Amir Khan: In Memoriam
Born on August 15,
1912 at Akola, in Maharashtra, Ustad Amir Khan passed away on February
13, 1974 at Calcutta in a strange and tragic car accident. In a
life-span of over sixty years, he spent almost forty years as a
vocalists in Hindustani classical music. He developed a unique style of
singing that is now known as the ‘Indore Gharana’.
Although born in Maharashtra, Khansaheb spent his childhood at Indore in
Madhya Pradesh. This place was inhabited by his ancestors and several
generations had migrated from Kalanaur in Haryana, and settled in Indore
under the patronage of the State. His father Shah Amir shifted to Indore
when Ameer Ali was barely two years old. Ustad Shahmir was an
accomplished Been and Sarangi player. Amir Ali loved his father so much
that later on he built a house in the ‘Bambai Bazaar’ area in Lane
number 3, and named it ‘Shahmir Manzil’. Every year he used to spend a
few months in this house.
Amir Ali’s mother passed away when he was nine years old and Shahmir
Khan had to take the responsibility of the entire family. By then he had
begun to teach music – vocal and sarangi - to both Amir Ali and his
younger brother Bashir. He used to take them to various musicians from
their ‘baradari’. On one such occasion, as soon as they entered the
house of a relative, ‘talim’ to the pupils was stopped suddenly and the
notebooks were closed promptly. Out of curiosity, Shahmir opened one
notebook and found notations of the ‘Merukhand’ gayaki. Someone snatched
away the notebook and shouted, ‘This is not for sarangi players, so what
is the use of reading it?’ Shahmir Khan left the house with his children
and decided to reply by training one of his sons in the ‘Merukhand’
gayaki. This was not easy since this gayaki was very difficult. What was
this gayaki and how was it sung?
This gayaki is also known as Merkhand, Khandmeru, Sumerkhand or
Meerkhand. This is a composite word: Meru + Khand. The word ‘Meru’ has
many meanings: Merumani (name of a precious stone); Meruparvat (name of
a mountain); Merudand are well known words. ‘Meru’ means ‘sthir’, ‘achal’,
non-moving, fixed or steady; and ‘Khand’ means section. In the present
context, ‘Meru’ means fixed swars (notes) in a given raga. These notes
can be arranged in many different ways using the theory of permutations
and combinations. If there are only two swars, e.g., Sa and Re in a
given raga, then only two combinations SaRe and ReSa are possible. If
there are three, then six different combinations are obtained.
Proceeding thus, for seven notes in a raga such as Bhairavi, 5024
combinations [factorial seven] could be written down mathematically.
Musicians aspiring to learn this ‘Merukhand’-gayaki are trained to
remember all these combinations by heart and study these structures
constantly. He or she is also trained to select a few of these
combinations during performance and make a beautiful design of the
composition within the framework of the chosen raga. This method is
extremely difficult and Amir Ali’s father began to teach him after the
above-mentioned insulting incident. Considering his tender age, in the
beginning this ‘talim’ lasted for less than one hour a day. Later, when
young Amir Ali began to like it, the ‘talim’ continued for longer
durations. Soon he could remember the ‘Merukhand’ designs of three/four
swaras. For over five/six years, he learnt only ‘sargam’, ‘alankar’ and
‘palte’ to get familiar with ‘swar’ (‘swar-pehchan’). Then he was
introduced to the ‘Khayal’ style of singing. When his voice was about to
break at puberty, his father reduced the vocal ‘talim’ and began to
teach him the sarangi. After ‘Jummeki Namaz’, on every Friday, there
used to be a music concert in his house where many stalwarts would sing
or play. These included Ustad Rajab Ali Khan, Ustad Nasiruddin Dagar,
Beenkar Ustad Wahid Khan, Ustad Allah Bande, Ustad Jaffruddin Khan,
Beenkar Ustad Murad Khan, and Sarangi Nawaz Ustad Bundu Khan.
Amir Ali learnt a lot through these concerts while he also assimilated
the ‘Merukhand’ gayaki. He came to Bombay around 1934 at the age of
twenty-two. He gave a few private concerts and also cut five/six records
with the ‘Gramophone Company’. These records were issued under a plum
coloured label with his name ‘Amir Ali, Indore’. The December 1934
catalogue of the gramophone company carries a special page on his
records with a photograph. In this photograph, he is seen wearing a
white turban and has ‘talwar’ cut moustache. Later, both the turban and
moustache disappeared as seen in the more well-known photographs of
This catalogue praises him and his gayaki in the following words:
‘Professor Amir Khan Saheb’s name is associated with the classical
music. He has earned many titles such as ‘Sangeet Shiromani’, ‘Sangeet
Sudhakar’ and ‘Sangeet Ratna’. Music lovers from various regions of
India have competed with each other in awarding these titles to Amir
Ali. One must listen to his music to get a cent-percent experience of
the celestial joy and happiness of Indian classical music. He has sung
raga ‘Shyam Kalyan’ with ‘sthayi’ on one side and ‘jalad phirat’ on the
other side of the record. In short, Khan Saheb’s record is a musical
VE 1002 Aaj So Bana – Bhag 1 & 2 – Shyam Kalyan [actually, Puriya Kalyan]
Aaj So Bana Ban Aayori, Lad Ladavan De,
Banreke Shir Sahera Motiya Biraje, Banarike Mana Bihave
The record catalogues of this period are full of praise and
exaggeration. This was used for the publicity and as a marketing
strategy. This of course helped the company in the promotion of its
records. Amir Ali also recorded the following in the same session:
Multani (Dhola To Janam), Tarana in raga Todi, Hansadhwani (bhajan-Bhaj
Mana Nit Harike Naam), Suha Sugrai (Charan Paran), Kafi (Lalan Aaye),
Patdeep (Yeri Meri Aan), and Adana (Mohammad Shah Rangile).
