same name who was an influence on the doyen of the Agra gharana Faiyaz Khan but it is not the same person.  So as ever, if any reader does have information on our  Ramzan I’d be might appreciative.


More is known of Umrao Bundu Khan. One of the most outstanding exponents of Delhi Gharana in undivided India, Umrao Bundu Khan Sahib’s birth date is not clear but he is believed to have been born around 1915. He was the son and disciple of sarangi nawaz Ustad Bundu Khan. He received training in vocal music from his maternal uncle and legend of Delhi Gharana Ustad Chand Khan Sahib but was adept at both vocal music and sarangi. In fact, he was one of the few musicians who was equally skilled both as a vocalist and an instrumentalist. His rendition on the sarangi reflected the nuances of Ustad Bundu Khan Sahib and his vocal performances were highly influenced by Ustad Chand Khan’s style.
Umrao Bundu Khan Sahib migrated to Pakistan in 1947. He was a regular performer at Akashwani (All India Radio) in undivided India as vocalist and after moving to Pakistan was appointed the music director at Radio Pakistan. He was later invited from Karachi for the Akhil Bharatiya Khadi Pradarshini in 1954, where he gave one of his most memorable performances. He was an extremely versatile singer and was adept at khayal, thumri dadra, tarana, Qaul and kalbana. He performed in various countries and for numerous albums even in Pakistan.
The glorious journey of this legend came to an end in 1970 with his demise in Karachi. His music remains immortal not just through him but the various disciples who carry his legacy forward including his sons Mazhar Umrao and Athar Umrao.



Gharanon Ki Gayaki_ Delhi Vol 16

Track Listing Volume 16:

01 Jait Kalyan

02 Khambavti

03 Suha

04 Hindol




Gharanon Ki Gayaki_ Delhi Vol 17


Track Listing Volume 17:

01 Gauri

02 Lalit Pancham

03 Gaur Sarang

04 Sarparda





Gharanon ki Gayaki: Ghulam Hussain Shaggan


Ghulam Hussain Shaggan

Continuing this amazing collection of North Indian classical khyal singing, I share Volume 15 which highlights the voice of Ghulam Hussain Shaggan undoubtedly one of the great artists of Pakistan.

Vijaya Parrikar’s very useful classical music blog has a concise biography of Shaggan here.

The Gwalior gharana is regarded as the original or one of the first style of singing to be recognised as a gharana.

When it comes to Hindustani classical music and various styles, ‘gharanas’, that evolved within it, there is one undeniable fact that it all began with the Gwalior Gharana. As I have mentioned in one of my earlier articles in this series, the current style of ‘khyal’ singing evolved from ‘dhrupad’, the norm earlier. The khyalused a systematic method of presenting music in an orderly form or sequence and became popular in the early 18th and 19th century. But who were the pioneers of khayal? (Read full article by Raja Pundalik)

gharanon ki gayaki_ gwalior vol 15

Track Listing

  1. Ramkali
  2. Gujri Todi
  3. Kafi Kanra
  4. Purbi