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Dr (Baba) Allauddin Khan (1881–1972) — founder of the Senia-Maihar Gharana.

It is the author’s belief that Baba Khan must be afforded recognition as the most extraordinary and influential musician in the history of Indian (Hindustani) classical music since Mian Tansen.

Included here are excerpts from the book containing interesting facts and analysis.

Available now at:


First edition published in India, 2011

Cover design, desktop publishing and English editing by Gary McKenzie-McHarg

© Author

This work is
copyright. All rights reserved by the author. No part of this publication may
be reproduced or transmitted, except brief quotations, in any form or by any
means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any
information storage or retrieval system, without the prior written permission
of the author.



Chapter One: Historical Background of Baba Allauddin Khan

Chapter Two: Music Education

Chapter Three: Achievements, Performances and Awards

Chapter Four: Teaching and Students

Chapter Five: Conclusion



Extracts from the Book


essential research and findings of this book lie in an analysis of currently
available documentation — in the form of biographies, books, journals, newspaper
articles, essays, manuscripts, letters, interviews and websites — on the life of
the late North Indian (
classical musician, composer, innovator and teacher, Dr (Baba) Allauddin Khan.

The authors’ intention is as follows:

compile a substantial report on the origins and formative life experiences of
Dr Khan

confirm his uniqueness as a musical genius

to demonstrate his pre-eminent position as the
major influence in changing traditional concepts and other important elements
of Hindustani classical music

to proclaim and substantiate that his true music
legacy — music as a form of worship — is not afforded appropriate recognition and has
been diluted by musicians and scholars alike.

people might question Dr Khan’s teaching methods and others may criticise his
disregard for tradition, but none could seriously question his positive influence
on Hindustani classical music as we
know it today. His attitude and abilities were such that he not only illustrated
the goodness of music, he also demonstrated the capacity to achieve spiritual
enlightenment through music; and his influence on so many other musicians is
unprecedented. However, certain aspects of Dr Khan’s life remain a mystery in
modern times, as Jotin Bhattacharya [1] observed in the Preamble to his authorised
biography on the Ustad.

Emergence of
Allauddin Khan in the realm of Indian music has been an event much discussed
and written about. This unique phenomenon has evoked different reactions from
different quarters. So there is no comprehensive treatment of his biography,
nor any objective and authentic presentation of his achievements.

To compress between the covers of a book the unlimited variety of
this genius and his momentous achievements and yet aspire for being able to do
justice to his memory is tantamount to attempting the impossible. This attempt,
therefore, is intended to be just a beginning of a discussion on this genius
and his attainment, both of which have brought about a revolution in the
musical world. More so because unlike his contemporaries, he turned away from
commercialism and devoted his creative faculties to attain the eternal bliss of
oneness with God through the medium of music and thus ushered in an era of
musical regeneration.

Our great names in music have mostly been vocalists. Swami Hari Das,
Baiju, Tansen, Gopal Nayak were all vocalists. Only in Ustad Allauddin Khan we
find the same height and the same depth as well as the same versatile
achievements and yet he was essentially an instrumentalist and a host of other
stalwarts sprang from this fountainhead. His significance lies in his not being
confined to music alone. He had a vision that saw the whole Creation attuned to
music, making him an eclectic thinker, saint and musician all rolled into one.
Hallowed with these divine gifts, he was more a religious reformer than a mere

Ustad Allauddin Khan And His Music, by Jotin
Bhattacharya, page ix

[1] Jotin Bhattacharya was a disciple and personal secretary of Ustad (Baba) Allauddin Khan, and his authorised biographer. He lived at the Maihar gurukul from 1949 to 1956.


seems that Allauddin Khan was always going to be a great musician. We will see
in the following pages remarkable reports by his biographers that he started
life tapping beats on his mother’s breast as a suckling baby, and finished life more
than 90 years later tapping beats while in a semi-comatose state on his deathbed. According
to members of his family, right from early childhood he showed little interest
in anything other than music, even running away from home as a young child to
pursue an education in music. This in itself is remarkable, given that his
opportunities for a normal education and a comfortable life were guaranteed by
the fact that he came from a well-established and quite wealthy family from East Bengal.

With regard to Dr Khan’s rightful place in recorded history, there are many musicians, musicologists, music lovers and music critics who have written about him and attested to his greatness. His contribution to Hindustani classical music is obviously immense, as seen by the large number of world-renowned musicians who studied under his guidance and went on to attract worldwide attention and create previously unheard of appreciation for Indian music.

However, in spite of this, the author’s findings also indicate that some people are not willing to recognise Dr Khan as the most significant contributor to Indian classical music; and there is evidence of a distinct lack of appropriate recognition and respect for this musical genius of the modern era. Whether it is simply ignorance of the facts or a deliberate attempt to play down his importance is difficult to decide. Regarding criticism from other musicians, it seems probable that there are two basic types; the first coming from musicians who don’t approve of any deviation from tradition, and the second coming from musicians who simply cannot match the virtuosity required of such great artistry.

Some of the author’s documented evidence of the above includes the following:

  • Attempts to rename the Bhopal Ustad Allauddin Khan Sangeet Academy as the Tansen Academy
  • Lack of accurate and appropriate information on Dr Khan at the culturopedia.com website — which claims to inform the public about India’s greatest musicians
  • Total neglect and vandalism of Dr Khan’s original music school on an abandoned estate in Maihar; and use of the site as a public toilet area
  • Lack of information on Dr Khan at the Gwalior Museum for Musical Heritage


Author’s photographs taken at Dr Khan’s original music school on an abandoned estate in Maihar

The original building in a vandalised state of disrepair

A man urinating inside the grounds of the old school

course, there may be reasons for the disrepair and devastation at the old
school. For one thing, with natural expansion of residential areas, it may be
that it now lies in an inconvenient location for the purpose of being a music
college, and it may also be that the state government has much higher
priorities to attend to than the preservation of an old building that has
served its purpose and is well past its prime. However, it is still a shameful
matter to see such great potential going to unnecessary waste.

The author
cannot help but think, in these times of expanding tourism and a surge of
interest in Indian classical music from abroad, that such an important
historical building would admirably serve the state of Madhya Pradesh, and indeed
the whole country, as a monument to a great and highly significant musician if
it were to be restored and preserved for posterity. After all, they have only
to clean up and repair the place, put some explanatory notices and images
around the walls, install a watchman, and charge a small fee from visitors. The
money collected would easily sustain the venture for many years to come and a
great historical landmark would survive for the future education of Indians and
foreigners alike.

The author feels compelled to ask: Does the responsibility not lie with the government of the
day to take some form of affirmative action in this regard? Where is their
sense of initiative?

Chapter One: Historical Background of Baba Allauddin Khan


is not a great deal of information available regarding the early history of Dr
Khan’s family, except what was passed down through the family itself. The author
has relied mainly on the writings of Dr Khan’s disciple, secretary and official
biographer, Pundit Jotin Bhattacharya in this area. Bhattacharya wrote that Tripura State
where Dr Khan was born lies in the north-east of India in an area known as Satlai
Hills. 500 years earlier, part of this district was apparently occupied by
primitive and aggressive savages, who were known to eat raw flesh, sometimes even
that of humans. Because of this, the area was deemed unfit for civilian
habitation and was officially declared a “no go” zone.

They subsisted on the raw meat drawn from
birds and animals. They
did not spare human beings and enjoyed their
flesh with great relish. Men and women alike lived stark naked and were not
familiar with the use of fire. They were so ferocious and aggressive that the
region was declared out of bounds for the civilians.

Allauddin Khan And His Music
, by Jotin Bhattacharya, page 1

According to Khan family legend, around that time
their ancestor named Dinanath Dev Sharma lived in a cave located within this
dangerous area. He was performing tantric
of his Ishtadevi, Shree
Shree Ma Kali at a Kali temple situated in the hills there and, according to the
legend, avoided any trouble from the savages because he had attained siddhis (supernatural powers).

and by whom She was installed is a mystery but She was there from ages gone by.
How he came in Her contact and managed to survive against the onrush of the
barbarians is a matter of conjecture. It is said that he was endowed with
supernatural power which helped him avert the apprehending calamities.

Ustad Allauddin Khan And His Music,
by Jotin Bhattacharya, page 1

to Jotin Bhattacharya, Dinanath Dev Sharma was once married and had a son,
Siraju, before renouncing civilian life. However, the child’s mother died after
the birth. The father raised the boy until the age of seven then placed him in
the care of a disciple before renouncing family life in favour of spiritual
learning. The boy, Siraju, grew up with a highly developed social conscience,
and later joined the revolutionary party of Debi Chowdharani. This group
finally disbanded under British rule, and most of its members hid their
identities to avoid persecution.

this reason, Siraju changed to the Muslim faith and took the name, Samash
Fakir. He married a Mohammedan girl and they settled peacefully in the village of Mulagram. The evidence suggests that
descendants of Siraju (alias Samash Fakir) were born into the Muslim faith due
to a prudent political choice of their forefather years earlier and not
necessarily because of religious preference; which may partly explain Dr Khan’s
attraction to the Hindu faith and places of worship. Jotin Bhattacharya wrote
about the ancestor of Allauddin Khan, Dinanath Dev Sharma, and his son, Siraju;
and he also described the further evolution of the family, right up to the
birth of Allauddin Khan himself, as follows.

He was the tantric sadhu,
Dina Nath Deb Sharma. In his early stage of life, he was a family man with a
spiritual bent of mind. His wife expired soon after the birth of a male child,
leaving the child behind to the mercy of God. Despite his apathy for family
life, the boy was brought up by him with necessary care. As soon as the child
was 7 years old, he was placed under the care of one of his disciples, when he [Deb
Sharma] renounced the family life in quest of higher spiritual attainment.

The child gradually developed into a
handsome young man with a winsome personality and he had a craze for public
service. To give vent to his urge, in the interest of the masses, he joined the
party of Debi Chowdharani who believed in equitable distribution of wealth
either by tactful manoeuvring or by force. Her party was liquidated in
consequence of strong repressive measures by the Britishers. However, before
being victimised, most of the members of the group were disbanded with
sufficient financial aid to go underground.

Finding no other alternative, the young man
was constrained to change his religion. He embraced Islam and identified
himself as ‘Samash Fakir’ from ‘Siraju’ to conceal his real identity. In the
course of time, when the trouble abated and normal life was restored, he
married a young Mohammedan girl and settled down in the village of Mulagram,
his ancestral place, to lead a peaceful life. He was financially well off and
had enough landed property besides hard cash.

Allauddin Khan And His Music
, by Jotin
Bhattacharya, pages 1–2

The following Genealogical
Chart was taken from page 4 of Jotin Bhattacharya’s biography of Dr Khan, with information
regarding the third wife of Ali Akbar Khan and their three children added by the author.

and early childhood

a. Birth

to available evidence, Allauddin Khan was born at Shivapur (also Shivpur and
Shibpur), a village in East Bengal (now Bangladesh) in 1881. There is no
dispute about where Dr Khan was born
among his biographers, but there is a dispute about when. A lot has been written about Dr Khan being 110 years of age
at the time of his death in 1972, which would mean he was born in the year
1862. There was even an official centenary birthday celebration held at Bhopal on October 7th
1962, which was attended by many dignitaries, including the then Governor of
Madhya Pradesh, Mr Pataskar, and State Education Minister, Dr Shankar Dayal
Sharma. However, Jotin Bhattacharya totally rejected this view on Dr Khan’s age
as a misunderstanding based on Dr Khan’s own misconception.

While joining Maihar Music
College, Baba vouched his
year of birth in writing in contradiction to his real age, which gives the
impression that his conviction was based on some misconception. Ustad
Khan died when he was 91 years old, but his centenary was celebrated by the
Madhya Pradesh Government when he was only 81 years old. This erroneous
approach to the assessment of his age is a case of utter misunderstanding
caused due to Baba’s misconception which led to this confusion.

Allauddin Khan And His Music
, by Jotin Bhattacharya, page 114

From all the
sources located by the author, there is considerable variation in accounts of Dr
Khan’s birth year :

  • his son, Ali Akbar Khan (1862)
  • his great-granddaughter,
    Sahana Gupta (1869)
  • a close family friend, Anuradha Ghosh (circa 1871)
  • his
    interviewer in 1929, Harendra Kishore Roy Chowdhury (1881)
  • his official
    biographer, Jotin Bhattacharya (1881)
  • his nephew, Mobarak Hossain Khan
    (towards the end of the 19th century).

The author
believes that all credible evidence supports the H.K.R. Chowdhury and J.
Bhattacharya date of 1881.

  • Hirendra Chowdhury
    was given the year of Baba’s birth as 1881 during an interview with Dr Khan himself in 1929.
  • Jotin Bhattacharya
    was the personal secretary and a disciple of Dr Khan, and he lived at the Maihar
    residence (gurukul) from 1949 to 1956. Moreover, he was requested by Dr Khan
    to write his biography, and his research was scholarly and wide-reaching.

The author investigated many avenues of research during attempts to establish
Dr Khan’s actual birth year, and there is a wide variety of so-called
“facts” on the subject—including websites and literature. However,
all research-based academic writings and professional journalism on the subject
agree that there were many discrepancies in what was accepted as the truth of
the matter. The conclusions reached by serious scholars and journalism
professionals alike is that Dr Khan’s age was exaggerated by twenty years and
that his birth year was most likely 1881.

Bhattacharya’s list of
sources for establishing the birth year of Dr Khan as 1881

  • The Musicians of India, by Harendra Kishore Roy Chowdhury, Zaminder, Ramgopalpur, Mymensingh,
  • Place of Tansen in Indian Music, by Birendra Kishore Roy Chowdhury, 1938
  • The Lives of Great Musicians, by Shreepada Bandyopadhya, 1949
  • Hamare Sangeet Ratna (Hindi), by Laxmi Narain
  • Amar Katha (Bengali), in manuscript by Ustad Allauddin Khan
  • Sangeet Bigyan Prabeshika (Bengali), Bengali year 1343
  • “Bansi Badak Aftabuddin” by Manilal Sharma (Sangeet Bigyan Prabeshika,
    Bengali year 1338)
  • “Sital Prayanay” Editorial by Birendra Kishore Roy Chowdhury (Sangeet
    Bigyan Prabeshika
    , Bengali year 1350)
  • “Ekti Thumri Gan” by Harihar Rai (Sangeet Bigyan Prabeshika,
    Bengali year 1364)
  • Surer Guru
    Ustad Allauddin Khan” by Shobhana Sen, Desh, 1956
  • Surchhanda – a Bengali monthly magazine devoted to music
  • “Letters of
    Allauddin” (Basudhara-Bengali year 1368)
  • “Letters of Sangeet
    Nayak-Gopeswar Bandyopadhya”
  • “Letters of
    Sangeetacharya Professor Harihar Rai”
Allauddin Khan And His Music
by Jotin Bhattacharya, page 112,

Early childhood

The following
anecdotes are taken from accounts by Sahana Gupta (great-granddaughter) in her biography on Dr Khan. They indicate Baba’s extraordinary musical
tendencies. Apparently, there were very early signs of young Alam’s inclination
towards the world of music.
Gupta quotes directly from Dr Khan’s own manuscript.

“Testimony to my passion for music comes from what my mother
narrated… She said that as an infant I would listen to my father playing the
sitar and tap on her
bosom in rhythm with the music… I would hum the gats which my father

Ustad Alauddin Khan
/ Sahana
, by Sahana Gupta, page 25

remarkable account of Alam’s response to music, while still “a suckling
babe”, provides very strong and convincing evidence of his unique
attraction to music. According to Sahana Gupta, he remembered those gats and hymns that his father produced
for the remainder of his life, passing them down through his family. Gupta
quoted from Allauddin’s manuscript on this subject as follows.