It is not clear
whether these records were popular. It is also not known if they were
reviewed/advertised in magazines and newspapers. The Gramophone Company
has not re-issued them since they were first issued. They now remain in
the hands of die-hard record collectors scattered all over India.
Recently, Pandit Tejpal Singh (the elder of famous duo known as the
Singh brothers), who was a senior disciple of Ustad Amir Khan, has
written a book on his master in Hindi. He has reviewed these records
with these words: ‘The music on these records is quite different and
shows the influence of the gayaki of Aman Ali Khan of Indore. He has
sung in the ‘safed teen’ scale. The ‘Sthayi’ and ‘Antara’ are sung twice
and in the beginning of each record. The Taans are fast and resemble
those of Rajab Ali Khan’.
Sangeetke Daideepyaman Surya: Ustad Amir Khan – Jeevan Aevam
Rachanaen (Kanishka Publishers, New Delhi, 2005)
Around 1935, several record companies (HMV, The Twin, Odeon, Jay Bharat,
Broadcast, and Young India) recorded the music of the great stalwarts of
Hindustani classical and light classical music. These include Professor
Abdul Karim Khan, Pandit Omkarnath Thakur, Prof. Narayanrao Vyas, Prof.
Shankar Rao Vyas, Prof. Aman Ali of Indore, Prof. Mallikarjun Mansoor,
Sau. Heerabai Barodekar, Bai Sunderabai of Poona, Miss Susheela Tembe,
Surshree Smt. Kesarbai Kerkar and Smt. Moghubai Kurdikar. These records
were very popular in their time. Mr. Keshavrao Bhole reviewed some of
them critically (under the pen-name ‘Shuddha Sarang’) in Marathi
periodicals and magazines. However, there was no review nor reference
nor even a mention of the records of Professor Amir Ali of Indore. What
could be the reason behind this?
The making of Ustad Amir Khan
The ‘Merukhand’ gayaki was probably found too academic by the common
listener and his concerts and the records were not very well-received in
Bombay. Amir Ali returned to Indore. After the death of his father in
1937, he had to shape his career to support the family. He decided to
change his singing style while keeping the ‘Merukhand’ gayaki at the
center of his musical personality. Usually a classical music concert is
divided into three parts: ‘Vilambit’ (slow) or ‘ativilambit’ singing
followed by singing in ‘Madhyalaya’, and concluded with a ‘drut’
composition using fast taans. Amir Ali decided to find three gurus for
these three sections. During his search, he found them in reverse order.
Ustad Rajab Ali Khan (1874-1959) of Indore knew Amir Ali since his
childhood. He used to call him by ‘Beta Amir’. Rajab Ali learnt
initially from his father Mughal Khan, then he learnt Been from Bande
Ali Khan and finally took lessons in the Jaipur gayaki from Ustad
Alladiya Khan, Thus, his gayaki became rich with multiple influences.
Listeners would say ‘Ustad Rajab, Gate Gajab!’. Amir Ali learnt the
style of ‘drut’ singing and very fast taans from Rajab Ali Khan and soon
commanded a mastery over that style. Ustad Rajab Ali Khan admired him by
saying that if you want to listen to the music of my young days, you
should listen to Amir Khan.
Ustad Aman Ali Khan (1884-1953) of ‘Bhendi Bazzar’ gharana was known for
his madhyalaya ‘Merukhand’ gayaki. Although he belonged to Indore, he
used to live in Bombay near the ‘Bhendi Bazaar’ area. During the days of
the British Raj, officers and residents used to live in spacious houses
near the J. J. Hospital. This was located behind the open market
(bazaar) and hence the commonly known address was ‘Behind the Bazaar’
that became known as ‘Bhendi Bazaar’. Many musicians lived in this area.
Thus the name ‘Bhendi Bazaar’ became associated with their style of
singing and gharana.
Ustad Aman Ali Khan never sang ‘ativilambit’ or ‘drut’ gayaki. He had
mastery over short taans with sargam in madhyalaya. He was also fond of
Karnatic music and the raga Hansadhwani was his favorite. He taught Amir
Ali for a number of years. Later on, Ustad Amir Khan used to sing Raga
Hansadhwani in his concerts in memory of Ustad Aman Ali Khan. He has
recorded ‘Jai Mate Vilamb Tajde’ on an LP record. In Karnatic music the
composition ‘Vatapi Ganpatim Bhajeham’ is very popular. He also recorded
a tarana in this raga – ‘Ittihadesta Miyan Ne Mano To’ [You (Allah) and
me are one and the same]. This Pharsi verse contains a spiritual message
of the one-ness between God and the devotee. This composition brought
great fame to Amir Khan.
