Ustad Amjad Ali Khan is one of world’s musical legends. The sarod maestro’s contribution to the living flow of classical music is a deep, soulful note, carrying foreword the luminous legacy of music since ancient times.
The ragas or musical scales that contain so much personality and potential, were ‘always there’, goes Indian belief. As the millennia unfolded, discovered and added to the world’s repertoire of music possibilities.
In this tradition, appeared a figure whose name still sings of magic: Tanna Mishra, who became Mian Tansen, court musician to Akbar, the first of the Great Mughals, in the 16th century. Tansen’s musical descendants flowed into four steams of sound, called bani. Of these, was the Senia Beenkaar or ‘instrumentalists of the Tansen school’. The tradition flourished through the succeeding centuries of the Indian sub-continent’s tumultuous history, secure in its identity and sense of self even through the worst upheavals. Then, to the crowded canvas of Indian musicians, a figure was quietly added seven generations ago.
An Afghani horse trader became a musician, choosing to play the rabbab or Persian lute. Originally from Central Asia, Mohammed Hashmi Khan Bangash tribe that migrated to India in the 1800s. He was followed by Gulam Bandegi Khan Bangash. Next came Ghulam Ali Khan Bangash, who modified the rabab into the sartod. One of his three sons, Naneh Khan, was the grandfather of Ustad Amjad Ali Khan. The musical compositions of Nanneh Khan, form part of the clan’s particular legacy. The family settled in the old royal capital of Gwalior, cradle of much crucial history and also the citadel most musically associated with Mian Tansen’s early musical progress. (In fact, he is buried there and his resting place is a spiritual retreat for Ustad Amjad Ali Khan), took up the musical mantle. Since his father died young, he learnt from Ustad Mohammed Wazir Khan, a direct descendant of Tansen. Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, born to Ustad Hafiz Ali Khan when his father was 65, was both pupil and son and acquired in the process, a gravitas beyond his years.
The Bangash family moved to the new seat of power, New Delhi, in 1957 a decade after Independence. Ustad Amjad Ali Khan received a thoroughly modern western education in one of Delhi’s prominent schools and thus combines in himself the peculiar characteristic of many urban Indians: an ancient soul in a brisk modern body. Musically, this means being at ease in the world of today while being a custodian of Indian’s deepest poetic and spiritual aspirations. Unsurprisingly, it is Ustad Amjad Ali Khan who has modified the sarod further in the last three decades to play ragas as if a vocalist were singing. Since the 1960s, when his career began to flourish, he has creatively reworked several raga possibilities while interpreting old musical modes with his own particular strength and sweetness. In this album, we hear excerpts from three recordings played for Indian’s national. TV channel, Doordarshan: Ragas Gurjari Todi, Bapu Kauns and Mishra Peelu.
Raga Gujari Todi (25':33")
Gujari Todi is the sub melody of the main Raga Todi, and like the parent melody is expounded in the late morning hours. The scale consists of the notes Re, Ga, and Dha Komal i.e. second, third and the sixth notes flat and Ma Teevra i.e. the fourth note sharp. It omits Pancham the fifth note in ascent and descent both, hence its Jati is Shadav-Shadav. Vadi or the main note ofthis raga is Dhaivat and Samvadi, the second important note is Rishabh. A popular variety of Todi, this raga has a serene character with a tinge of pathos in it.
In this exposition of Gujari Todi, the artiste starts with a short aalap or invocation before starting the'gat'(composition) in Madhya laya (medium tempo) Teentaal. He elaborates the raga in great detail displaying his artistry and command over the instrument by creating artistic patterns evoking the sombreness of the Raga. The slow 'gat is followed by a Drut gat (faster composition) also in Teentaal, where the increasing tempo culminates in 'Jhala' carrying the listeners to the height of ecstasy.
Raga Bapukauns (16':58")
On the occasion of the 125th Jayanti (birth anniversary) of Mahatma Gandhi, celebrated in Paris by the UNESCO, Ustad Amajad Ali Khan created and played this raga as a tribute to Bapu, as he was lovingly called by the people. The Doordarshan is presenting this raga from its archival collections for the benefit of the Sangit Rasikas at home and elsewhere.
As regards the description of the raga, it has the Gandhar and Nishad as Komal swaras, that is the third and toe seventh notes are flat. The Aaroh (ascent) goes some ti mes as Sa, Ga Ma Pa Pa with a whiff of Bhimpalasi, and sometimes as SA, Ga, Ma, Dh with a shade of Malkaus which, explains the artiste is to go with the emotional content of the raga. He says there are also many old traditional ragas that take different routes in ascending and descending orders. The introductory Aalap is followed by the Masitkhani and Razakhani gats set to Roopak Taal of seven beats cycle and Teentaal of sixteen beats cycle respectively. Ustad Amajad Ali Khan plays raga Bapu Kauns with intense passion and reverence for Bapu the Mahatma.
Raga Mishra PeeLu (14':48")
Mishra peelu is a variety of Raga peelu usually performed in the early hours of the night. Its mood is romantic hence it is best suited for the exposition of 'Thumri' and 'Dadra.'
The use of both the flat and sharp Gandhar and Nishad, the third and seventh notes, offers an opportunity to bring out the sentiments in full measure. 'Mishra' adjective in fact provides liberty to the fertile imagination of the artiste to incorporate the shades of other Ragas also having similar nature (sam-prakriti ragas).
Ustad Amjad Ali Khan has given his Mishra peelu the treatment of a complete Raga, with a short Aalap that lay before the listeners the structure of the Raga, followed by some old traditional compositions (Takasaali Bandishen). One of the Razakhani gats has the charming elements of 'Shuddha peelu' as well, with the sensitive use of Komal Dhaivat. The tempo of Teentaal increases gradually but consistently till the performance reaches a crescendo.
Raga Subha Rasa Sarod Samrat Ustad Amjad Ali Khan By: Renuka Narayanan, Irfan
Programme Notes By: Manjari Sinha
Introduced By: Amaan Ali Khan & Ayaan Ali Khan
Photo Courtesy: Amjad Ali Khan's Archives
Cover Photograph: Avinash Pasricha
Project Director: Navin Kumar
Devised & Designed By: Kamalini Dutt
Associates: Ved M Rao & Kali Prasad
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