“I still remember those gats and hymns. I have taught the same
hymns to my son Ali Akbar and son-in-law Ravi
Shankar. These pieces of music are not available with any other Indian

Alauddin Khan / Sahana
, by Sahana Gupta, pages 25–26

quoting the above extracts about Alam’s infancy, the author emphasises that he
showed signs of being one-of-a-kind at the earliest stage in life. In all the
many stories attesting to the significance of countless Indian classical
musicians, there are none the author found to match this anecdotal evidence of Dr
Khan’s uniqueness. It was undoubtedly a sign of what would follow. Another
indication of his natural musical ability occurred in the immediate years
before he started school. His elder brother, Aftabuddin, was being trained in tabla so he could accompany their
father, Sadhu Khan, in his sitar practice. As further testimony to Alam’s great
musical temperament, according to Sahana Gupta’s account, very soon Alam had
learned the thekas played by Ram
Kanal Sin while he was teaching Aftabuddin.

Boro Baba’s elder brother, Aftabuddin Khan,
learned to play the tabla as their father Sadhu Khan had progressed in
his sitar practise and now felt the need for tabla accompaniment.
Aftabuddin practised with the tabla maestro, Ram Kanal Sil, whose elder
brother, Ramdan Sil, a violinist, taught violin and vocals. By the age of four
or five, Boro Baba had learned the thekas practised by the tabla
maestros and would attempt them on his own.

Alauddin Khan / Sahana
by Sahana Gupta, page 26

At the age of five, Alam was
admitted to school where his elder brother, Aftabuddin, also attended. Further
evidence of his unique attraction to music comes through accounts of his
truancy from this school, and his preference to attend bhajan singing and sitar playing at the Shiva temple rather than go
to school. On this subject, Sahana Gupta, again quoting from the manuscript of Dr
Khan, wrote the following.

Boro Baba considers his life to have started
at the age of seven, when he realised his passion for music. It was from this
age that he began to dedicate every moment of his life to music. Shibpur, where
Boro Baba was raised, had a famous Shiva temple, where morning and evening
prayers (puja and aradhana) were conducted daily. On his way to
school, Boro Baba would pass by the temple and stop to watch the prayers.
Sadhus from various regions and places assembled there to conduct prayers. They
would sing bhajans and play the Sitar. The sound of music mesmerised Boro Baba
and he would forget to attend school. Boro Baba describes his hunger for music
as it developed:

“Gradually, I got habituated to this routine. I woke up early in
the morning and went to the temple instead of school. Everyone in the family
presumed that I was going to school as I carried my books along and nobody
bothered to keep an eye on me. This passion for music gradually compelled me
into continued absence from school and I repeatedly turned up at the temple,
eager to listen to the sadhus’ songs and music. In the evening, when all the
other children returned from school, I too came back with them.”

It wasn’t long before his teachers brought
the matter of his continual absence to the notice of his parents. Sure enough,
he had to bear the brunt of their anger. He was beaten, tied to a bamboo tree
and punished in several other ways. But it was too late! By then, Boro Baba’s
attachment to music had become fiercely strong. At such a young age, he had
already decided that he was not going to school any more and would only learn

Alauddin Khan / Sahana
by Sahana Gupta, pages 25–26

Bhattacharya’s account of Alam’s truancy confirmed the above anecdote, but it
also illustrates very early development of a strong devotional tendency
and an attraction to places of worship regardless of their religious denomination. Though a Muslim,
Alam apparently saw no problem with participating in the Hindu puja services at the Shiva temple, even
if attraction to the music was his initial motivation. This in itself is
remarkable, and perhaps originates from the fact that his recent ancestors were
themselves Hindu. Bhattacharya wrote about this period of school truancy as

There was a famous temple of Lord Shiva
in Tripura, excavated and maintained by the State. It was in a flourishing
state because sufficient Debuttar property was attached to it.
Accordingly, the locality was known as Shivapur after the name of Shiva. The
high pitch of musical demonstration, manifested by the devotees as a part of
divine service was a source of inspiration to young Allauddin. It became his
practice to visit the place daily to attend the service and take Prasad
with reverence. The temple was often visited by reputed saints from all over India as a symbolic
gesture of veneration. His urge for musical proficiency can be attributed to
his attraction towards the sanctuary, but his devotional turn of mind added
momentum to it.

His time for going to school synchronised with the puja, bhajan
and arati at the temple. It helped him to tide over a difficult
situation created by himself without being exposed to his parents. Gradually,
he was so much fascinated with the devotional activities of the temple that he
neglected his studies and spent most of his time there.

Allauddin Khan And His Music
, by Jotin Bhattacharya,
pages 6–7

Ravi Shankar also confirmed
Alam’s love for music at a very early age, and his grasping of any opportunity
to learn from those around him. He recounts the family’s efforts to discourage
him from wishing to become a professional musician. For Alam’s father and
brother, music was purely a source of personal pleasure and family
entertainment. They strongly believed that life as a professional musician
would be detrimental to Alam’s future. Confirming Dr Khan’s unique rise to
greatness against all obstacles, including strong resistance from within his
own family, Shankar wrote as follows.

His father used to play the sitar for the family and for his own pleasure. And Baba’s
older brother, Aftabuddin, was a very talented and versatile musician who, too,
did not perform professionally but played solely to express the music he felt
within himself. In his later years, he became a very religious man and was
revered equally by the Hindus and the Muslims who knew him. So it was natural
that the musical
inclinations of
little Alam, as my guru was called by his family, were intensified by listening
to his father with sitar and his brother playing a variety of instruments, including
the flute, harmonium, tabla, pakhawaj, and dotara.

Young Alam used to
steal into the little music room at home to try to play some of his older
brother’s musical instruments—and was frequently punished for it. When his
family realized that Alam had this burning love for music, they became
worried that he might decide to be a professional
musician and did not encourage him, for music was not thought of as a respectable
profession for a young man. When young Alam wanted to leave his home and
devote all his life to music, his brother, the influential one in the family,
refused to let him go. The family much preferred that he take up regular
studies in a school.

Music, My Life
(1st Edition), by
Ravi Shankar (1969), page 52

to Dr Khan’s own manuscript, as it appears in translation by Mary J. Khan, he
gave an account of his relationship with his elder brother, Aftabuddin. He
provides an unflattering description of his brother’s attitude and behaviour,
and certainly doesn’t thank him for the smoking habit. Regarding the local
school, he refers to himself as being “there to study” and being
“liked by all the teachers”, which indicates that although his main desire
was to be a musician, he was a good student when he actually attended school.

I was admitted to the
village school where Aftabuddin also studied. At times, when I did not go to
school, he beat me. He was an ill-tempered person. He was addicted to tobacco.
I had to fill his hookah for him at the back of our house, so that my parents
would know nothing. If he did not get his tobacco in time, he beat me half
dead. The days when he got it on time, he forced me to smoke. If I refused, he
beat me. I was so scared of his beatings that smoking became a habit. He also
maintained a horse for which I had to supply grass. If I refused to bring the
grass, he would beat me. He was so naughty and he beat me so much that I will
not forget it even after my death.

Aftabuddin neglected his studies
in school. As a result, the teachers beat him with canes – which pleased me
most – or twisted his ears. He was so addicted to tobacco that he told lies to
the teachers to get out of school.
When he came back, his eyes would be red. Dinu Munshi, the teacher, seeing his
red eyes, knew he had smoked tobacco and he would start caning him. Because of
these severe punishments, Aftabuddin left his studies and started to fly kites
and fish. I, Alam, was there to study. I was liked by all the teachers.

The Diaries of Baba
Allauddin Khan: A Film Script
by Mary J. Khan

Chapter Two: Music Education

1. First teachers

seems very likely that Dr Khan’s great love for music originated from his
father, Sabdar Hossain Khan (alias Sadhu Khan). According to Sahana Gupta, the
young Sadhu Khan was so enchanted with music that he used to travel quite a long
distance from Shivapur to the court of Tripura’s king just to hear the music of
the great musicians who performed there. Following an incident that occurred
during one of his trips to Tripura, Sadhu Khan had the good fortune to be
accepted as a student of the great rabab
player Ustad Kashim Ali Khan (Tansen Gharana) who was actually a direct
descendant of Mian Tansen. Because Sadhu Khan was not a family member, the
great Ustad declined to teach him on rabab
but instead taught him how to play on sitar. Gupta wrote about the incident
that led to Sadhu Khan’s introduction to sitar as follows.

Such was his love for music that Sadhu Khan would
stand for hours in the sun or rain and even hide in the bushes of the palace in
order to listen to music. One day, he was found hiding and hauled up to the
palace where Ustad Kasim Sahib confronted him. Sadhu Khan humbly told him that
he was a farmer from Shibpur who loved music and travelled to Tripura just to
hear the Ustad playing the rabab.

The Ustad was
touched by his devotion and even went on to teach him. He taught Sadhu Khan the
sitar though; instead of the rabab, as tradition bid him to pass his art
on only to his sons. Thus, Sadhu Khan became a disciple of Ustad Kasim Ali
Khan, who belonged to the legendary Tansen’s musical lineage; resulting in Boro
Baba’s rich musical inheritance.

Alauddin Khan / Sahana
, by Sahana Gupta, page 25

Khan was a non-professional musician from Shivapur village in East Bengal (now Bangladesh). He
and his wife, Harasundari Devi, had five sons—Samiruddin, Aftabuddin, Allauddin,
Nayab Ali and Ayet Ali—and two daughters—Madhu Malati Khatun and Kadar Khatun.
The second son, Aftabuddin, was also musically inclined from childhood. Sadhu
Khan’s various gurus included Ustad Kashim Ali Khan (rabab). and the reputed musician brothers Ram Dhan Seal (tabla) and Ram Kanai Seal (violin), who
were musicians at the court of the Zamindar.

Alam’s first teachers were his
father, Sadhu Khan, his elder brother, Aftabuddin Khan, and any musicians who visited
the family to teach and play with the father and brother. Otherwise, he learnt
music wherever he could, including from wandering musicians and sadhus at local
temples. Bhattacharya wrote about the influence of the Seal brothers and other
reputed musicians who visited the Khan home.

His father, Sadhu Khan, was not favourite of his [Baba’s]
grandfather, Mather Hussain Khan. He could not be properly educated in view of
his inclination towards musical enterprises. But lucky, indeed, he was to be a
disciple of a distinguished musician, Kashim Ali Khan (Tansen Gharana) who
taught him sitar. He had the privilege of being associated with other
celebrated musicians of Tripura
State, like Haider
Hussain Khan, Keshab Babu, Jadu Bhatt and others.

Aftabuddin Khan, elder brother of Ustad Allauddin Khan, was trained by the reputed
musicians of the calibre of Ram Kanai Seal and Ram Dhan Seal in various
branches of music… Alam picked up the musical notations by over-hearing the
demonstrations of his father and that of the Seal brothers, thanks to his
subtle insight into music. In the later part of his life, he left these
notations as his legacy to future generations in view of their superiority over
other ragas and raginis.

Allauddin Khan And His Music
, by Jotin Bhattacharya, page

Below: Dr Khan’s father, Sadhu Khan (left), and his brother, Aftabuddin Khan (right)

Source: Ustad Alauddin Khan / Sahana, by Sahana Gupta, pages 26–27

training with renowned singer Gopal Chandra Bhattacharya

Alam’s adventures with the Jatra minstrels, and following his second departure
from Shivapur at ten years old, his travels brought him to Calcutta where he
went through a difficult and testing period, especially for one so young. He
found the unfamiliar environment of Calcutta
both strange and hostile. He was homeless and disoriented, bullied, robbed,
abused, hungry and totally ignorant of his surroundings. Not even aware of
available drinking water, he quenched his thirst by drinking salty water from
the Ganges. His recollections of arriving at Calcutta are recorded by
Jotin Bhattacharya and Sahana Gupta in their biographies. Referring to Dr
Khan’s manuscript, Gupta quotes his own words about the initial experience upon
arriving there.

“As I walked, I looked at the people around me, their clothes. It
seemed that they did not belong to our country. I did not have the courage to
speak to any of them. I also stared at the tall buildings – two, four, five and
even seven-storeyed buildings! They were almost touching the sky. I wandered around,
not knowing where to go, and stood in the middle of the road, amazed and
confused. People passing by gawked at me as if I was a wild being. Some of them
even bullied me. Young boys walking on my right and left pulled my ears. I
wanted a way out of the situation and decided not to stand still at a place and
gape at buildings.”

Boro Baba, walking
further to the west, managed to reach the River Ganga near the Howrah Bridge.
He then treated himself to some dal-puri
from a street shop, got himself a container to fetch water and quenched his
thirst with the saline water from the river… Finally, making a pillow of his
small bundle of clothes, the little boy slept on the steps of the riverbank –
very likely with many others. This meagre bundle also contained his fortune of
twelve rupees.

The morning, however,
had a rude shock in store for Boro Baba. He woke up to find the bundle missing
from beneath his head. It was stolen! The poor boy started to cry in the
realization that he had been robbed of his sweetest dream in life.

Alauddin Khan / Sahana
, by Sahana Gupta, pages 31–32

Bhattacharya’s account of what happened following the robbery illustrates the
harsh realities and unforgiving nature of Calcutta
at the time, and is testament to the remarkable maturity and resilience of the
young Alam. Although he found himself destitute and totally at the mercy of
human nature in this foreign environment, he did not give up nor did he
specifically ask for assistance. After shedding a few tears and feeling dejected,
he simply carried on, somehow managing to maintain faith in his destiny and,
yet again, demonstrated his pure determination and raw courage. Bhattacharya
wrote about what happened following the robbery in Calcutta as follows.

The police constable on
duty, instead of sympathising with him, abused him for his foolishness. Tears
rolled down his cheeks. He lost his heart but he did not lose his head. Soon he
made up his mind and took his loss with composure. Thus, he was completely
stranded in a cosmopolitan town like Calcutta,
without any reference or resource whatsoever.

Being helpless, he strolled
along the man-made track on the bank of the Ganges.
Proceeding further, he met a couple of sannyasis
in Namtalla Ghat, the famous cremation ghat of Calcutta. Besmeared with ashes, they were
engaged in preparing bhang to enjoy
its narcotic effect. Moved by his plight, one of them took pity on him and
enquired the reason of his grief. He narrated to him his tale of misery, how he
was deprived of his belongings. The sannyasi
consoled him and advised him not to worry. He told him that it was all for the
best and asked him to take a dip in the Ganges.

He plunged
deep into the water and took his bath naked and came back with his dress on.
The hermit offered him a pinch of ash to swallow with the help of holy water
from the Ganges; so he did. He directed him to
proceed through Nimtalla Street,
heart within and God overhead. He proceeded accordingly and finally reached a
place where the poor and destitute were being fed under the management of a
charitable trust.

When he reached there,
he found that a number of people were taking their meals without any
distinction of caste, creed and nationality. One of the employees of the trust
asked him to take his food. He spared no time to take his meal. Thereafter, he
was directed by him to drink water from the tap nearby. He hastened up to it
and as soon as he pressed the button, water poured out. He was no less
surprised to drink fresh water of palatable taste.

Allauddin Khan And His Music
, by Jotin Bhattacharya, pages 10–12

Then his luck began to change. He had already
decided to start searching seriously for a music teacher, and fervently prayed
to God to bless him with success. It was around this time, according to
Bhattacharya’s account, that he met a sympathetic young man who was visiting
the dispensary. Alam told him of his desire to find a music teacher and the
young man arranged for him to visit his home, where his mother was overjoyed to
meet him and hear about where he was from and what had inspired him to come to Calcutta.

For some reason, he trusted this kindly woman who,
after hearing everything that had transpired, told him that the sacrifices
involved in his life at this tender age were a positive indication of his assured
success in the future. Here was a woman with good knowledge of music who, like
others before her, recognised something special in young Alam’s musical
ability, and she wanted to help. Bhattacharya described what happened next.

She inquired of him, if
he could sing. He replied in the affirmative and reproduced the song of the
Shiva temple of Tripura State with correct notations.
She was deeply impressed and remarked that his voice was melodious and had a
superb timbre, which was a rare combination. Being well versed in music
herself, she felt inclined towards him. She directed him to accompany her to
her husband, Bireswar Babu, in the outer apartment of the house, where ladies
had restricted approach. She requested her husband to introduce Alam to his
guru for learning music. She not only advocated his cause but also stood
guarantee for a boy, who was no better than a street urchin. He [Bireswar Babu]
was impressed by his nature and musical demonstration which had subsequently
been intensified by her recommendation with impartial advocacy.