For vilambit/ati-vilambit or slow singing Amir Ali chose Ustad Abdul
Wahid Khan (1882-1949) of the Kirana gharana as his model. Wahid Khan
was the cousin of Ustad Abdul Karim Khan and the guru of Smt. Heerabai
Barodekar. He was also known as ‘bahire’ Wahid Khan due to a hearing
deficiency. He was an accomplished Beenkar too. His style of
ornamentation and rendering ragas with the careful and delicate
treatment of each swar was unique. Amir Ali met Ustad Abdul Wahid Khan
very infrequently; he learnt his style less through personal contact
than by listening to his radio programs. Ustad Abdul Wahid Khan used to
sing in Jhumra Taal [‘Jhum Raha’ – means the rhythm that makes you
swing] and Amir Ali also began to sing in this wonderful taal. He had an
opportunity to sing in a private mehfil in which Ustad Abdul Wahid Khan
was also present and the master appreciated his music.
Thus, with rigorous practice and deep thinking, Ustad Amir Khan Saheb
began to emerge as a distinct musical personality. He got rid of his
erstwhile turban and moustache and began to appear on concert stage with
an uncovered head. This was quite a revolutionary step. If we recall the
photographs of old musicians, we find that male musicians either wore a
cap or a turban, and female musicians covered their heads with either
the ‘padar’ or the ‘pehlu’ of their saree or dupatta respectivley. Soon,
many musicians picked up his style, including Ravi Shankar, Ali Akbar
Khan, Bhimsen Joshi and many others. Today, hardly any one covers his or
head while performing at a concert.
Ustad Amir Khan’s gayaki was a syncretic musical language, a kind of
re-mix or fusion of several gayaki styles. It could be accepted and
appreciated by music lovers as a mixture of the ‘Jaipur’, ‘Kirana’ and
‘Bhendi Bazzar’ gharana styles as inherent or latent in the ‘Merukhand’
gayaki. During his concerts, lovers of different gharanas could find
something to their liking, and hence his experiment became quite
successful. Thus, a new ‘Indore’ gharana emerged with Ustad Amir Khan.
Smt. Prabha Atre has written, ‘Although Sureshbabu Mane and Sau.
Heerabai Barodekar taught music to me, I have always considered Ustad
Amir Khan as my one of the gurus’. Pandit Bhimsen Joshi followed the
same pattern. His style assimilated the Jaipur element of ‘swar-lagao’
and the ‘taan kriya’ of Amir Khan, thus creating another re-mix within
the framework of his ‘Kirana’ gharana.
What were the specialties of the gayaki of Ustad Amir Khan?
Here is a list of some of them: ‘shantiprad swarlagao’, ‘dhairyapurna
gayan’, ‘sudh mudra’ and ‘sudh bani’, ativilambit laya, meaningful
pauses during singing, difficult but artful sargam, fast ‘gamakyukta’,
surel and danedaar taan ranging in all the three octaves, khayal and
tarana compositions consisting of Pharsi ‘sher’, verses and lyrics. He
used a six stringed tanpura. He never engaged in any ‘kusti’ or
‘akhadebaji’ with the tabliya. He used to sing the ‘sthayi’ twice. He
was six-feet tall, well-built, and would sit on the stage like a ‘sadhu’
or a ‘yogi’. In a concert, he used to sing with eyes closed or half
closed. His bandishes were chosen very carefully and had spiritual
lyrics. His bandish in raga Lalat (‘Jogiya More Ghar Aaye’) is an
excellent example which invokes a sage or a sadhu. It is interesting to
note that when Hindu singers were singing ‘Karim Tero Naam’ (Malhar) and
‘Alla Jane Alla Jane’ (Todi), Amir Khan was recording compositions
invoking Shiva, Hari and Rama (e.g., ‘Bhaj Man Harike Naam’ in
Hansadhwani, and ‘Jinke Mana Ram Birajae’ in Malkauns). He also created
the trend of continuous, uninterrupted singing of several ragas in
succession during a concert. In this style, he would begin the concert
with a raga and would not pause or stop after it was over. He would
immediately begin the next composition in another raga. This would give
a sense of continuity to his presentations.