Eventually, Bireswar Babu took him to his revered guru, Gopal Chandra
Bhattacharya, alias Nulo Gopal, the famous State musician of Maharajah Jotindra
Mohan Tagore of Pathuriaghata, a scion of the most enlightened and cultured
family of Bengal.

Ustad Allauddin Khan And His Music, by Jotin Bhattacharya, pages 12–13

Thus, after enduring much suffering at the hands of fate and circumstance in Calcutta, Alam had finally
found his guru in
Gopal Chandra
Bhattacharya, alias Nulo Gopal. His initial training was strict and rigorous,
but apparently he enjoyed it immensely, overjoyed at finding such a splendid
and talented teacher. On this, Bhattacharya wrote the following.

He was
taught the lesson of swaragram by his guru, Nulo Gopal. Daily he used to
get up at 2 a.m. and practise music with him up to 5 a.m. He got immense
pleasure thereby. Unlike other orthodox musicians, his guru was liberal in
training his disciples.

One of
his teacher’s favourite students, Ganga Ram Thakur who was in advanced stage of
learning music, taught him the reverse action of swaragram, known as
Palta Alankar. By virtue of his [Alam’s] intense sadhana with immaculate
austerity, he could win over the heart of his guru and guru-bhai
to have the best out of them. His progress was amply accelerated by their kind

Nulo Gopal was one of those talented artists
of India,
who had no attachment to the worldly lures. He was a compelling source of
inspiration to him [Alam] and was partly responsible for hewing his musical
destiny, which was finally shaped by Ustad Wazir Khan of Rampur State.

Once, his guru enquired of Alam regarding the
arrangement of his meals. When he narrated to him the tale of his hardship, the
teacher felt sorry for him and exerted his personal influence to ensure
necessary arrangement for his food in the palace of Maharajah Tagore,
where he took his meals regularly for seven years, during the period he was under
the training of his guru.

Allauddin Khan And His Music
, by Jotin Bhattacharya, page 14

teachers and instrumental education

Following the loss of his beloved guru, Nulo Gopal, Alam was
understandably very distressed and didn’t know what to do about further
training. After discussions with Kiron Babu of Calcutta, he decided he would cease his vocal
training out of respect for his deceased guru
and commence instrumental training. Kiron Babu introduced him to Swami
Vivekananda’s brother, Amritlal (alias Habu) Dutta, an expert and extremely
versatile instrumentalist, who commenced teaching Alam in both Indian and
Western styles. By all accounts, their relationship endured for life. Sahana
Gupta wrote about Alam’s introduction to instrumental music as follows.

In this manner, his instrumental lessons under the tutelage of Habu Dutta
started. The initial training period was devoted to the swargam, through
which he was made aware of finer points of notes and swar. The
instruction went on for seven years, at the end of which he could play 360 paltas.
Under his new teacher, Boro Baba became proficient in various indigenous as
well as foreign musical instruments, like the sitar, flute, piccolo, mandolin,
and banjo under his new teacher. Habu Dutta was quick to recognise the genius
in Boro Baba and remarked that he would be widely acknowledged and feted as such

Alauddin Khan / Sahana
, by Sahana Gupta, page 41

Gupta also documents evidence of Alam’s desire to learn
as much as humanly possible on as many instruments as possible. Apart from what
he was able to learn from his new guru, Habu Dutta, Alam sought out many other
teachers for training in both Indian and Western instruments. The final list of
those who added to his body of musical knowledge is very impressive. Among them
were such notable musicians as Mr. Robert Lobo, conductor of the Eden Garden
Orchestra in Calcutta who, with his wife, taught Alam Western classical music
for violin and piano; Amar Das the popular Indian-style violinist; Hazari Ustad
the famous shenai player; Nanda Lal
Babu (also known as Nanda Babu) the famous percussionist; Ustad Ahmad Ali Khan
the sarod maestro, whose forefathers were the court musicians of the last Mogul
Emperor, Bahadur Shah of Delhi; and, finally, his most beloved and talented
guru, Ustad Wazir Khan the beenkar of
Rampur, who was a direct descendant of the legendary Mian Tansen. For forty
years, Allauddin also learned dhrupad
from Mohammed Hussain Khan, and he studied other styles of singing from the
many vocalists he met along the way. In her chapter titled Mastering Instruments, Sahana Gupta wrote the following account.

In the meantime, instead of being satisfied
and complacent, Boro Baba became frantic to master every instrument that he
could lay his hands on and eagerly looked for opportunities to further his
musical knowledge. Even while learning from Nulo Gopal, he had started mridangam
lessons from a guru named Nanda Babu. He learnt the violin in the notation of
Western music from Mr Lobo, a Goanese bandmaster at Eden
Gardens, and the clarinet and cornet
from another Western teacher in Darjipara, Calcutta. He learnt the Indian style of the
violin from Amar Das, a prominent musician of the time. He became conversant
with complicated instruments like the sanai, naquara, tiquara and jagajhampa
under the able guidance of Hazari Ustad, and prevailed upon Nanda Babu to teach
him percussion instruments such as the pakhawaj, mridangam and tabla.

Ustad Alauddin Khan / Sahana, by Sahana Gupta,
pages 41–44


Allauddin’s Khan’s tutelage
under Ustad Ahmad Ali Khan was at first very difficult. According to Sahana
Gupta, he spent much of his time performing mundane household work just like a
servant, including cooking, cleaning, shopping, and otherwise catering to the
personal needs of his guru. He would
also have to cook for any guests who arrived at the master’s house. But, he did
it all without complaint, so great was his desire to serve his guru and learn everything he could from him
about playing sarod.

After his induction
as a disciple, it was part of Boro Baba’s responsibility to take care of all
the household chores. He did everything a servant would be expected to –
cooking, cleaning the house and the toilet, arranging for tobacco puffs,
shopping and also massaging his master’s feet before the latter went to sleep.
Ustadji had taught Boro Baba how to prepare a number of Hindustani delicacies
such as pulao, korma, rotis, paranthas, shammi and seekh kababs
and zarda. If there were any guests visiting the house, Boro Baba had to
cook for them as well. Although all of these tasks were a lot for a single
person to handle, Bora Baba never complained.

Alauddin Khan / Sahana
, by Sahana Gupta, page 51

As time went by, Allauddin
was sometimes allowed to play alongside his guru
at the concerts he gave in Calcutta,
which was a great opportunity to put his musical skill on display. He would
mostly play on tabla or mridangam, but was sometimes allowed to
accompany the Ustad on violin. It was something that did not escape the
attention of the knowledgeable Calcutta
audiences either, and Allauddin began to gain recognition for his genius as a
musician. About these concerts when he accompanied his guru in Calcutta,
Gupta wrote as follows.

Ahmed Ali Khan occasionally went
for mujras (concerts) in Calcutta,
where Boro Baba accompanied him on the tabla and sometimes on the mridangam.
Occasionally, he was even allowed to give sath (company) on the violin,
a performance that was much appreciated by the audience. In fact, there were
times when the sound of his violin was considered superior to Ahmed Ali Khan’s sarod,
and Boro Baba stole the show. The concerts were an indication of Boro Baba’s
musical genius.

Alauddin Khan / Sahana
, by Sahana Gupta, page 51

However, according to Jotin Bhattacharya, the Ustad did not
teach Allauddin in a very generous spirit. Though he taught him the basics, he
did not pass on anything of a substantial nature to his gifted student.
Apparently, he belonged to the old school of thinking, which involved
withholding knowledge from disciples who were not blood relatives. This
situation caused Allauddin to rely purely on his cleverness and natural ability
to learn the music by listening. Bhattacharya described the situation as

In those
day most of the ranked musicians had the tendency to keep their knowledge
confined to their family. They were extremely conservative and did not like to
pass it on to their disciples, in disregard to their capability. In the absence
of any suitable descendant, their age-old art withered away with themselves,
causing irreparable loss to the young music aspirants and the country. They
were mostly illiterate. His Ustad, Ahmad Ali Khan, was one of the musicians of
the same school of thought.

Allauddin Khan And His Music
, by Jotin Bhattacharya,
page 24–25


and homeless, and even contemplating suicide, Allauddin decided that he must
approach the great Beenkar of Rampur, Ustad
Wazir Khan, and make an all out effort to become his disciple. What happened between
the time that he decided to approach Ustad Wazir Khan and when he was finally
accepted by the Ustad is also recorded in his manuscript. The following account
shows, yet again, the extreme difficulties and disappointments that confronted Allauddin,
and it demonstrates his grim determination to succeed regardless of substantial
setbacks in his quest to become a great musician.

At that time, it was the
custom among the Pathans and the Muslims to provide food for others even
if they themselves had to fast. I received fine food from them for almost two
months. When I felt in better health, I decided to go directly to Mohammed
Wazir Khan’s residence to see if I might persuade the greatest of all musicians
to teach me. For six months I went each day, but the sentries would not allow
me to enter.

Frustrated and depressed, I decided to put an end to my life. With the one rupee
I had left, I bought two ounces of opium. I visited the mosque to say my
last namaz. The maulavi of the mosque asked me why I was sitting
there with such a shattered face. I told him about my failure to meet Mohammed
Wazir Khan, and my plan to end my life. He consoled me and gave me some food to
eat. He encouraged me to try my luck again and told me that committing suicide
was a great sin. Then he drafted a petition to the Nawab of Rampur on my behalf:

“My residence is in Tripura state.
While in the court of Tripura, I came to know that there are many learned
people in the court of the Rampur
Nawab. Just as the Emperor Akbar of Delhi
had the great musician Tansen in his court, so the court of Rampur has the
great musician Mohammed Wazir Khan. I have come to learn the veena from him.
For six months I have tried to see him by going to his gate, but the sentry
does not allow me to enter. Therefore, out of grief, with my last rupee I have
bought two ounces of opium with which to kill myself. Since I know it is a sin
to commit suicide, I make one last appeal to the court to arrange for my
musical training.”

The maulavi then advised me to block the road as the Nawab
went for his evening drive. I kept that appeal in my pocket for
almost a month but no
opportunity presented itself. Then, one evening as the Nawab was going
to the club to see a drama written by Mohammed Wazir Khan, I stepped in front
of his car with my hands raised. At once a policeman grabbed me. Nawab Sahib
asked the police chief what the matter was. He replied that a Bengali musician
was praying for his patronage. Nawab Sahib was intrigued. I gave him my
appeal and the opium. The Nawab asked his secretary to read the appeal
to him. After hearing it, to my surprise, he said he would not go to see the
drama. He ordered his secretary to take the Begum Sahiba to the drama,
and to inform Wazir Khan to come to him. Then he asked me to get in his car and
took me to Hamid Manzil, his palace.

The Nawab’s name was
Hamid Ali Khan. He was the chief disciple of Wazir Khan, and a great scholar.
He was also a great vocalist and had learned thousands of dhrupads as
well as veena. He asked about my experience in music. I told him about
Nulo Gopal, Habu Dutta, Lobo Prabhu, Mohammed Ali Khan and all of the others
who taught me vocal music, violin, clarinet, shehnai, sarod, tabla, mridangam, etc.
“Which instruments do you have with you now?” he asked. I said,
Sarod and violin.”
He sent me in his car to get my instruments. Then he asked me to play sarod. I played alap, jor,
, lari, etc. in Rag Yaman. He was overwhelmed with joy.
When I played violin for him, he was amazed and said he had heard such violin
playing in Europe, but never in India.

When Mohammed Wazir Khan
arrived, the Nawab Sahib received him with great respect and told him
that he had not attended the drama because of me. He told him about my training
and my playing and recommended that he accept me as his disciple. Wazir Khan
agreed. Thus, by the grace of Nawab Hamid Ali Khan, I became the
disciple of Wazir Khan.

Nawab Sahib arranged
all the formalities of a Nara
ceremony. Costly jewellery, shawls, and other valuables were presented to
Wazir Khan in a golden casket at his expense. Nawab Sahib asked him to
teach me veena, but
Wazir Khan said that he could only teach me sarod, rabab and sursringar since the teaching of veena
was confined to members of his family. With folded palms, I said, “I will
not learn veena. I will only learn what you wish.” He made me promise
that I would not teach these arts to baijis and prostitutes. I was
provided with a small house near Wazir Khan’s house. When I became a disciple
of Wazir Khan, the musicians who had refused to teach me earlier accepted me
and showed me kindness. Though I had a place to stay, I still did not have
money to eat, so I started visiting the State Band. Bandmaster Raja Hussain, a
renowned dhrupad singer, offered me a job playing violin for the band
two hours every morning at a salary of 12 rupees per month. It helped me
a lot. However, Wazir Khan forgot me totally.

For three years, I went
to his residence every morning and waited at his door from 6:00 to 10:00 a.m.
I n the afternoon I visited Mohammed Hussain Khan who taught me sarod, and Karim Khan, brother
of the famous sitar player,
Hafiz Khan, who taught me many gats and taras
on sitar. Wazir Khan’s
negligence was partly compensated by their training.

The Diaries of Baba Allauddin Khan: A Film
, by Mary J. Khan

Chapter Three: Achievements, Performances and Awards in Classical Music

virtuosity/ability with different instruments

Nowhere in the history of Indian Classical Music is
there a musician / composer / innovator / teacher of Dr Allauddin Khan’s
His amazing virtuosity with different instruments included: flute, clarinet, cornet,
piccolo, mandolin, banjo, violin, piano, sarod, shenai, naquara, tiquara, jagajhampa, israj, sursringar, surbahar, sitar, rabab, mridangam, tabla, pakhawaj, plus a
variety of other string and percussion instruments. It seems that he could make
music on any instrument placed in his hands; which demonstrated his versatility
and remarkable skill. The following anecdotes demonstrate the power of his
musicianship, as
by Annapurna Devi, Sahana Gupta, Jotin Bhattacharya, and Ravi Shankar.

Tributes to Baba from Ustad Alauddin Khan / Sahana, by Sahana Gupta

As a musician, he had mastered many instruments. This list is already
mentioned. He was also the first one to introduce the concept of an orchestra
in Indian music. Certain renditions were so intense and moving that the
audience could hardly control their tears. I [Annapurna Devi] remember even the
Maharajah of Maihar had to walk out of one of the concerts since he didn’t want
his people to see their ruler so overcome with emotion.

Foreword by Annapurna Devi, page

… … …

Once, a group of young American and European
professional dancers approached Boro Baba and requested him to explain the
subtleties of Indian classical music to them. Glancing at their fashionable
attire, Boro Baba decided that their intentions were far from serious and,
therefore, casually strummed a part of Raga
, a deeply moving composition, on his sarod. After playing for a
bit, he glanced up and was amazed to see his audience visibly moved; some of
them actually had tears rolling down their cheeks. Ashamed of his biased
judgement, he instantly started performing with intense concentration. He
played Raga Bhimpalasree and Raga Pilu for over three hours, and his
flawless rendition led the listeners to exclaim: “You have given us life. We will never forget it.”

Chapter 11, pages 85–86

Tributes to Baba from Ustad Allauddin Khan And His Music, by Jotin Bhattacharya

9. In
the year 1925 the Tripura Prince, Maharajah Manikya Bahadur,
had invited Ustad Enayat Khan for a sitar evening. One after the other Amar
Bhattacharya and Aftabuddin [Baba’s brother] gave up accompanying him on the
tabla. What now? How could the Ustad complete the already advanced evening
successfully? Allauddin, without any ado, got up and the programme resumed with
the great sarod maestro playing the tabla to Enayat Khan’s primo.

Chapter 9, page 62

… … …

12. There were a couple of sittings of his musical recitals before Sri Aurobindo,
who appreciated his music with the remark: “He has attained the state
of ecstasy through the medium of music
“. It was an achievement to gain
favourable opinion of a saint of Sri Aurobindo’s spiritual attainment, one who
would not comment on anything lightly.