Ustad Amir Khan witnessed the Royal patronage of music and also
performed in the period when private concerts, music festivals, radio,
cinema and gramophone records became the media that reached out to a
wider public. Each medium demanded a different kind of skill, but he
learnt and mastered each, and left his mark in all these media. As
mentioned earlier, he never sang thumri or gazal in his concerts. He
also did not sing or record the raga ‘Bhairavi’. He used to say
jokingly, ‘Do you think that my musical career is over? If not, then how
can I sing Bhairavi?’ He did not like singing either a Bhairavi thumri
or even a Bhairavi bhajan. He would say that Bhairavi is a ‘Sampoorna’
(complete) raga and must be treated like any other raga and sung
accordingly. He used to sing this raga very rarely in the company of
close friends. However, no recording of Bhairavi from him has been found
Amir Khan as a gramophone singer
Around 1945-50, Amir Khan was one of the topmost and most sought-after
vocalists in North India. He was invited to almost every important music
conference. Naturally, both the gramophone companies and the music
directors in Hindi/Bengali film industry approached him. With the bitter
experience of the 78-rpm records made in 1935, Amir Khan was rather
reluctant to commit himself to this medium yet again. G. N. Joshi of HMV
was a great fan of Amir Khan’s gayaki and would frequently attend his
concerts. He tried to persuade Amir Khan to cut new records for the
Gramophone Company. In his book Down Melody Lane (Orient Longman), G. N.
‘To obtain Amir Khan's agreement for the recording, I had to meet him,
and therefore it was incumbent on me to visit his residence. I was
greatly put off when I learnt about the locality where he stayed. I was
afraid of what people would say if they observed me entering a house of
ill repute. Any outsider would naturally draw his own conclusions, not
knowing that an eminent singer was living in that building. If I had,
out of fear or social stigma, refrained from going to visit Amir Khan,
his great artistry would have gone unrecorded. The idea of securing his
consent for recording together with a keen sense of duty prompted me to
enter the building, eyes downcast, not looking about me till I entered
Amir Khan's room on the third floor. Once in his room, I cheered up, and
I talked to him for an hour or two. After that I visited him often. We
exchanged views on music and gharanas, and such visits gave me
opportunities to study his likes and dislikes. These visits also gave
him confidence in me. After a couple of months and few such visits, he
agreed to come for a recording. Some more time was lost in persuading
him to agree to the terms of payment. Finally, this hurdle too was
crossed. Yet Amir Khan went on canceling dates, giving fresh ones and
then again postponing the recording on some flimsy grounds. I got fed up
with his dilly-dallying and, in spite of my great regard and respect for
him, I justifiably felt very annoyed. Ultimately one day I plucked up my
courage and said to him, 'If I had approached ‘God almighty’ as many
times as I have come to you, he would have blessed me, but all I can get
from you is the promise of a future date.' Seeing my exasperation he
became thoughtful, smiled a little and replied, 'Please do not
disbelieve me. Name any day of this week and I will keep the
‘True to his word he came on the day I named, and I got from him his
first long-playing disc. His favorite ragas were Marwa, Darbari Kanada
and Malkauns. It is indeed rare these days to hear Raga Marwa as
presented by Bade Gulam Ali and Amir Khan. His first LP was received
with tremendous enthusiasm by the record-buying public. This delighted
Amir Khan, and he was more than ready for another recording. In spite of
this I had to put in a lot of effort and time to bring him to the studio
again. This time he made an LP containing the ragas Lalit and Megh and
this was all that could be obtained from him before he was lost to the
This was in the year 1960. The LP record-cover for ragas Marwa and
Darbari has a black and white photograph enclosed in an oval shape
frame. Amir Khan wears a coat and rimless glasses and his portrait is
quite pleasant-looking. The Marwa uses the vilambit bandish ‘Piya mohe
anant das’ and the drut composition ‘Gurubina gyan kaise paun’. His
singing takes the listener to a spiritual world. In 1968, he recorded
his second LP: raga Lalit (Kahan jage raat, Jogiya more ghar) and Megh (Barkha
ritu aai and tarana). Its cover has a color-photograph with Khansaheb
wearing a blue suit. In 1980, he recorded his third LP with his most
favorite ragas – Hansdhwani (Jai mate vilamb tajde) and Malkauns (Jinke
mana ram biraje). The photograph on the LP record-jacket shows Khansaheb
wearing a white kurta and tuning his six string taanpura with eyes
These LP records are collector’s items today. Around 1960, he also cut
one 78-rpm record on the HMV label (N 88319). It contains raga Shahana
(‘Sunder angana baithi’) on one side and a tarana in raga Chandrakauns
on the other side.
Today, a Google search with the key words ‘Ustad Amir Khan’ yields over
55,000 hits. A discography of his available records/recordings is
available above and at:
Amir Khan as a
In 1952, at the age of forty, Ustad Amir Khan began to sing for films.
His first film was in Bengali - ‘Kshudhit Pashan’ or ‘Bhuka Patthar’ [A
hungry stone]. Ustad Ali Akbar Khan had set tunes as the music director
and Amir Khan sang the following songs:
1] ‘Kaise Kate Rajani’ - a bandish in raga Bageshree,
2] ‘Piyake Awanki’ – Thumri in raga Khamaj [with Protima Banerjee]
Pt. Debu Choudhury, famous Sitar player witnessed the recording of this
‘Khamaj thumri’ at the recording studio of ‘New Theater’, Calcutta and
it lasted from 11.00 p.m. at night till 5.00 a.m. next morning.