Chapter 9, page 53

The musicians of the reputation of Ustad Allauddin Khan, Ustad Hafiz Ali
Khan, Patwardhan, Vishwa Deb, Sachin Motilal, Hiru Ganguly and others graced
the occasion of All-India Music Conference held at Senate Hall, Allahabad, in 1934. The
renowned tabla player Hiru Ganguly of Calcutta
expressed his desire to demonstrate solo in Pancham Swari (15 matras) but none
dared accompany him either on sarangi or on harmonium because of its intricate
nature. Finding no way out, Baba accompanied on violin to help him succeed—a
rare instance in the musical world.

Chapter 9, page 54

… … …

At the age of 50, Ustad Allauddin Khan was a mature musician, when he attended
All-India Music Conference at Calcutta
held under presidentship of Maharajah Manindra Nandy of Kashim-bazar. Stalwarts
like Ustad Karamatullah Khan (sarodia), Ustad Imdad Khan a great sitar virtuoso
and other noted musicians graced the occasion. The presence of the most
unassuming Allauddin Khan was taken by them lightly. In view of their sound
knowledge of music, they dismissed him as an ordinary musician. A hush fell
upon the assembled people when Ustad Allauddin Khan gave a splendid exposition
of Raga Puria on his sarod, continuously for four hours. The spectators were
spell-bound all through and were completely possessed with his music. The
reverberation of the dying notes echoed in their heart for hours. They were
amazed at his supremacy which could not be challenged. He was ranked as best
musician of the year by the panel of experts, which raised him to eminence.
When requested to comment, he replied that it was by the grace of God.

Chapter 9, page 55

… … …

In the year 1952, Allauddin gave his finest performance of rabab in two sittings on the
All-India Radio, Allahabad.
He was accompanied by Pt Mannulal Mishra and Pt Amarnath Mishra of Varanasi. That performance
has still remained unequalled in musical history.

Chapter 9, page 58

… … …

21. His endless perseverance in
the practice of sarod and violin has distinguished him in the foremost rank of
the musicians of India.
It is said that while playing his favourite raga
at Maihar, he lost his identity when small birds perched and pecked on his head
without his knowledge. Such was his concentration of mind.

Chapter 19, page 127

Tributes to Baba from My Music, My Life, by Ravi Shankar

I saw him for the first time at the All-Bengal Music Conference in
December, 1934. In contrast to all the other musicians, who were wearing
colorful costumes, turbans, and jewels, and were bedecked with medals, he
seemed very plain and ordinary, not at all impressive. But even in my
immaturity, it did not take me long to realize that he had qualities that far
outshone the gaudiness of his colleagues. He seemed to shine with a fire that
came from within him. Although I did not know enough about music then to
discern his musical greatness, I found myself completely overwhelmed by
everything about him.

Chapter 2, page 51

… … …

Unlike some other musicians,
Baba has never been stingy or jealous about passing on to deserving students
the great and sacred art that he possesses. In fact, when he is inspired in his
teaching, it is as if a floodgate had opened up and an ocean of beautiful and
divine music was flowing out.

Chapter 2, page 57

and refinement of musical instruments

from being an outstanding musician, conductor and composer, Dr Khan was also an
extremely gifted instrument-maker and, along with his brother, Ayet Ali Khan,
made serious beneficial changes to many existing musical instruments,
particularly the sursringar and the sarod.
He was also a great innovator. The resources in a small princely state like
Maihar were limited. The palace had a grand piano and violins could be obtained
with some effort but other western instruments were simply out of reach. Till
the time a cello could be ordered and supplied, Baba got a sarangi made
which measured twice the size of usual one. It had strings which could be tuned
and using a large bow would give out a deep tone almost that of cello. He named
it Saranga.
Khan also created other new instruments such as the
chandrasarang, sitar-banjo and the nal tarang, which is constructed from gun barrels and is played by
striking with an iron rod.


Dr Khan’s modifications to the Sarod

Khan’s modifications to the sarod represent his most important instrument-making
contribution to Hindustani classical
music. He based all the music he taught for any instrument around his musical concepts
and arrangements on sarod. Jotin Bhattacharya, himself a sarodist trained by Dr Khan, provided a detailed
history of the sarod in his biography, including illustrations of his guru’s improvements.

It is obvious from the above extracts from Jotin Bhattacharya’s biography that Dr
Khan’s alterations to the sarod were not just of a minor nature, and that his
amazing skill-set extended far beyond his master musicianship. These
alterations provide ample evidence of his genius in the field of
instrument-making, regardless of other contributions he made to Hindustani classical music.

Ustad Allauddin Khan and His Music, by Jotin Bhattacharya, pages 120 & 121

Below: Dr Khan with his Sarode, Chandra Sarang, Violin and Rabab

Ustad Allauddin Khan And His Music, by Jotin Bhattacharya,
page 37

inventions and compositions

Dr Allauddin Khan first learned about Western
notation from
Mr. Robert Lobo—conductor of the Eden Garden Orchestra in Calcutta—and
his wife. He then used this newfound
knowledge to invent a notation system for Indian music, which, over the years,
allowed him to write down and preserve his many raga compositions and creations. This notation system is used by
Indian musicians in the modern era of Indian music. Dr Khan also composed
classical ragas with harmonies for orchestral music, which opened up a whole
new field in Indian music production. The following quotation by Mary J. Khan
her synopsis for a film based on the diaries of Baba Allauddin Khan, explain Baba’s achievements with regard to
musical notation, and his breaking with traditional teaching methods.

Baba Allauddin was instrumental in developing a system of notation for
Indian music. And, almost single-handedly, with his passion to pass on the
music to all who could learn, Baba Allauddin broke the formidable tradition of
secrecy that had surrounded Indian music. He foresaw that this would be the way
by which classical music could survive in a pure form in the democratic world
brought into being with Independence
and the invention of recording technology.

The Diaries of Baba
Allauddin Khan: A Film Script
by Mary J. Khan


Jotin Bhattacharya also wrote about Dr Khan’s raga inventions,
and listed his favourites.

The main ragas invented by Baba are Madan-Manjari,
Mohammad, Sursati, Subhavati, Dhabalasri, Hemant, Hem-Bihag, Hemant-Bhairav,
Haimanti, Manj-Khamaj, Madhavgiri, Bhagawati, Bhuvaneshwari, Gandhi,
etc., which are worth mentioning. His favourite ragas are Yaman, Hemant, Hem-Bihag, Tilak-Kamod, Sri, Bilaval, Darbari, Shuddha
Basant, Puria-Dhanasri, Shuddha Bhairavi
and Shuddha Kalyan.

Ustad Allauddin Khan And His Music, by Jotin
Bhattacharya, page 127

Dr Khan was known to use
his favourite ragas and inventions as part of the exercise routines he formulated
to train his students. The following selected extracts (five of his raga compositions,
and five of his raga inventions) are just some examples from Bhattacharya’s
biography to indicate the broad scope of his talent as a composer and inventor
of ragas. We can also see from the illustrations
on the following pages that Dr Khan was a thorough and systematic teacher.

Five of Dr Khan’s raga COMPOSITIONS adapted as practice exercises for his students—selected from Jotin Bhattacharya’s authorised biography, Ustad Allauddin Khan And His Music


Five of Dr Khan’s raga INVENTIONS adapted as practice exercises for his students—selected from Jotin Bhattacharya’s authorised biography, Ustad Allauddin Khan And His Music

performances – live and recorded

It would be impossible to identify
all of Dr Allauddin Khan’s musical performances and recordings since there are
no complete records of such things. However, quite apart from those recitals he
gave as a disciple with his gurus, his
official biographer, Jotin Bhattacharya confirmed that he gave many musical recitals.
Some of the more notable ones
are listed below.

Khan organised an orchestra (the String Band, now known as the Maihar Band)
with 100 orphaned children that he had taught to play strings, brass, bagpipes,
and drums. Dr Khan performed along with the orchestra on many State occasions –
dates unrecorded.

Maihar Band was recorded by the renowned company His Master’s Voice (HMV), vide record numbers G.C.8, 10177, 10178
and P 6663 under the caption “Maihar State String Band” in the tunes:
“Majuma Sanja-Sitar khani, Khamaj, Ektal; Majuma Sanja-Tilak-Kamod Tha-Dun
Choutal; Majuma Sanja-Hindustani Posta Dadra; Majuma Sanja-Hindustani Posta
Ektal” – dates unrecorded.

In 1925, the Tripura Prince,
Maharajah Manikya Bahadur invited Ustad Enayat Khan for a sitar evening. After
Amar Bhattacharya and Aftabuddin Khan gave up trying to accompany him on tabla, Dr Khan took over the tabla and played to Enayat Khan’s sitar.

the Fourth All-India Music Conference at Lucknow
in 1925, Dr Khan gave a magnificent recital on violin of Ragas Kafi and Tilak Kamod to the accompaniment of Biru Mishra of Varanasi on the tabla. In the subsequent sitting, Ustad Abid Hussain Khan
accompanied him on the tabla. In a
further recital at the same conference, Dr Khan was accompanied by Rai Chand
Boral of Calcutta on the tabla.

by Dr Khan, a select group of 18 artists from the Maihar Band performed twice
at the Fourth All-India Music Conference at Lucknow in 1925, where they played Yaman-Kalyan, Tilak-Kamod and Kamaj.

the All-India Music Conference in Jodhpur, Dr Khan accompanied Ustad Wazir
Khan’s grandson, Dabir Khan, on the mridanga
– date unrecorded.

Khan performed several musical recitals before Sri Aurobindo – dates unrecorded.

Khan gave a musical performance on surshringar
for a radio program at Calcutta,
which was hailed among his best ever – date unrecorded.

1931, at the age of 50, Dr Khan attended the All-India Music Conference at Calcutta held under
presidentship of Maharajah Manindra Nandy of Kashim-bazar. The audience was
enraptured when Baba gave a splendid performance of Raga Puria on sarod for four hours continuously.

1934 at the All-India Music Conference held in the Senate Hall at Allahabad, Dr
Khan accompanied renowned tabla player Hiru Ganguly of Calcutta on violin for a
demonstration in Pancham Swari (15
matras), which was hailed as a rare event in the musical world.

Khan, playing tabla, accompanied the
famous esraj maestro Chandrika Prasad
of Pewar Estate (Gaya)
in the Panch Bhairavi. Their larant, sath-Sangat
and jawal-jalab (question-answers) continued
for hours in which Dr Khan’s achievement on tabla
was highly appreciated. He was afterwards awarded several gold medals in
recognition of his superior playing, which at the time made him more popular as
a tabla player than a sarodia – date unrecorded.

The first gramophone record of Allauddin Khan came out in 1935. These
were recitals on the sarode and
violin, and the discs were brought out by the Megaphone Gramophone Company.
Later, long-play records of these recitals were also produced.

Khan first began popularising the Senia–Maihar
in a 1935–36 international tour with Uday Shankar’s dance troupe.

of Dr Khan’s recordings have been released on CD, on the Great Gharanas: Maihar compilation in RPG/EMI’s Chairman’s Choice

1937 at the Allahabad All-India Music Conference, Dr Khan was accompanied by
Kaviraj Ashutosh Bhattacharya of Varanasi
on the tabla.

the All-India Music Conference at Allahabad in
1944, Dr Khan was accompanied by Samta Prasad, alias Gudai Maharaj, of Varanasi on the tabla.

the All-India Music Conference at Varanasi in
1948, Dr Khan was accompanied on tabla by
Kishan Maharaj of Varanasi.

1952, Dr Khan gave his finest performance of rabab in two sittings on the All-India Radio, Allahabad. He was accompanied by Pt Mannulal
Mishra and Pt Amarnath Mishra of Varanasi.
That performance still remains unequalled in musical history.

the year 1952, Dr Khan was accompanied by Hirendra Kumar Gangopadhyaya (alias
Hiru Ganguly) with Ravi Shankar on tanpura, at the Tansen Music Conference in Calcutta.

the year 1959, at the age of 78, Dr Khan gave a public performance on Aurobindo
Jayanti at Park Circus Ground, Calcutta,
with grandson Ashish Khan; they were accompanied by tabla maestros Karamattullah Khan and Kishan Maharaj.

1959, Dr Khan was also recorded playing sarod at his residence in Maihar by two
visiting professors of botany who specialised in plant pathology. Their purpose
was to collect pure tunes on tape-recorders to investigate the “effect of
music on plants”.

Dr Khan featured in the
documentary film
Baba (1969), directed
by N.D. Keluskar.

1970, at the age of 89 years, Dr Khan gave his last public recital as a maestro
at the Maihar Sangeet Festival, where he played the violin.

Khan featured in the film Rāga
(1971), directed by Howard Worth.

Sourced from Ustad Allauddin
Khan And His Music
, by Jotin Bhattacharya

and awards

a. Achievements

The lifetime
achievements of Dr Khan are too numerous to count, but there is no doubt he
spent his entire life in service to God and music. Some of his more significant
achievements include the following:

a notation system for Indian classical music

the orchestration of Indian musical instruments with the Maihar Band

Established the Maihar College of Music at his home in

the outdated guru-shishya parampara

thousands of new compositions for existing vocal and instrumental ragas

hundreds of new vocal and instrumental ragas

existing musical instruments, particularly the sursringar and the sarod

new musical instruments, including chandrasarang,
saranga, sitar-banjo and nal tarang

his teaching at Maihar, produced countless maestros to play Hindustani classical music and present
it to the world

the Senia–Maihar Gharana – also worthy
of mention here is the fact that Indian musician nominees and/or winners of the
prestigious Grammy Awards in the USA include:

sitarist Ravi Shankar
(winner 1966, 1972 & 2002; plus four nominations)

sarodist Ali Akbar
(nominations 1970, 1983, 1996, 1997, 1998)

guitarist Vishwa Mohan Bhatt (winner 1994)

sarodist Ashish Khan (nomination

Note: All
of the above artists are from the Senia–Maihar
and were students of Dr Khan, except Vishwa Mohan Bhatt who was a
student of Ravi Shankar.

of the most important achievements of Dr Khan was the establishment of the Senia–Maihar Gharana, sometimes referred
to as the Senia Allauddin Gharana.
This gharana originated from the Senia Gharana initiated by Mian Tansen,
which gives it great significance in the context of Hindustani classical music history. The Senia–Maihar Gharana was expanded and re-shaped from the original Senia Gharana by Dr Allauddin Khan. It
was named after Maihar in Madhya Pradesh, where Allauddin Khan settled in the
latter part of his life, from 1918–1972.

some musicians did not regard the Senia–Maihar
as a true gharana in the
strictest sense,
especially as
its founder did not belong to a family of professional musicians and the
tradition had not existed for the required three generations[1].

some musicians did not regard the Senia–Maihar
as a true gharana in the
strictest sense,
especially as
its founder did not belong to a family of professional musicians and the
tradition had not existed for the required three generations[1].
given the notable contribution to Hindustani
music by Dr Khan and his descendants—son Ali Akbar Khan and grandson Aashish
Khan—who, together, clearly represent three generations of one family from the Senia–Maihar Gharana, this particular reservation
has since been resolved.

[1] To be able
call a school/tradition a Gharana there must have
been three generations of established teacher–disciple pedagogic relationships
already gone before.
Source: http://www.ragaculture.com/gharana.html

Musicians of the Senia Gharana of MianTansen and Senia–Maihar Gharana of Allauddin Khan

Sourced on 28th August, 2009, at http://bangalnama.wordpress.com/2009/01/23/the-musical-legacy-of-brahmanbaria-ii/


From Mian Tansen to Wazir Khan

Tansen was born in 1520 near Gwalior
in Madhya Pradesh and is considered to be one of the greatest musicians in the
history of Indian classical music. The Tansen style of music was originally
based on the inspiration of Indian Rishis, but was later enriched by influences
from the music of Arabia and Persia.
Tansen was a disciple of Baba Ramdas of Oadh and also a disciple of highly
esteemed saint and musical seer Swami Haridas of Vrindavan; and he later
learned about the influences of Arabic and Persian music from Pir Mohammed
Ghaus of Gwalior.

Mian Tansen resided as chief musician in the court of Mogul Emperor “Akbar
the Great” (16th century). Tansen’s talent was so great that he was
referred to as one of the “Nine Jewels” (
navarathna) of the court of Akbar. It is even said he could work
miracles (
nada siddha) and create
rain by singing the monsoon
Raga Megh
, and create fire by singing Raga
. This special power attributed to some of the great masters in earlier
times was mentioned by Professor R. C. Mehta
in his essay,
Agra Gharana, when he was
commenting on the reputed power of the legendary musician Haji Sujan Khan to
light lamps when he sang
Dipaka Raga.
Professor Mehta offered the following cautionary perspective on the subject.

Sometimes the stories about musicians and music carry
incredible elements in them. Such exaggerated elements are meant to establish
the extraordinary powers of musicians or the mystical power of music. But they
do not help in the understanding or evaluation of their music. Aesthetic
enjoyment or evaluation do not get enhanced by such stories. So, whether Sujan
Khan lit lamps or not, he may be accepted as a singer of considerable merit.

Classical Music and Gharana Tradition
, by R. C. Mehta, pages 78–79

[1] Professor Ramanlal C. Mehta is a distinguished vocalist of Kirama Gharana. He retired as Principal
of the College of
Indian Music at MS
University of Baroda in 1978. He was a composer and producer at All India Radio
for 9 years, and an expert member of their Central Music Audition Board. He
founded the Indian Musicological Society in 1970, serving as Editor of its
Journal. He is also a respected author of many books on the subject of Indian

It is
generally considered that the Swami Haridasji and his student Tansen laid the
foundation for the renaissance of Indian classical music through their dhrupad style of singing; Tansen himself
was responsible for several hundred dhrupad
compositions and his daughter, Saraswati Devi, became a famous dhrupad singer—married to Raja Misar
Singh (Naubat Khan). Allauddin Khan’s teacher, Ustad Wazir Khan, was the last
musical descendant of Tansen at that time. Wazir Khan, also known as Chhatrapal
Singh, taught in Calcutta
and Midnapur before joining the court of Rampur in 1900, where he became the tutor
of Nawab Hamid Ali Khan.

Below left: 16th century depiction of Akbar
the Great, Mian Tansen &
Swami Haridas — Below right: Ustad Wazir Khan

his teachings, Ustad Wazir Khan built up the musical careers of the following outstanding

  1. Allauddin Khan
  2. Hafiz Ali Khan
  3. Mehdi Husssain
    Khan (Dhrupad & Kheyal)
  4. Mustaque
    Hussain Khan (Kheyal)
  5. Pramathanath
    Bandopadhya (Rudra veena)
  6. Jadabendra
    Mahapatra (Surbahar)
  7. Pundit
    Vatkhandeji (the great musicologist)

Sourced 8th August, 2009, at http://music.calarts.edu/~bansuri/pages/chapter_5.html

completing training under Wazir Khan, Allauddin Khan took responsibility for
the continuing evolution of the Senia
of Tansen, through establishment of the Senia–Maihar Gharana. Sahana Gupta commended Dr Khan’s great work
in furthering the cause of Indian classical music both in India and
abroad; and she lamented the fact that he is not given enough credit for his fundamental
contribution to the evolution and survival of this valuable tradition. Gupta emphasised
that it was primarily Dr Khan’s work that placed Indian classical music in its
rightful place on the world stage.

He [Boro Baba] left behind a greatly enriched tradition of music which
has since been passed down generations of music lovers, keeping his memory
alive. He never lusted after material gain or fame. He always wanted to learn
and to create; qualities that took him to eminence. It is a sad fact that in
the world of contemporary Indian classical music, not enough is remembered of
the fundamental contributions he made to evolve its tradition and enable
subsequent generations to carry on.

Music is said to be immortal – it continues to exist and flourish well
past its creators. While on one hand, Ustad Alauddin Khan forged new ways of
taking the rich Indian classical music tradition to the masses in his homeland,
he took it beyond its boundaries – to its rightful place on the world stage.

Alauddin Khan / Sahana
by Sahana Gupta, Epilogue, page 125

Jotin Bhattacharya afforded high praise to Dr Khan for
another unique achievement in the field of Indian classical music; which
involved transforming the artists’ approach to performance on rabab, been, surshringar, sitar and surbahar.
Bhattacharya also credited Dr Khan with creating a whole new system of music by
modifying and combining the various pre-existing aspects of the Hindustani classical music system. Both
these achievements have prevailed to the present day, having been popularised
by his many disciples.

Towards the end of the mediaeval period, Akar-matrik and Danda-matrik
systems of music were in vogue in Bengal but
Baba preferred the latter, which he followed rigidly. The credit for
transformation of rabab, been sursringar, sitar and surbahar in the lines of
the sarod goes to him.

He made an exception by playing dara-dara
in sarod, while all the musicians were in the habit of playing diri-diri. It is said that Hafiz Ali
Khan also acted accordingly, but in fact he played on mixed dara-dara. Pure dara-dara and rada-rada
was an innovation of Ustad Allauddin Khan, and was unique to him. He succeeded
in casting his spell on everybody who came in contact with him and transforming
them… … …

The musicians of the mediaeval period and thereafter had the specialised
knowledge of a particular branch of music, while Baba was an exception to this.
He modified the system and made a balanced combination of different aspects of
music and the credit for the implementation and popularisation of his
achievement in the above regard goes to his son and son-in-law. Both of them
can be regarded as the concrete symbols of the world-wide success of the
originality of his genius.

Allauddin Khan And His Music
, by Jotin Bhattacharya, pages 126–127


b. Awards

official recognition awards were granted
to Dr Khan during his lifetime. The following list of awards, titles and
honours bestowed on him was compiled from information furnished by his
biographers, plus examination of documents at the former gurukul in Maihar.

1944Vadya Acharya title from Bhatkhande
University of Music, Lucknow

1948 Attended India’s
first music conference following Independence

1952 – Fellow, Sangeet Natak Akademi (National Academy
of Performing Arts)

1958 – Padma Bhushan Award

1961 – Sangeet Acharya Award, Indrakala Sangeet Vishwavidyalya,

1963 – Doctorate of Literature Award from Rabindra
Bharati University,

1964Desikottam – honorary doctorate – Visva-Bharati
University Shantiniketan

1971 – First Hindustani classical musician to receive Padma Vibhushan Award

Chapter Four: Teaching and Students

at Maihar

Maihar, situated in the hills of Madhya Pradesh,
gained its name from Ma-ka-haar, meaning the place where Parvati’s necklace
descended after she was slain. It was founded by the Rajputs of the Khajuraho
clan in 1778, and became part of British India
early in the nineteenth century. Its main significance to Hindus is the Shree
Shree Sharada Ma temple, which dates back to the sixth century A.D. The temple
is perched on top of a hill, and devotees have to climb hundreds of steps to
reach it. Some pilgrims take the winding road around the hill for part of the
journey but all must climb the last steps to reach the top.

Shree Shree Sharada Ma is the State deity of Madhya
Pradesh and is generally believed to have supreme powers. Dr Khan was himself a
devotee of the goddess and attributed his considerable success in music to her
blessings. Until the removal of the monarchies in the years following India’s Independence,
Maihar State, which measured about 400 square
miles, was ruled by the Rajput Princes. The second-last ruler was His Highness
Maharajah Brijnath Singh, who worked together with his guru, Dr
Allauddin Khan, to further the cause of music in the state.

Shree Shree Sharada Ma Temple at Maihar

According to Bhattacharya, after achieving
recognition as a superior-class performance artist and deciding to leave Calcutta, Dr Khan was directed to Maharajah
Singh of
Maihar State by renowned harmonium player Shyamlal Khetri, who had been appointed by
the Maharajah to find a suitable musician to teach him. The requirements set by
the Maharajah were that he must find someone well versed in both vocal and
instrumental music, and Allauddin easily fitted this description.

After a rather
unusual trial – which included playing via a telephone link and being
repeatedly ordered to change instruments after just a few minutes of playing –
Ustad Allauddin Khan was chosen as the Maharaja’s personal music guru
and appointed as the official court musician of Maihar. However, because he was
against the idea of receiving a salary for teaching, Dr Khan was gifted a plot
of land by the Maharajah to ensure his income.

When Ustad Allauddin Khan was seriously thinking to leave Calcutta, he met Shyamlal
Khetri who was deputed by His Highness of Maihar to look around and enlist the
services of an all-round musician for him. Therefore, he was in search of a
class musician because he was fully aware of the Maharajah’s firm determination
not to acknowledge any musician as his guru who was not well versed in both
vocal and instrumental music. Coincidently he spotted him out and directed him
to proceed to Maihar, under specific request to His Highness to enlist his
services. Accordingly, Allauddin Khan left Calcutta for Maihar at the first available

He was received with all cordiality at Maihar and was lodged in the
guest house meant for V. I. P.s. He was asked to present himself before His
Highness on an auspicious day, earmarked for the purpose. He reached the Durbar
on the scheduled date and time and started tuning his sarod under instruction
from Ghurrey Maharaj, a Maihar
State musician who
accompanied him on tanpura. After some time His Highness appeared in audience
and enquired of Allauddin Khan’s welfare and told him that he had chosen him as
his guru without any prejudice. Allauddin thanked him for his kind enquiry and
expressed his gratitude for his generous selection. Without wasting any time,
His Highness requested him to play on the stringed instrument. As soon as he
started his sarod, he became unmindful and asked the musician to take rest. The
Ustad was dejected at this show of casual negligence… … …


One of Dr Khan’s favourite and most respected disciples,
Nikhil Banerjee, painted a vivid picture of life at Maihar, in his essay, My Maestro, As I Saw Him. He made it very
clear that there was no room for luxuries and no time for lazing about. Yet, he
also described a profoundly sincere and saintly guru who was gentle and generous in nature and “bubbling with
humanity” but who was also afraid of spoiling his disciples and even his
grandchildren if he showed them too much affection. An excerpt from this essay
is reproduced below.

Maihar is a place of extreme climate and it becomes unbearably hot
during the summer because of the limestone factories that surround it. Once,
his son Ustad Ali Akbar Khan Sahib bought an air-cooler and took it to Maihar
with the expectation that it might give him [Baba] some relief. After a few
days it was rejected with scorn. As long as his health permitted him to move,
he would wash his own clothes every day and would go to the market to buy his
daily necessities; he would not let the students go there and waste their
valuable moments of practice.

He practised austerity in his own life and had therefore the right to
impose it on us. He was a disciplinarian and would never allow the slightest
deviation from his ideals of simple living, strict observance of Brahmacharya
during our stay at Maihar, a total withdrawal of the mind from all kinds of
superficialities, directing all the energy to practice of music and
concentration. In going to enforce all this he had to keep up a certain
hardness which was, in reality, a show. Stories of Baba’s severe scoldings,
beating with the bow of violin and throwing of tabla hammer are so common that
people are sometimes terribly mistaken to assume that he was a kind of an old
village schoolmaster lacking in any sophistication, with only the ability to be
rather ridiculously stern.

But this image of himself he deliberately projected in order not to
allow any liberty to the disciple. He always had the tension that soft
treatment on his part would only spoil them. One day I heard him speaking out
rather candidly, “Don’t you see that I am
a grandsire? Don’t I feel like taking them
(meaning his grandchildren) in my arms and patting and loving them? But
I am afraid it may spoil them.
” Here was the inner voice which could be
heard seldom or never. Beneath the veil of toughness was the soft and tender
soul bubbling with humanity.

We used to watch with wonder how in different corners of his premises he
arranged to set up wooden pieces of shelter-racks to let the birds build up
their nests. At the time of his meals these birds would gather around him and
he enjoyed their company. Whenever any Sadhu or saint was around, Baba would
give him God-like treatment, offering food and clothing. He used to clean with
his own hand the left-overs of their food and never let us touch them.

Excerpt from My Maestro, As I Saw Him, by Nikhil

An essay printed in
the booklet Afternoon Ragas, Raga
Records © – Raga 211

25nd October, 2009, at http://www.raga.com/cds/211/211text.html


The author
visited the former gurukul of Dr
Allauddin Khan at Maihar for research purposes. The main building, designed by
Dr Khan himself, is built in the traditional north Indian style with external
walls on all four sides and a central courtyard. The
caretaker showed the author around the building. The entrance room where guests
were welcomed contains a small amount of seating furniture and a glass display
cabinet with some of Dr Khan’s prized musical instruments, wrapped in cloth.
His personal chamber and that of his wife are kept just as they were when both
were alive and living there.

walls of Dr Khan’s personal chamber are literally covered with pictures of
saints of all denominations, poets, musicians, composers, writers, doctorates
and other certificates conferred upon the Ustad, and some important social and
political personalities of the time. The walls of his wifes chamber, by
contrast, are literally bare except for the one wall facing her bed, which has pictures
of her immediate family, and a few posters relating to some events and performances.

The following are some photographs taken when the author visited the
former gurukul at Maihar. In the first picture, the Ustad
and his wife’s tombs are in the building to the left, and the main residence is
the double-storey red building in front of the gate.

Entrance hall to the former residence (left) and Dr Khan’s personal chamber (right)

and nature

attitudes and behaviour

By all the accounts of those in a position to really know him, Dr Khan possessed a unique
personality with all the positive qualities you could expect to find in a true
genius. His dedication to achieving his goals was one-pointed; and this was matched
by his intense desire for union with the Divine through music. His intellect
was outstanding and his morality was unquestionable; and he expected no less
from his students and those he came into contact with, regardless of their
standing in society. He was also well known for his strong dislike of the
Indian caste system, and for his love and caring attitude towards the
under-privileged. On the subject of Dr Khan’s personality traits, Bhattacharya
wrote as follows.

He was an intellectual giant and an institution by
himself. He was an embodiment of civility and simplicity blended in balanced
proportion. He was highly reliable, thoroughly dependable and extremely modest.
He was grave but jolly, quiet but lively, polite but manly. He was a man of
firm determination and strong conviction. His most amiable disposition and
simple manners endeared him to all who came into his contact. All combined, he
was a unique personality.

His character was flawless and he hated people who
indulged in immorality. He was not at all a diplomat. He did not hesitate to
confess his mistakes and hated flattery. His dynamic potentiality in every
sphere of his life was impressive.

He did not appreciate the sophisticated touch
of modern society and did not believe in the invidious distinctions of man-made
caste system, which to him were a corrupt practice to undermine the prestige of
humanity as a class. According to him, the phenomenal progress of society
should in no case be impaired by imposing caste restrictions to the detriment
of humanity.

He believed in the saying that ‘Cleanliness is next to
Godliness’ and he scrupulously followed the idea and led the sattvika [pure] life of a vaishnava.

Allauddin Khan And His Music
, by Jotin Bhattacharya, pages 45–46


Allauddin Khan was always
inclined to tell the truth even when it might cost him dearly, either
physically, when he was beaten by his mother for admitting his truancy, or when
it might affect people’s image of him as a person, such as when he openly declared
his egotism in relation to his talent as a musician following his departure
from Calcutta—as documented in his manuscript.

I heard from fellow musicians that during the Durga Puja, the top-class musicians of India
were invited to participate in a music festival in Muktagacha Raj Darbar in the
Mymansingh district. I thought: Why
shouldn’t I go there, play my music and mesmerize the audience. After all, I
have become a reputed musician.
But actually, in the back of my mind a
devil was working in the form of pride to make me think by singing and playing
theater songs I could make an audience crazy for my music.

The Diaries of Baba Allauddin
Khan: A Film Script
, by Mary J. Khan

There was no real need for Dr
Khan to declare his misguided vanity in his manuscript, yet he chose to do so;
perhaps he intended it to stand as a warning to his many disciples that vanity
does not belong in the heart of a worthy musician. The episode was also
recounted by Sahana
Gupta and Jotin Bhattacharya, as mentioned
earlier in
Chapter Two: Music Education,
Other teachers and instrumental education
of this thesis. These examples of truthfulness and honesty show a man of
principle which, by all accounts, was a rarity among his peers.