The Song text of the only recorded ‘thumri’ by Amir Khan Saheb is:
“ Piyake awanki main suniri khabariya, aang aang men umang uthat hai “
This film is occasionally telecast on Indian TV channels and one can
listen to Amir Khan’s music in the background score. If a VCD or DVD of
this film is ever released, then one will be able to listen again to
this music. However, the two songs are available on 78-rpm records,
which repose in the hands of record collectors in India.
In the same year 1952, another film, ‘Baiju Bawra’, was released and
Ustad Amir Khan contributed substantially as a consultant to the music
director Mr. Naushad Ali. Prakash Pictures’ ‘Baiju Bawra’ was set in the
‘Mughal’ period and is based on an encounter between two great singers,
Tansen and Baiju. Hindustani classical music was at the focus of this
film. It was unanimously decided that Amir Khan’s voice would be
suitable for the role of Mian Tansen. However, it was not clear who
should sing for the role of Baiju in the climax song during the singing
competition. Many names including Pandit Omkarnath Thakur were under
consideration. However, Amir Khan suggested the name of Pandit D. V.
Paluskar due to his ‘Prasadik’ (serene and devotional) voice. Pt.
Paluskar had by then cut several 78-rpm discs. Ustad Amir Khan and Pt.
D. V. Paluskar recorded a six minute jugalbandi in raga Desi (‘Aaj gavat
mana mero jhumke’) and a great recording was thus created. Paluskar
wrote down the notation of his part in a diary and this has been
published in a Marathi book ‘Parimal’ written by his disciple Smt. Kamal
Ketkar. Other Baiju songs (‘Tu gangaki mauj’, ‘Mana tarpat hari
darshanko aaj’) are sung by Mohammad Rafi. Viewers rarely notice the
fact that two different voices have been sued for the songs of ‘Baiju’,
a role played by the actor Bharat Bhushan. Today, no one even remembers
who played the part of Miyan Tansen in this film. However, the songs of
Tansen, in the voice of Ustad Amir Khan, are well-remembered by music
lovers as well as cine-goers. The title song of this film is a bandish
in raga ‘Puriya Dhanashree’ sung by Amir Khan. He had also sung an alap
in raga Darbari and recorded ‘Ghanan ghanan ghan garjo re’ in raga Megh.
This Megh composition was not included in the film. However, all these
three songs were released on 78-rpm records. Later, he also recorded a
composition ‘Daya karo re he giridhar gopal’ for the film ‘Shabab’
(again under the music direction of Mr. Naushad Ali). He did not receive
any payment for this recording, an omission noted in Pt. Tejpal Singh’s
book. Today, VCDs and DVDs of these films are widely available, and one
can listen to Amir Khan’s music from the Original sound tracks.
In 1955, the music director Vasant Desai invited Khansaheb to record the
Lalat composition ‘Jogiya mere ghar aaye’ for a Marathi film ‘Ye re
majhya maglya’, and a 78-rpm record was cut. The music director O. P.
Naiyaar recorded the same composition for the title song of the Hindi
film ‘Ragini’. Khansaheb has narrated, ’I was called for the recording.
The recording was over in just two minutes and was accepted. It was a
little over a minute and a half, and the time taken to tune the tanpura
lasted longer! If they had recorded my song for a little more time, they
would have obtained a three minute 78-rpm record’. This is an example of
how some of the renowned music directors had strange attitudes towards
Khansaheb gave recordings for a few films produced by his disciples. Mr.
Mukund Goswami of Bombay produced two religious films. Amir Khan sang
‘Ae mori aali, jabse bhanak pari’, a composition in raga Darbari for the
film ‘Jai Shree Krishna’. In another film, ‘Radha Priya Pyari’, he sang
the same composition (‘Ae mori aali’) in jhaptaal. Another disciple, Pt.
Amarnath, produced a documentary film on Mirza Ghalib. Khansaheb sang
the famous Ghalib gazal ‘Rahiye aab aaisi jagah chalkar jahan koi na ho’
for this documentary. One does not know if these films (and the
documentary) are available today.
Amir Khan is best known for his playback singing in two films: ‘Jhanak
Jhanak Payal Baje’ (1955) and ‘Goonj Uthi Shahanai’ (1959). Mr. Vasant
Desai composed the music for both films. In ‘Goonj Uthi Shahanai’, he
has sung raga Bhatiyar (Nisa dina barasat) in a duet with the shehnai
played by Ustad Bismillah Khan. In a ragamalika duet, the two perform a
continuous set of eight ragas (Ramkali, Desi, Shuddha Sarang, Multani,
Yaman Kalyan, Sur Malhar, Bageshree and Chandrakauns) in just six
minutes. HMV released 78-rpm records of Amir Khan and Bismillah Khan
based on the recording for that film.
The title song, ‘Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baje’, in Raga Adana, made him
famous throughout India and abroad. This was the high-point of the film.
During the recording of this song, the producer Mr. V. Shantaram was
quite restless since it was taking a long time to synchronize the chorus
with Khansaheb’s singing. Mr. Vasant Desai calmed him down and the song
made history. During the golden jubilee celebrations at Liberty cinema
in Bombay, Khansaheb was invited to sing this composition at the
ceremony and he sang it for a much longer duration. VCDs and DVDs of
both these films are now available.