Apparently, even though he was a superior musician who was liked
and well respected by his peers, Dr Khan also had an intense dislike for pomp
and ceremony. Unlike so many Ustads of the time, and even those today, he was
never one to dress himself in fancy silks and wear expensive adornments for his
recitals. He always came to these occasions dressed neat and tidy in the most simple
cotton dhoti and cap. Sahana Gupta wrote about this as follows.

Boro Baba shared a musical platform with the ustads of various gharanas who admired him and were awed
by his dexterity on various instruments. In those days, established musicians
dressed splendidly, rather like maharajas, in resplendent silk turbans and
gold-threaded costumes, with gold medals displayed on their chests; and then
there was Boro Baba – in his unadorned cotton dhoti and plain white cap – he was the essence of simplicity among

Alauddin Khan / Sahana
by Sahana Gupta, page 69

Another strong feature of Dr Khan’s
personality was the kindness he showed towards the less fortunate people in
this world. By all accounts, he always responded to such people with great sympathetic
action, and offered meaningful support in whatever way he could. His daughter, Annapurna
Devi, attests to her father’s compassion for the poor in her Foreword to Sahana Gupta’s biography.

I possess deep shraddha (respect) for him from my early childhood. He
was different from anyone else I had met in my life. He was simple, ego-less,
truthful, full of love and respect for people but, above all, he was an
embodiment of compassion when it came to poor people.

Alauddin Khan / Sahana
by Sahana Gupta
— Foreword by Annapurna Devi, page 10

This deep sense of
compassion was also the driving force behind Dr Khan’s response to a disastrous
outbreak of sickness—which some observers at the time called a plague—in Madhya
Pradesh in 1918. It left many children orphaned and homeless, and their lives might
have finished in ruin if not for the actions of Allauddin Khan. About this
particular episode, Sahana Gupta wrote the following.

In 1918, there was epidemic outbreak of red fever in the state which
reportedly left many people homeless and orphaned. Boro Baba was deeply moved
by what he saw, and soon after, along with the Maharajah, he conceived the idea
of giving musical training to several orphan children who were victims of this

Thus began the story of India’s
first orchestra, a group of young boys and girls between eight and sixteen year
of age, whom Baba taught with great dedication and passion. The Maharajah lent his full support and
procured various Indian and a few Western instruments for the children. Boro Baba adopted twenty-eight of them,
started teaching them from scratch and gradually trained them into a band of
talented instrumentalists.

Ustad Alauddin Khan / Sahana, by Sahana Gupta, page 72


Nikhil Banerjee also revealed the humanitarian side
of Dr Khan’s nature, when he recounted incidents that he witnessed while staying
at the gurukul in Maihar.

I cannot resist the temptation to narrate a couple of episodes which
reveal Baba’s humanity. There was one woman who was mentally deranged and
stayed near Baba’s house. In the evening she would frequently visit Baba while
he was engaged either in playing or teaching us. We even noticed that various
herbal medicines were externally applied on her head to cool down her nervous
system. This lady would keep her head on Baba’s lap and while listening to
music fell asleep. The stern teacher never felt disturbed but rather
compassionately said “Ah, what a
pity that she suffers so much! Let her have some rest at least!
” Other
than those who witnessed this scene, how can anybody recognize what he actually

Once, in the market at Maihar, he watched a person sitting out rather
dejected in a corner with a number of dholaks to sell but not heeded by anyone.
He was touched, so much so that he took up one dholak and started playing. The
result was obviously a crowd around him. Many of them were throwing coins and a
few dholaks (folk drums) were sold out within a short time. Baba saw that some
monies were collected. He gave it all to the dholak-seller and went home happy.

My Maestro, As I Saw Him, by Nikhil Banerjee


On the other hand, there was apparently another
side to the personality of the maestro that must be told. The only biographer
who actually went into any great detail about this darker side of Allauddin Khan’s
nature was his authorised biographer, Jotin Bhattacharya. Though others
mentioned his disciplinarian approach and occasional outbursts, they did not
elaborate nor offer many explanations. Bhattacharya also recounted that Dr Khan
had actually insisted on him telling the exact truth without fear or favour
when writing his biography. On this, Bhattacharya even lamented the fact that Dr
Khan wanted him to tell his story without covering up any aspect that people
might find distasteful.

I was one of Ustad Allauddin Khan’s closest disciples. As his secretary
and student, I had a decade-long association with him and enjoyed his confidences
also. A rare privilege indeed! Some time in 1971, there was an occasion when
Baba took me aside and demanded gurudakshina.
I was hardly in a position to grasp the meaning of his demand. Then he
explained it to me and it turned out to be presenting Baba as faithfully as I
can with truth and objectivity. He enjoined upon me not to suppress even his penchant for swear words. He had all his
life shunned encomiums [compliments].

This has laid immense responsibility on me for he had also ideas of my
literary propensity to which I may hardly lay any claim. This has been a very
heavy call and I wonder how far I can rise to it. Many incidents and topics
which I would fain omit had to be incorporated in the narration as I am under
pledge to present him truthfully. These should therefore be taken in the spirit
in which they are presented – prayerfully. Facts are allowed to emerge as

Allauddin Khan And His Music
, by Jotin Bhattacharya, Preamble, page x


Another reason given for outbursts against other
musicians related to the endurance of exceptional opposition in his efforts to
change traditional thinking with regard to classical music. Bhattacharya
recounted one particular incident when Dr Khan had invited Ravi Shankar to play
on sitar for a group of veteran musicians, and one of them objected on the
grounds that Allauddin was teaching on sarod, which according to him did not
suit translation to sitar.

Some haughty Ustad objected, saying: “It
has been a baz
(style) of sarod, how can you make him play it on his sitar?” This refers to the then
unwritten convention that the special type of music for sarod cannot be played
on sitar, or vice versa. It was regarded almost like serving western dishes on
a plantain leaf. Baba all his life had worn himself thin to pull down these artificial
barriers. He had derived the essence of each baz, each pattern, and blended them into a musical rainbow. He had
suffered untold hardships and humiliations to combine the separate playing
patterns into a common lore for all instruments; thus had evolved the combined
sequence of alap, jod, jhala, gat,
etc. The other Ustad was questioning the very basis of Baba’s life-work, i.e.,
codification of instrumental styles.

At such moments Baba would descend to curses and swear words. “You people have fragmented the art
into this baz and that baz. You have
sarod-baz, sitar-baz, kabutarbaz,
randibaz and laundebaz, Shame on you! I am only a votary of Goddess Sharada. I
know no baz, I only know her sadhana. And that is why I have combined into my sarod
or sitar playing all your different varieties of instrumental music.”

Allauddin Khan And His Music
, by Jotin Bhattacharya, page 84

Bhattacharya also revealed what he felt were other reasons
for Dr Khan’s ill-tempered outbursts and his “sense of purity and sanctity”.
He pointed out that years of repression and living a life of self-denial when
it came to the “good things of life” had taken a lasting effect on
him. This part of Bhattacharya’s biography is particularly revealing in that it
shows the remarkable strength of character and high sense of morality possessed
by Allauddin Khan, even in his youth when most young men would not have hesitated
to take advantage of the many opportunities for self indulgence that presented. Unlike so many pretenders to greatness, he was
truly only interested in God and a musical mission.


obviously not enjoying the task, Bhattacharya seemed to be keeping to his vow of
“truth and objectivity” when he revealed that Dr Khan was something
of a tyrannical dictator in the family home. But, again, he honourably offered
reasonable speculation as to why it was the case; and at the end of the passage
he also made reference to Dr Khan’s loss of memory being a possible reason for
his occasional depressed mental state, which later led to him requiring an

Baba outside his house was a totally different person than his other
self within the walls of his ‘castle’. He was a veritable tyrant in his own
house, and an oriental type at that. Ma Manjari would never raise her voice
above a whisper. Members of his family would always be in a bowing posture and
would retreat without turning their backs as in a court of a mediaeval despot. Sole
exception to this autocratic rule was Annapurna Shankar who knew her father
through and through and so would act according to his mood. When he returned
from his forages outside Maihar he would not stand a moment’s delay in getting
his warm water for feet or his welcome tea. He would explode and bring the
whole house down. Everyone walked on tiptoes. The simple lady of the house had
meekly followed him year after year without a murmur. It is strange, but they
were a fact, these despotic outbursts of this dictator!

Somewhere deep inside there was some unnameable sorrow; some hidden
anguish which erupted in his house where there was no longer the need of
wearing the gentle and kind exterior that he donned when he stepped out. Deep
down at the base of his being this man was unhappy! Perhaps because he
repressed his natural instincts in his youth! Or was it something more basic,
more abiding or more germane to the whole human situation… more of the
existential crisis of choice? But something lurked inside him, and that must
have later impaired his memory, necessitating a cerebral operation.

Ustad Allauddin Khan And His Music, by Jotin
Bhattacharya, page 88


The author
has also considered the possibility that nicotine addiction may have been a
contributing factor to Dr Khan’s reportedly spontaneous mood changes. There is
no doubt that Dr Khan was a regular smoker throughout his life—his hookah can
still be seen in his room at Maihar, and photographs depicting him smoking
cigars and cigarettes are reproduced in two of the biographies referred to in
this book. Dr
Khan recounted in his manuscript how he was forced into tobacco addiction by
his brother, Aftabuddin. He also mentioned the violent effect upon his
brother’s mood when the tobacco did not arrive on time. The following
quotation comes from his manuscript, as recorded by Mary J. Khan.

“He [Aftabuddin] was an ill-tempered person. He was addicted to tobacco. I had to fill his hookah for him at the back of our house, so that my parents
would know nothing. If he did not get his tobacco in time, he beat me half
dead. The days when he got it on time, he forced me to smoke. If I refused, he
beat me. I was so scared of his beatings that smoking became a habit.”

The Diaries of Baba Allauddin
Khan: A Film Script
, by Mary J. Khan

Below: photographs
from the biographies of Sahana Gupta and Jotin Bhattacharya showing Dr Khan’s hookah (which is still kept in his room at Maihar) plus smoking a cigar and a cigarette

course, it cannot be known whether Dr Khan’s smoking had increased or decreased
around the time of his breakdown; therefore, the idea of nicotine addiction being
a contributing factor to his sudden mood changes can only be raised as a
possibility and not a certainty. It is possible that, due to aging and slowing
down in his busy routine, his smoking had increased. It is even possible that the
effects of his addiction were more pronounced in older age. But, unquestionably,
with currently available medical knowledge on the negative effects of nicotine
addiction, any responsible doctor today would recommend not smoking, especially
in someone affected by bad nerves.

difficult to prove with any certainty in the case of Dr Khan, modern research
methods do supply plenty of evidence that smoking is a contributing factor to
mood alteration; which could partly explain some of the mood changes mentioned
by Dr Khan’s biographers. In the interest of providing evidence to support the claim
that nicotine addiction causes mood alteration, the author located the
following websites and recorded relevant passages from various medical reports.

The addictive effects of tobacco have been well documented. Tobacco
is considered to be a mood and behaviour altering substance that is
psychoactive and abusable
. Tobacco is believed to be as potentially
addictive as alcohol, cocaine, and morphine.

Sourced 5th March,
2010, at http://adam.about.com/reports/Smoking.htm

[Tests] showed that the nicotine-dependent patients had significantly
decreased concentrations of the amino acid N-acetylaspartate (NAA) in the anterior
cingulated cortex, part of the brain that processes pleasure and pain. Reduced
NAA levels have been reported for a number of psychiatric and mood disorders

22nd October, 2009, at


is no doubt that everyone who reaches old age has to endure some form of
illness or affliction; and in that regard, Dr Khan was no different to anyone
else. Whatever the reasons for his alternating moods in the latter part of his life,
nothing can detract from his vast ocean of achievements and his unequalled
contribution to Indian classical music. Jotin Bhattacharya expressed his
feelings on the idiosyncrasies of his beloved guru, and noted the extraordinary
fact that, even in his last moments, Dr Allauddin Khan only had a mind for

But with all these idiosyncrasies Baba had a soul of solid gold. His
humility and aversion to pomp was rooted in his spiritual being. Perhaps all
the angularities I have described here to redeem my pledge to the departed soul
arose from all the misery, discord, and untruth he found around him. Perhaps it
was a cry of despair for the mankind? Because he ever lived the life of a
recluse dedicated to his
sadhana. The
rest of the world was
mithya (illusory)
for him… …

And so I often feel that at close quarters what I observed and felt as
Baba’s idiosyncrasies are not so, but are his soul’s cries in agony for the
jarring, grating noise to which we have reduced our dear earth that had heard
in her days that celestial music which only souls like Baba are attuned to.
towards his last moments in coma, everyone tearfully noted his hand going
through the motions of a tabla player

Allauddin Khan And His Music
, by Jotin Bhattacharya, pages 89–91

and spirituality

Khan was an enigma when it came to his religious beliefs and habits. Most
people today would recognise him as a Muslim due to his name, but that was not
always the case. As mentioned in the Introduction to this thesis, Jotin Bhattacharya
made the observation that Allauddin Khan was more of a religious reformer than
an artist; and all the available evidence supports this view.

was common knowledge among his disciples that he was devoted to the goddess
Saraswati, in the form of Shree Shree Sharada Ma, and that he performed daily Namaz for the
whole of his life. Jotin Bhattacharya observed the following.

He [Baba] was a born Mohammedan, brought up
under the environment of the Hindu culture. Hence, his activities were
pro-Hindu, but he was equally inclined towards his own religion, which one
could see at close quarters in his mode of action. But people were generally
under the wrong impression that he was through and through a Hindu, and a Muslim
only in name. He believed in most of the world religions since the basic
principles of all religions are the same. Purification of soul is of
fundamental necessity for a man, which can be achieved by a firm faith in
universal brotherhood. It is not the religion which matters much, but it is the
quality of a man which counts in building up his character.

Allauddin Khan And His Music
, by Jotin Bhattacharya, page 46

As previously
stated in Chapter Four of this book, a very old and famous temple dedicated to Shree
Shree Sharada Ma stands at the top of a hill in Maihar. Dr Khan was a devotee
of this goddess and that is why, despite more lucrative offers from other royal
courts, he never left Maihar. Bhattacharya recounted an incident that occurred
when Dr Khan was once refused entry to Sharada Ma temple by the local priest.

Once, in veneration to Shree Shree
Sharada Ma of Maihar
State, he climbed up the 557
steps with some offerings for puja.
It was a trial on his part in his advanced age. In complete disregard of his
deep sense of veneration, his entry was barred by the priest. To give vent to
his feeling he forced his entry into the temple against opposition. The matter
was brought to the attention of His Highness with all its implications. In
consideration of the circumstances the latter approved of his action.

His profound devotion for Shree Shree Sharada Ma deserves
appreciation. He had firm conviction that all his prosperity he owed to Her. He
did not avail himself of the opportunities and prospects of much better and
more lucrative positions offered by His highnesses of Jodhpur, Kashmir, Rampur
(after the death of Ustad Wazir Khan) and Patalia who wanted him to become the
court musician.

During his protracted illness, when it was
proposed to shift him to Calcutta
for treatment, he objected to it. He preferred to die at Ma Sharada’s feet,
rather than to be cured elsewhere. Such was his devotion and faith in Her,
which carried him through.

Allauddin Khan And His Music
, by Jotin Bhattacharya, pages 50–51

Annapurna Devi also confirmed her father’s “ecumenical”
spirit, his sincere devotion to goddess Sharada Ma, and his daily performance
of Namaz in the Foreword to Sahana
Gupta’s biography.

Baba was also deeply religious but ecumenical in spirit. He worshipped
Sharada Ma and read
Namaz five times
a day.

Alauddin Khan / Sahana
by Sahana Gupta
— Foreword by Annapurna Devi, page 12

Dr Khan believed that each
person is born with a natural ability to experience oneness with God through
any form of creative endeavour, and he trained his disciples to pursue that
ideal in their music. In her biography, Sahana Gupta expressed this philosophy
as follows.

A superhuman power lies dormant in every human being, but
he/she has to be inspired and aroused to enjoy this exalted feeling of oneness
with God by developing his/her creative faculties, whether spiritual, musical
or poetic.

Alauddin Khan / Sahana
by Sahana Gupta, page 95

As mentioned
earlier in this book (Chapter One:
Historical Background – Birth and early childhood
) Jotin Bhattacharya wrote
that Dr Khan had a devotional approach to music
right from early childhood.
His first teachers, apart from his father and brother, were the saintly musicians
who played at the famous temple
of Lord Shiva in his
local village. The young Alam was so attracted to this temple that he preferred
staying and listening to the devotional music rather than attending school. The
music he heard from the devotees as part of their divine service was a source
of great inspiration to him, and this set the stage for his lifelong approach
to music.

His urge for musical proficiency can be attributed
to his attraction towards the sanctuary, but his devotional turn of mind added
momentum to it.

Allauddin Khan And His Music
, by Jotin Bhattacharya,
page 7

An extract from Ravi Shankar’s autobiography also shows
Dr Khan’s ecumenical spirit.

His family were Bengali Muslims, converted to Islam only three or four
generations before. The village they lived in was predominantly Hindu, and they
all spoke Bengali. And so, even though his family were Muslim, Baba knew all
the ways of Hindus and was well acquainted with their customs and ceremonies.
Later, he was to follow a way of life that was a beautiful fusion of the best
of both Hinduism and Islam.

My Music, My Life (1st Edition), by Ravi
Shankar (1969), page 51

Dr Allauddin Khan was not only a devoutly religious
man who followed established rituals; he was also a deeply spiritual man who
avoided all the material trappings of success
. He led a simple and austere life, rarely giving
public performances and only seeking worthiness in his students
to serve the cause of music. The
following extract from Nikhil Banerjee’s tribute essay provides further
evidence of Dr Khan’s spiritual reverence for the music and for the guru, but especially for the deity.

He would say, “Whenever you
are giving a performance, meditate on your Guru first and then you will see
that he takes you over and carries you through. Whenever you play a Raga, begin
with worshipping and welcoming it. Imagine it to be deity. Bow down and pray
that it should have mercy on you and it should become alive through your
medium. Never approach a raga with a feeling of pride or vanity in your heart.
Music grows out of the purest feelings of your soul and hence the mind of the
musician, if only purified, can produce the vibration

Baba’s behaviour on the stage sometimes became rather erratic. But this
was only the result of a certain tension and apprehension that he might fail to
establish the raga. I saw him many times uttering Namaz and even crying out “Ma, Ma” to Goddess Saraswati. This
appeared strange to people. But I had the most glorious experience to hear the
same person playing sursringar to
himself in Maihar with all the serenity and calm of mind. I still remember that
after a couple of minutes it seemed too much for me. The emotional appeal was
so tremendous that my entire being was gone to pieces, senses suspended and it
was a trance all over. Anyone who heard him there could realize how great a
Naad (Sound) Yogi he was.

My Maestro, As I Saw Him, by Nikhil Banerjee

In an interview with Shobhana Sen for Desh
magazine[11] during the 1956 All-India
Music Conference at Delhi,
Dr Khan was responding to a complaint from a companion who was with Sen at the
time. The man claimed that, in spite of his best efforts, he could not make
good progress in music. Dr Khan’s response to this gentleman indicates the totally
spiritual approach that he had towards his music.

“It requires great sacrifice
allied with high pitch of concentration of mind and body. The ragas originated
from God. Success in music can only be achieved by His kind grace. It should be
looked upon and pursued with clear conception with a new perception of mind. If
the tune is genuine, it can melt the heart of a man and that of an animal as
well. May it be whatever it is; it surely has a dynamic potentiality in it. When
I play on, I concentrate myself to the extent that I gradually forget the time,
place, environment and finally my own identity in order to worship that
omnipresent God in me. With the rhythm of my tune, I aspire to attain a state
of oneness with God.”

[11] Shobhana Sen is an artist from West Bengal
– interview published in Bengali magazine, Desh,
on 27th October, 1956.


Guru-shishya parampara and gurukul

Gu means “darkness” and ru means “remover”. Guru literally means “remover of
darkness” or, in plain language, someone who enlightens us. Shishya means “pupil, scholar or
disciple”. Parampara means “transmission
from one to another”. Guru-shishya
is a tradition of spiritual and practical mentoring where knowledge
is passed from guru (teacher) to shishya (disciple). Such knowledge,
whether it be vedic, agamic, artistic, architectural, musical or spiritual, is imparted through the developing relationship between the teacher and the disciple. Kul means “house, home, household,
dynasty or clan”. The word gurukul
simply means guru’s home.

Information sourced 1st
February, 2010, at




The guru-shishya parampara
tradition is particularly relevant to the music dynasties of India. Many Indian musicians
learned and developed their skills in established music families—which
emphasizes the idea of music as a way of life. However, in many cases, this
tradition encouraged an attitude of “protecting family business” by
not giving access to outsiders. Dr Khan ignored this principle and, in doing so,
made a unique contribution to Indian classical music by training musicians who
might otherwise never have had access to music knowledge, because they did not
belong to a music family. Distinguished vocalist and musicologist Professor R.
C. Mehta, in one of his essays on Indian classical music, described the Hindustani classical music system of guru–shishya parampara as follows.

On the whole, Hindustani classical music has been
assiduously preserved and orally transmitted through the ages under the
traditional system of guru–śi
ya (ustād–murīd, teacher–pupil) of śikā paramparā (transmission of instruction). This
tradition of sīnā ba-sīnā tā’līm—face to face (lit., breast to breast)
instruction—has generally been the exclusive preserve of the male members of
musicians’ families.

Classical Music and Gharana Tradition
, by R. C. Mehta, page 126

Mehta also argued that this inclination to keep traditional music knowledge
within the family has greatly damaged Indian
music culture.

The traditional text has done immense good and also immense harm. Good they have done in
preserving our rāgas and gāyakis too. But there is the other
side. The texts have been so much sanctified that the zealous musician has
mostly clung to them for the survival of himself and his family. It means to
him his livelihood; so much so that he puts a price on the cījas he has
learnt. It is to him like a magic trick or jādī-būtī formula, to be
divulged to his kith and kin only. Over reliance on the traditional cīja
has resulted in the loss of many cījas and also rāgas.

Classical Music and Gharana Tradition
, by R. C. Mehta, pages

Dr Khan
was not solely a musician by family tradition—his main learning came after he
had left the family home—and he never allowed the “family members
only” tradition to influence his student-selection process.

father and brother were highly accomplished musicians but in a strictly
non-professional sense—for them, music was a personal form of expression and
something reserved for family and friends. However, Allauddin broke this family
tendency of non-professional performance by training his own children and
grandchildren (and many other future masters) as professional musicians at his gurukul in Maihar.

course, there was never any question of monetary payment to the master under
the guru–shishya parampara system.
The only thing the disciple had to offer the guru was unconditional love, service, and devotion to learning; and
the guru generally rewarded the
sincerity of the disciple with love, skill and wisdom. It is well documented
that Allauddin Khan did not seek monetary reward from his disciples—thus indicating
his deep understanding of this great tradition. Importantly, he appeared to
recognise very early in his life that music was a way to self-realisation for
the musician and not simply a means for providing entertainment and creating
personal wealth.


by former disciples inform us that Dr Allauddin Khan was the ultimate teacher
who possessed all the requirements for transforming his students into the
highly esteemed musicians they later turned out to be. Many former disciples
have said that he had a “Midas touch” about him, turning everything
into gold. Pundit Nikhil Banerjee
praised his guru as an
“institution” in the following excerpt from his much publicised

To my mind, Baba Allauddin Khan Sahib
was more of an institution than only a musician. While staying at Maihar,
Baba gave us a life-style very much like that of
an Ashram or hermitage. As a person, he was simple, unassuming and completely
devoid of egoism. He lived a life with the minimum of necessities and always
helped himself to the best of his physical abilities. He washed his own clothes
every day. He had a strong aversion towards any kind of luxury which, he
believed, could only make a man materialistic and pleasure-loving and not
idealistic and sensitive.

My Maestro, As I Saw Him, by Nikhil Banerjee

and practical training methods

There can be various reasons why a person might wish
to become a musician; some simply seek personal pleasure and some pursue fame
and monetary gain, while others do it purely in a spirit of devotional service.
It is
well documented that Dr Khan
was a spiritually inspired musician, with his over-riding desire being to
connect with God through music—he never sought money, material gain or praise
for his efforts. He also strongly advised his disciples to pursue the same path,
and the following extract from Jotin Bhattacharya’s biography illustrates his

A superhuman power lies dormant in every human being which
has got to be inspired and aroused to enjoy the
exalted feeling of oneness with God by developing
any one of his or her creative faculties, may it be spiritual, musical or
poetical. In this process a heavenly state is realised. It is a state of temporary
mental alienation, known as ecstasy, when one loses one’s physical identity and
enjoys eternal bliss of communion with God. Utter purity of body, extreme
simplicity of mind and utmost sanctity of soul in addition to a high level of
musical attainment can lead one to a state of ecstasy which is virtually

These are the reasons why Baba advised his disciples to regulate
their lives by the most tenacious pursuit of purity of body and mind in
addition to the single-minded sadhana.
He pleaded for svara-sadhana and
declared that with the best of his efforts, he could enjoy the eternal bliss
only on rare occasions in his life.

In the initial stage of his training to
the students, Baba used to train the students both in vocal and
instrumental music simultaneously. Along with svara-sadhana he continued the practice
of instrumental music for at least three years. He imparted sound knowledge of
palta, meend, gamak, bol, laritan, ekahara tan, sapat tan, jhala, krintan,
sparsha and murchhana to his trainees, because these are supposed to be the
foundation of svara-sadhana.

Allauddin Khan And His Music
, by Jotin Bhattacharya, page 130

Khan was a strict teacher who demanded the best from his students. He felt that
continual practice was the only way to succeed. During his training years, his own
self-imposed practice sessions could sometimes last up to 20 hours in a single day,
and he encouraged that kind of strict regime in many of his brightest
disciples, including his son Ali Akbar and son-in-law Ravi Shankar. One story
related by Pundit Ravi Shankar reveals that Baba was so obsessed with practice
that he would tie his hair to the ceiling by a cord, so that if he fell asleep
he would be awakened by the tugging on his hair.

Baba has always been a strict disciplinarian with his
students, but he had imposed upon
himself an even stricter code of conduct when he was
a young man, often practising sixteen to twenty hours a day, doing with very
little sleep, and getting along with a minimum of material things. Sometimes,
when he practised, he tied his long hair with heavy cord and attached an end of
the cord to a ring in the ceiling. Then, if he happened to doze while he
practised, as soon as his head nodded, a jerk on the cord would pull his hair
and awaken him. From early childhood, Baba was ready and determined to make any
sacrifice for music. Indeed, his entire life has been devoted to music.

Music, My Life
(1st Edition), by Ravi Shankar (1969), page 51

not only did Dr
believe in long hours of practice, he also believed in many years
of practice before a disciple was truly ready to perform at the highest
standard. One
of the best illustrations of his attitude regarding longer term practice is
contained in the words of his famous son, Ali Akbar Khan.

“My Father taught me that if you practice for ten years you may begin to
please yourself, after twenty years you may become a performer and please an
audience, after thirty years you may please even your guru, but you must
practice for many more years before you finally become a true artist – then you
may please even God.”

The Diaries of Baba Allauddin
Khan: A Film Script
, by Mary J. Khan


As one of Ustad Allauddin Khan’s most technically
accomplished sitar students, Pundit Ravi Shankar was in the ideal position to offer
an educated opinion on the teaching abilities of his former guru, and to shed some light on his practical
training methods. Ravi Shankar has successfully taught countless musicians on
the finer points of Indian music instrumentation, no doubt using knowledge he
gained from his guru; therefore, his
written observations are worth close examination.
The following excerpt (written while Dr Khan was still living) from Shankar’s
autobiography, My music, My Life, provides
insight to the practical training methods used by Dr Khan.

As a teacher, Baba aims at perfecting the hand and finger
technique of the student. No matter what instrument the student may choose,
Baba insists that the student who shows promise should also learn to sing the palta, sargams, and other song compositions, carefully delineating the
scope of the raga and its distinctive
notes and phrases and correctly using the microtones, or shrutis, to give the
proper effect to the music and make it come alive. The reason for this is, of
course, that the basis of our music is vocal, and it is composed primarily of
melody, of embellishment, and of rhythm; any melodic phrase, with or without a
definite rhythm, that can be sung can also be played on an instrument, with
each instrument’s own features bringing a special quality to the sound.

According to our tradition, even the
instrumentalists are required to have a moderate command of the voice. This
makes it easier for them when they take on the role of teacher to instruct
their students, merely by singing the gats,
or tans, or todas, or even the alap, jor, and jhala. Along with the ability to sing the melodies, Baba recommends
that his students learn to play the tabla
and acquire a good knowledge of taladhaya

In mastering the fundamentals, the student learns all the
technique of properly handling the instrument of his choice, working in the
particular idiom, tonal range, and musical scope of a given instrument by
practicing scales, palta, sargams, and bols taught by the guru.
Generally, Baba starts with basic ragas like Kalyan for the evening and Bhairav
for the morning, first giving, many pieces of “fixed music” in the
form of gats, tans, or todas based on
the raga. By “fixed music”
I do not mean music that is written down as it is in the West; rather, I am
referring to what we call bandishes, which literally means “bound
down”, but in this context means “fixed”.

These are vocal or instrumental pieces, either traditional
compositions or the teacher’s own, that students learn and memorize by playing
over hundreds, even thousands of times, to be able to produce the correct,
clear sound, intonation, and phrasing. Thus, Baba lays a solid foundation for
the student to know the sanctified framework of the ragas and talas … … … etc, etc.

Music, My Life
(1st Edition), by Ravi Shankar (1969),
pages 56–57

and influential students

Dr Allauddin Khan had countless disciples, many of whom
went on to become great musicians and teachers in their own right. The
following information on his most significant and influential students
illustrates the major role he played in developing and propagating Hindustani music in the modern era, both
in India and abroad.

Annapurna Devi (surbahar)

Born as Roshan Ara Khan in 1926 at
Maihar in Madhya Pradesh, India, Annapurna Devi is the only recognised
female Surbahar maestro in Indian
classical music. Though her father praised her as the best and most pure of his
students, Annapurna Devi never took up music as a professional performer and
never made any commercial recordings of her music. In spite of this, she gained
a huge following and won the hearts and minds of classical music critics and
devotees throughout India.

Going by the accounts of Jotin Bhattacharya and Swapan
Kumar Bondyopadhyay
, Annapurna gave
very few public performances. Her first performance was reportedly at a private
audience before the Maharajah of Maihar, which was also attended by her father,
Dr Khan. Bhattacharya wrote about the Maharajah’s reaction to her playing as

When she was at her
best, he was inspired and tears of joy trickled out of his eyes in spite of the
fact that he was critical in musical appreciation. He [the Maharajah] remarked
that he was more or less hypnotised by her performance, which was indescribable.

Allauddin Khan And His Music
, by Jotin Bhattacharya,
page 75

Annapurna‘s authorised
biographer, Swapan Kumar Bondyopadhyay, confirmed that her first public performance
was before the Maharajah of Maihar, and he also noted five occasions when she
performed in jugalbandi (duet) with her husband Ravi Shankar, including two at the
Constitution Club of New Delhi
. In 1956, she also performed at the opening
ceremony of the Ali Akbar College of
in Calcutta and, finally, at the Suburban Music Circle
in Santa Cruz, Bombay, sometime after 1956. By all accounts,
nobody has ever heard her play in public since that time.