What was the gharana of Khansaheb’s gayaki? He himself has replied,
‘Gharana is not known with any person’s name but is associated with a
place. ‘Indore’ was a place where many great musicians sang and played.
I have listened to many performers and put them together in a style and
named it as the ‘Indore’ gharana’. The musicologist Mr. Vamanrao
Deshpande mentions this gharana in his Marathi book ‘Gharandaj Gayaki’.
He describes it as a ‘swar-pradhan’ gayaki in which musical notes and
song/bandish text are important. Khansaheb was very particular about the
correct and meaningful pronunciation of words and notes.
There is a common misconception that Amir Khan had no disciples: this
notion is dispelled by Pt. Tejpal Singh’s Hindi book. He has given
details of Kahnsaheb’s ‘Ganda-baddha’ disciples with photographs. Some
of his disciples were:
Delhi – the late Pt. Amar Nath, Tejpal and Surinder Singh (Singh
brothers), Munir Khan (sarangi player), Ajit Sinh Pental, Amarjit, R. S.
Bisht, Shankar Majumdar.
Calcutta – A. T. Kanan, the late Shreekant Bakre, Smt. Purvi Mukherjee,
the late Pradyumna Mukherjee, Kankana Banerjee, Sunil Banerjee.
Jalandhar – Shankarlal Mishra, Surendra Shankar Awasthi.
Simla – Bhimsen Sharma.
Indore – Narayan Rao, Devbaksha Pawar.
Rajkot – Gajendra Bakshi.
Bombay – Mukund Goswami [mentioned above as film producer of two
Mr. Mukund Goswami was the Mathadhish (chief priest) of the temple of
Vallabhacharya Sampradaya (cult) in Kalbadevi area in Bombay. He was the
devotee of Khansaheb’s music and learnt music as a disciple. He used to
play the Saraswati Veena. Khansaheb sang at the temple on a number of
occasions and excellent recordings of his singingf are preserved in the
collection of this Sampradaya.
Pt. Gokulotsav Maharaj of Indore is also mentioned as an indirect
disciple. This is because he never met and learnt from Khansaheb but
learnt from radio programs and recordings. He imitates Amir Khan’s
gayaki very well. Bhavnagar’s Pandit Rasiklal Andhariya, Mumbai based
sarangi player Sultan Khan and the sitar player Pandit Nikhil Banerjee
from Calcutta also show the influence of Khansaheb’s gayaki.
Exploring the origins of the Tarana
Perhaps the greatest contribution of Ustad Amir Khan to Indian music is
his study of the Tarana form. He was awarded a fellowship by Bihar
Academy. It is not clear whether his research and findings were recorded
and whether these are available with the Bihar Academy in print or in
any other form. He researched the Tarana form quite thoroughly, and used
to sing taranas in almost every concert. Sometimes, he used to explain
the tarana composition and its meaning.
The tarana is believed to have origins in the 13th century. The great
poet, musicologist and administrator Amir Khushro was a disciple of
Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia (Avalia). Amir Khushro composed taranas for his
guru. After the death of Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia, Amir Khushro spent the
rest of his life at his tomb and composed a number of taranas. He
breathed his last at the tomb of his guru. Today, Hazrat Nizamuddin is a
Railway station in Delhi and an express train is named after Hazrat
Amir Khushro’s work consists of the poems with verses containing
specific words which are repeated during a vocal performance. These
poems/verses are devotional in nature. In any religious song, repetition
of words is necessary. These repetitions are useful to devotees in
reaching towards God or Allah through ‘Nama Smarana’ or ‘Japa’. In the
Sufi cult, music is used invariably in singing taranas. The meaning of
some of the ‘Pharsi’ words used in taranas are:
Dar – Bheetar, Aandar (inside)
Dara – Andar Aa (get in or come inside)
Dartan – Tanke Aandar (inside the body)
Tanandara – Tanke Aandar Aa (Come inside the body)
Tom – Main Tum Hun (I am you)
Nadirdani – Tu Sabse Adhik Janata Hai (You know more than anyone else)
Tandardani – Tanke Aandarka Jannewala (One who knows what is inside the
One of the simplest tarana compositions is this: “ Dara dara dartan,
darat dartan dartan “
It means: ‘Aandar Aao, Tanke Aandar Aao’
Simple words used for addressing Allah are:
‘Ya La La La Lom’, which means Alla, Alla repeated several times.
Ye, Yali, Yale, Yala, Yalale: these are short forms of ‘Allah’.
Kumar Gandharva has sung the tarana ‘Yala Ya Yala Yallari’ which is
available on tape and CD. However, the inlay card does not explain the
meaning of these words and the purpose of this tarana. If music
companies and musicians take the trouble to explain their significance
to uninitiated listeners, music lovers will benefit a lot.
A tarana is usually sung by Sufi saints during their prayers. They sing
taranas in a state of trance or in a ‘Hal’ mood. Often, they dance
during the state of ecstasy. Unfortunately, due to various reasons,
musicians did not take the trouble to understand the meaning of these
‘pharsi’ sher and words. They treated these compositions merely as a way
of showing off their skill in fast tempo singing. Today, if anyone wants
to know what a tarana really means, then over 400, 000 sites can be
visited on the internet. The most common description of the tarana is
reproduced below from two representative sites:
‘1] Taranas are songs that are used to convey a mood of elation and are
usually performed towards the end of a concert. They consist of a few
lines of rhythmic sounds or bols set to a tune. The singer uses these
few lines as a basis for very fast improvisation. It can be compared to
the Tillana of Carnatic music.’
‘2] Tarana: This is a vocal composition that is usually sung in a fast
tempo using syllables such as na, ta, re, da, ni, odani, tanon, yalali,
yalalam, etc. Sometimes, Pakhawaj bols or Sargams are also used. The
difference between the Drut Khayal and Tarana lies in the text. In the
Khayal, the fast type is usually a meaningful poem while in a Tarana,
there is no poem as such and the emphasis is on producing rhythmic
patterns with vocables. The Tarana is set to a raga and Tal. The Tal can
be Teen-tal, Ek-tal, Jhumra, Ada-chautal and so on and its tempo can
range from Vilambit to Drut. Tarana singing requires specialization and
skill in rhythmic manipulation. The late Amir Khan, Nissar Hussain Khan,
Krishnarao Pandit and Kumar Gandharva were known for Tarana singing, as
well. Among the present day singers, Ustad Rashid Khan, Veena
Sahasrabuddhe, Padma Talwalkar and Malini Rajurkar include this form in
their repertoire. The Tarana can have bols of Sitar, Pakhawaj and
Mridang too, in addition to Sargams.’
According to Ustad Amir Khansaheb, due to the ignorance of the meaning
of the words from a foreign language, many musicians added the tabla,
pakhawaj and mrudangam bols to the tarana (e.g. Dha Kid Tak Dhum Kid Tak
etc.) and distorted the form completely to please the audience. They
exhibited the ‘taiyyari’ of their tongue to the listeners, but defeated
the purpose of the tarana totally. Ustad Amir Khan was seriously
concerned about this neglect, and he tried to enlighten listeners by
singing taranas in many of his concerts and recordings. He has recorded
the following taranas, though relevant information about them (as given
below) is missing from the inlay cards/record covers.
1] Tarana in raga Suha:
‘Sakiya Barkhej Dar Deh Jamra, Khaq Bar Sar Kun Game Aayyamra’
Meaning in Hindi: ‘Ae saki! tu uth ja, mujhe jam de aur duniyaki
taqliphonke sarpar khaq dal’
2] Tarana in raga Megh:
‘Abre Tar Saihane Chaman, Bulbul O Gule Phasale Bahar
Saki O Mutrib O May, Yaar Be Saihane Guljar’
Meaning in Hindi: ‘Badal bheege hain (phuhar baras rahi hai), aangan men
chaman hai, wahan bulbul (bhi) hain, bahar ka mausam hai, saki hai,
gayika hai, sharab hai aur chamanke aanganmen mera mehboob maujud hai’
3] Tarana in raga Hansadhwani:
‘Ittihadista Miyane Mano To, Mano To Nista Miyan Ne Mano To’
Meaning in Hindi: ‘Tere aur mere daryanmen ek aaisa talluk hai ki tere
mere beech men main aur tu ka fark nahin raha gaya’ (One-ness of the
mortal and immortal)
It is a matter of debate whether one should discuss the personal life of
any legendary artist in public. Some argue that it helps in
understanding the musician in his totality, and hence it is useful to
study the personal aspects that have shaped the artist. The life of
Ustad Amir Khansaheb was full of struggle. The period in which he was
trying to establish himself as a professional artist was a difficult
one. Royal patronage was diminishing gradually. The struggle for
independence was at its peak and naturally performing arts did not have
ample backing and support in society. During 1932 and 1942 he moved from
place to place like a ‘fakir’. Initially, he lived with his maternal
uncle Mohammad Khan in Arab Lane, Bombay. Here he met Amanat Ali Khan,
nephew of Ustad Rajab Ali Khan. Soon they became close friends. Juggan
Khan, a table player introduced Amir Khan to Prof. B. R. Deodhar at his
office in Dadar. He sang for him on a number of occasions. Later, Prof.
Deodhar wrote about him in ‘Sangeet Kala Vihar’ – a magazine of the
Gandharva Mahavidyalaya. In 1934/36, he also gave private tuitions in
In 1936, his father asked him to join the services of Maharaj Chakradhar
Singh of Raygadh Sansthan in Madhya Pradesh. The Maharaj used to sponsor
musicians and send them to many music festivals and conferences. Soon he
sent young Amir Khan to participate in the Mirzapur Conference. There
was a galaxy of musicians at this conference: Faiyaaz Khansaheb, Inayat
Khan Sitariye (father of Vilayat Khan), Pandit Omkarnath Thakur and Smt.
Kesarbai Kerkar. Amir Khan sang in the ‘Merukhand’ style and the
audience hooted him out in a few minutes. The organizers appealed him to
sing a thumri, but he refused and left the concert stage. Soon he left
the Royal court and returned to Indore. His father died in 1937.
Khansaheb lived in Bombay until 1941 and then went to Delhi to teach
Munni Begum, former disciple of Ustad Abdul Wahid Khan. (Later on he
married Munni Begum). In Delhi, he used to live in Sadik Building on G.
B. Road. He spent some time in Calcutta and used to live in the area
inhabited by dancing (nautch) girls and ‘kothewalis’. He sang in a
Lahore conference just before Partition. Soon after Independence and
Partition, the atmosphere in Delhi and Calcutta was quite changed.
Hence, Khansaheb came to Bombay. He used to live near Congress House on
Vallabhbhai Patel Road on the third floor in the room next to Gangabai.
This place was full of prostitutes and singing girls and the area was
known as ‘Pila House’. Ustad Bade Gulam Ali Khansaheb, Ustad Ahemadjan
Tirakhawa, and Ustad Abdul Wahid Khansaheb had also lived here, since
they would get tuitions and disciples in this area. The atmosphere of
the area never disturbed these musicians in their ‘talim’ and teaching.
Khansaheb used to live here like a sage. Later on, he could afford to
move to ‘Vasant’ building on Pedder Road, where he lived for the rest of
Khansaheb’s first ‘Nikah’ nama (marriage contract) was with the sister
of Sitar Player Vilayat Khansaheb. Her name was Zeenat, and he used to
call her ‘Sharifan’. At that time, he was struggling and had a meagre
income. This marriage did not last long. They had one daughter ‘Fahmida’,
a charming, fair and tall lady resembling Khansaheb. She is now a
leading homeopath in Bombay. Then he married his disciple Munni Begum of
Delhi. This marriage lasted quite a long time. Khansaheb used to call
her ‘Khalifan’ and his disciples would call her ‘Amma’. She loved and
cared for them like a mother. He had a son from this marriage: Ikram.
This son did not have any interest in music. He studied Mechanical
engineering, settled in Canada and in 1969 invited Khansaheb to Canada
and organized a few concerts for him. Around 1965, Khansaheb married
Raisa Begum, daughter of the thumri singer Mushtari Begum of Agra. He
had expected that his second wife, Munni Begum, would accept the third
wife. But she could not bear the shock and left home and was never seen
again. It was rumored that Munni Begum drowned herself in Prayagraj near
In 1966, Raisa Begum delivered a son. A grand party was thrown and a
wonderful jalsa was organized in Indore. His first birthday was
celebrated at Karolbaug in Delhi. He was called ‘Bablu’ and registered
in school as ‘Haider Amir’. Khansaheb passed away when he was eight
years old. After securing a B.Com degree he began to act on stage. Using
the stage name ‘Shahbaz Khan’ he began to appear in films and in TV
serials. His role of Haider Ali in TV serial ‘Tipu Sultan’ was very
popular. Thus we see that the musical heritage of Ustad Amir Khan was
not carried forward by his children. His younger brother Bashir Khan was
a staff artist at Indore radio station and retired as a ‘Sarangi’
February 13, 1974. Khansaheb was in Calcutta. After dinner at a friend’s
house, he was returning in a car with a journalist friend, Shams-U-Jaman,
and a disciple, Smt. Purvi Mukherjee. They were discussing Urdu
literature. In the Southern Avenue area, they were traveling down Lanes
Down Road. All of a sudden, a car from the opposite direction collided
with their vehicle. The collision caused both cars to spin twice before
colliding with each other again. Khansaheb was sitting near the door. On
impact, the door opened and he was thrown out. He hit a nearby electric
pole twice asa consequence of the sudden fall. His journalist friend and
Purvi Mukherjee survived, but the driver died on the spot and Khansaheb
passed away one hour later in the hospital. He breathed his last near
the home of his first wife Zeenat. His last rights were performed by his
former brothers-in-law: Ustad Vilayat Khan and Ustad Imrat Khan. He was
buried in ‘Gobra Kabrasthan’. Later, his son Ikram decorated this tomb
with ivory stones. Khansaheb had planned to leave for America with Mr.
Govind Basu and Pandit Nikhil Banerjee. He had been invited to visit San
Francisco University as a Visiting Professor for one year. However, his
fate had decided differently.
The sudden demise of Ustad Amir Khansaheb left the world of music
shocked and grieving. Indore radio organized a special broadcast and
someone in the program said, ‘Teesare saptak par thahari taan aapni
jagah tham gayi’ [The taan that reached third octave remained there and
did not descend]. His disciples commemorated the anniversary of his
death for many years.
In 1976, HMV released an LP record from the live concert recordings of
Ustad Amir Khan. In 1981, the INRECO Company released a record and tape
of raga ‘Chandramadhu’. His disciples Singh Bandhu, Kankana Banerjee and
Purvi Mukherjee recorded ragas and paid musical tributes to their guru.
Many music lovers have been collecting the recorded music of Ustad Amir
Khan from before his demise. What was (and is) so great about his music?
That is what future generations shall find out by listening to his
legacy of recordings.
- Suresh Chandvankar
Society of Indian Record Collectors, Mumbai