As a teacher, Annapurna Devi carried forward the
unadulterated Senia-Maihar Parampara
and has trained many famous students, including
late sitar maestro Pundit Nikhil Banerjee, sarod maestro Ustad Aashish Khan and world-renowned
flautist Hariprasad Chaurasia. In 1998, in an article titled “Annapurna” published in the magazine Women & Home, it was reported by
Mohan Nadkarni that Annapurna Devi claimed Indian musicians today are mediocre,
and she intimated that few of them have what it takes to make very good
teachers. In the follow excerpt, Nadkarni also provided a list of some of her
distinguished disciples plus her awards and some activities.

“Unfortunately, most of our
musicians are mediocre; artistes anxious to make a dash to the stage before
they have even learned to crawl…

While the earlier Ustads and Pundits were tight-fisted in the
dissemination of their vidya, today there are not many gurus left to hand it
down. Admittedly, we still have some very good ‘concert artistes’, but most of
them are either too busy or not erudite enough to create a proper parampara.
The result is that many so-called artistes (including some of our most popular
ones) are projecting before the audience distorted or even vulgar images of an
art which is infinitely noble; an art which has the power to lead you into a
trance onto the shores of tranquility.”

Annapurna Devi has reared an impressive array of shishya parampara. The
line-up includes, besides those mentioned earlier, Shashwati Ghosh, Amit Hiren
Roy, Sudhir Phadke, Daniel Bradley, Peter Van Gelder, Sandhya Apte, Headset
Desai, Rooshikumar Pandya and Prabha Agarwal, all sitarists; Bahadur Khan,
Jyotin Bhattacharya, Uma Guha, Basant Kabra, Pradeep Barot, Stuti Dey, and Suresh
Vyas, among sarodists; and Nityanand Haldipur and Milind Sheorey, among flautists.

Even though she has
remained aloof from the world of concert music, Annapurna Devi’s greatness as
an erudite guru has been mercifully recognised and appreciated at the official
level. She has been a recipient of the Sangeet Natak Akademi award (1991),
Padma Bhushan (1977), and Sharngadev Fellowship of Sur singar Samsad (1988).
She has served as professor of music at the NCPA since its inception, till 1983 and presently is
the guiding spirit behind the activities of Acharya Allauddin Music Circle in Mumbai.”

“Annapurna”, by Mohan D. Nadkarni — Published in Woman & Home,
January 9, 1998.

Sourced 25th October,
2009, at http://www.kamat.com/database/articles/annapurna_devi.htm

In terms of her musicianship, Annapurna was ranked the highest of all Dr Khan’s
illustrious disciples by many who heard her play. This included her father, who
reportedly once made the following statement to her.

I want to teach my Guru’s vidya
to you because you have no greed. To learn you need to have infinite patience and a calm mind. I
feel that you can preserve my Guru’s gift because you love music.

An Unheard Melody: Annapurna Devi,
by Swapan Bondyopadhyay, page 17

It was reportedly said by renowned vocalist Amir Khan that Annapurna Devi displayed
the best of Dr Khan’s teachings. Though she has always rejected such
comparisons, she apparently has reservations about the dilution of her father’s
music by even his best disciples. According to her biographer, Swapan Kumar Bondyopadhyay, Annapurna finds the music of today far removed from the
purest form taught by her father and feels that audiences have been misled in
their understanding of classical music.

It was reportedly said [by Amir Khan] that in her music there was eighty
percent Baba Allauddin Khan, while Ali Akbar Khan had seventy percent and Ravi
Shankar had about forty percent. Annapurna may have never wanted to comment on such
comparisons as she found them unjust, and they have never made any difference
to her. But there is little doubt that in her own determined fashion she has
promoted the pure and true talim of her father, Baba Allauddin Khan.
She now says that she found it unfortunate that even
his front-ranking disciples have diluted his teachings.

“The music you hear today – especially instrumental music – is
miles from its purest form. It is regrettable that the taste of the listeners
has also been forced to change. Naturally, if I played today, most people might
think I am too slow, or even boring.”

An Unheard Melody: Annapurna Devi,
by Swapan Bondyopadhyay, page 53

As a female musician learning in a mostly male
domain, Annapurna Devi developed strong and inspiring views on the ability of women
to find their place in the world of music, and in any other field of endeavour.
Prior to marriage, she had enjoyed the same basic freedoms as her brother, Ali
Akbar, but this soon changed when household duties and child-rearing entered
her world. She found that time for practice was inhibited, and other constraints
of marriage were a great hindrance to progress. In his biography, Swapan Kumar
Bondyopadhyay recorded her views on this subject, which carry a powerful and
inspiring message for the women of India as well as a cautionary note about
jealousy for their husbands.

Annapurna had discovered the trials of learning music early in life: “I believe that learning music is an extremely demanding task that requires
time, commitment and continuous effort. I have observed that in our society, as
long as a woman is not married, she may be able to give what it takes to
continue her rigorous riyaz. I don’t think there are any physical limitations
that come in the way of a woman mastering an instrument. All she needs is a
burning desire, a right guru, discipline and determination.”

Looking back at those difficult years, Annapurna
says: “I strongly believe that women
are as capable as men. I am very happy that in India more and more women are
realising their potential, asserting themselves and making their presence felt
in various spheres of life. I have great respect for women who stand up for
what they believe in and fight for the cause of women against all odds. I do
not agree that for women career and marriage do not go together. If there is a
mutual respect and understanding between the husband and wife and if there is
an absence of jealousy, both can build their own careers and still be happily

An Unheard Melody: Annapurna
, by Swapan Bondyopadhyay, pages 20–21

Annapurnaji was undoubtedly the darling child of
her father and she imbibed not only his music but also his life philosophy. In
reply to a question put to her by an interviewer some years ago, she reportedly
cited the reasons for choosing a life of self-denial as follows.

“It was during my years of studentship that my father would
repeatedly tell me that my music should not be treated as a product for public
display. It was a means of achieving one’s own fulfilment, which should lead to
one’s own development as a human being.”

For very good reasons, Annapurnaji Devi is described
as the very embodiment of Allauddin Khan’s pure and deep devotion to his music.
She is rightly hailed as the ultimate reference point to the musical ideology
of Allauddin Khan. It is only in her that the quintessence of the Maihar parampar
is preserved.

Sourced 10th
October, 2009, at http://www.kamat.com/database/articles/annapurna_devi.htm

Other significant disciples of Dr Khan included in this section of the book are:

Ali Akbar Khan (sarode), Ravi Shankar (sitar), Nikhil Banerjee (sitar), Timir Baran Bhattacharya (sarode), Jotin Bhattacharya (sarode), Sharan Rani (sarode), Bahadur Khan (sarode), Vasant Rai (sarode), Rabin Ghosh (violin), Pannalal Ghosh (bansuri), Vishnu Govind Jog (violin), and Aashish Khan (sarode).

Chapter Five: Conclusion

Dr (Baba) Allauddin Khan’s unique contribution to Hindustani classical music came through
his deep understanding of music, his musical virtuosity, his many raga compositions, his invention and
application of music notation, his cross-breeding of instrument function, his
instrument-making skills and, most significantly, his teaching methods and philosophy.
However, all of these fine attributes were second-place to his dedication to
achieving oneness with God through music.

This combination of qualities in Dr Khan produced so
many maestros who, through their own performances and teachings, guaranteed the
survival of Hindustani music, thus
demonstrating Dr Khan’s profound influence. As Rajeev Taranath said in his
interview for Musical Life – Little India,
“Allauddin Khan was the fountain from where all the streams of talent
emerged, and Baba taught every instrument on the planet… he created great
musicians in every genre”.

No doubt, Dr Khan was responsible for the musical
development of many of the great musicians now performing Indian music around
the globe. He started his own quest to become a musician at such an early age,
running away from home as a mere child to pursue his dream. He travelled widely
in search of teachers and endured every conceivable setback, overcoming all
kinds of obstacles during his early years.

He learned from every possible teacher, beginning with
his father and brother, and their teachers, sadhus, temple singers, street
musicians, and later in life, some of India’s finest masters. He never shied
away from difficulty nor weakened in his resolve; and as a result of his intense
learning, was able to impart an incredible body of knowledge and understanding
to his disciples over a period of more than fifty years. Like no other teacher
before him, Dr Khan’s legacy of musical artists is seemingly inexhaustible—it
includes his own students and students of his students—with such great names as
the following.

Devi (surbahar), Ali Akbar Khan (sarod), Ravi Shankar (sitar), Nikhil Banerjee
(sitar), Bismillah Khan (shenai), Jotin Bhattacharya (sarod), Rajeev Taranath
(sarod), Joyas Biswas (sitar), Philip Glass (pianist & composer), Yehudi
Menuhin (violin), David Murphy (conductor), Ayet Ali Khan (sarod), Timir Baran Bhattacharya
(sarod), Rabin Ghosh (violin), Shyam Ganguly (sarod), Vasant Rai (sarod),
Khadem Khan, Mir Kashem Khan, Bahadur Khan (sarod), Yar Rasul Khan, Projesh
Banerjee (sarod), Sipra Banerjee (sarod), Suprabhat Pal (sarod), Sharan Rani
(sarod), Panna Lal Ghosh (flute), Ram Ganguly (sitar), Sripada Bandyopadhyaya
(sitar), Rebati Ranjan Debnath (sitar), Mrs Sheela Bharatram (sitar), Idri
Singh (sitar), Jitendra Pratap Singh (sitar), Arun Bharatram (sitar), Mrs
Swarnalata Chopra (sitar), Naidu (violin), Roshan (violin), Jatindra Nath
Banerjee (violin), Ram Pyro (harmonium), Ghurrey Maharaj (dhrupad), Gulgul
Maharaj (harmonium), Vinay Bharatram (dhrupad), Aashish Khan (sarod), Dyanesh
Khan (sarod), Khurshid Khan, Shubendra Shankar (sitar), Indraneel Bhattacharya
(sitar), Sanat Banerji (sarod), C. L. Das (sarod), Ranjit Banerjee (chandra
sarang), Dyuti Kishore Acharya (sitar), Balai Banerjee (sitar), Bibek Ranjan
Singha (sitar), Nirmal Kumar Roy Choudhury (sitar), Hiren Mukherjee (sitar),
Basantrai Brahmabhatt (sarod), Pratima Roy Choudhury (sitar), Pranesh Khan,
Vishwa Mohan Bhatt (Mohan veena, Indian slide guitar), Krishna Bhatt (sitar
& tabla), Salil Bhatt, Brijbhushan Kabra, Satyadev Pawar, Vinay Bharat Ram,
Vishnu Govind Jog (violin), Ameena Perera, Hariprasad Chaurasia (flute),
Debasis Chakraborty (Indian slide guitar), Debi Prasad Chatterjee (sitar),
Nityanand Haldipur (flute), Sudhir Phadke (sitar), Pradeep Barot
(sarod), Basant Kabra (sarod), Kokila Rai (surbahar), Chandrakant Sardeshmukh
(sitar), Shashwati Ghosh (sitar), Amit Hiren
Roy (sitar), Daniel Bradley (sitar), Peter Van Gelder (sitar), George Harrison
(sitar), Sandhya Apte (sitar), Headset Desai (sitar), Rooshikumar Pandya
(sitar), Prabha Agarwal (sitar), Uma Guha (sarod), Stuti Dey (sarod), Suresh
Vyas (sarod), Milind Sheorey (flute), Anupam Shobhakar, Rick Henderson,
Siddhartha Banerjee, Debanjan Bhattacharjee, Aditya Verma (sarod), Ranajit
Sengupta (sarod), Amelia Maciszewski, Dishari Chakraborty (santoor), Rishi
Ranjan, Amitava Majumdar (sarod), Prasenjit Sengupta (sarod), Somabanti Basu
(sarod), Joydeep Mukerjee (sarod), Dr Seema Ganatra (sitar), Satyam Rai
(sarod), Mallar Bhattacharya (sarod), Tarun Bhattacharya (santoor), Samaresh Chawdhury (vocals), Bikram Ghosh (tabla), Kartick Kumar (sitar), Paul Livingstone (sitar), Ronu Majumdar
(flute), Gaurav Mazumdar (sitar), Udai Mazumdar (tabla), Manju Mehta
(sitar), Ramesh Misra (sarangi), Barunkumar Pal (Hamsa veena), Barry Phillips
(cello), T. Radhakrishna (sitar), Shubendra Rao (sitar), Kartik Seshadri
(sitar), Daya Shankar (shehnai), Stephen Slawek (sitar), Aditya Verma (sarod), Shiv Balak
Tiwari, Som Kartik Sharma, Shyam Bihari, and so many more.

Source: The above substantial but otherwise incomplete
list of musicians of the Allauddin
Senia–Maihar Gharana
was compiled from various sources, including the
biographies of Jotin Bhattacharya, Sahana Gupta, and Swapan Bondyopadhyay


would agree that Mian Tansen was the central figure in the formation of the
gharanas of Hindustani classical music. However, when it comes to establishing
who the most influential figure was in the transformation, revival and
subsequent survival of Hindustani
classical music, it is difficult to ignore the life and work of Dr (Baba)
Allauddin Khan. These two great masters, Tansen and Allauddin Khan, were from
completely different eras in music development. Tansen flourished during a time
when Indian music was largely the domain of the ruling classes and, as such,
relied on them solely for sponsorship. There was no serious competition from
other forms of music to threaten the musicians’ survival during this time. It
was largely a formative period for
classical music, and it was mostly performed before elite audiences.

Khan, on the other hand, lived during a completely different period, when the
power of the ruling classes was in decline and Hindustani classical music found itself in a transition period and
on a distinct downward slide—without the sponsorship it had previously enjoyed,
it was in great danger of falling into obscurity. The world had changed
dramatically and everything suddenly came into the public domain, where there
was great competition from other musical genres and artistic endeavours. Leading
musicologist of the time, Pt Vishnu Narayan wrote in 1920 about his grave
concern for the decline of Hindustani
classical music in a letter to a friend.

Nobody appreciates its great utility.
People will certainly repent one day. The next decade will kill most of the leading
musicians and scholars.

Two Men and Music: Nationalism
in the Making of an Indian Classical Tradition
, by Janaki Bakhle

seems reasonable to assume that if Indian classical music had not regained
popularity with the general public, it could not have survived—and this is
where Dr Khan’s contribution is so unique. It is in this sense that the author
argues that Dr Khan was the most influential musician in the history of Hindustani classical music. There is no
intention by the author to compare Mian Tansen with Dr Khan because their
individual contributions, though equally impressive, were of different kinds.
However, it is difficult to resist quoting Jotin Bhattacharya, who listed the
similarities between the two great masters in a short chapter in the closing
pages of his biography on Baba Khan.

Tansen was born a Hindu, Allauddin Khan had Hindu heritage.

Both were born and nurtured in the musical environment.

Both had deep aesthetic sense and sharp memory.

Both were highly spiritual and equally emotional.

Both had intense creative faculty in the musical sphere.

Both enjoyed experience of ecstasy through the medium of music.

Both had training from renowned State musicians.

Both were State musicians themselves.

Both were undisputed masters of music of their ages.

10. Both were held in the
highest of estimation by the society.

11. Both had imposing

12. Both had two wives[12].

13. Both had four living

14. Both had talented and
reputed heirs.

15. Both had majority
compositions with Hindu themes and some small number dedicated to Islamic

16. Each had a talented
daughter who carried forward his mission.

17. In both cases, the ages
were controversial.

Allauddin Khan And His Music
, by Jotin Bhattacharya, page 227

other men who played a vital role in reinvigorating and restoring Indian
classical music to its rightful place within Indian culture are Pundit Vishnu Narayan
and Pundit Vishnu Digambar Paluskar[14].
However, without the massive input by Allauddin Khan, especially in reforming
the guru-shishya parampara tradition,
and producing so many maestros to play the music and present it to the world,
the achievements of the other two may have proved fruitless in the longer term.

[12] Allauddin Khan’s eldest brother, Samsuddin, got him married a
second time in retaliation for a perceived insult from the family of
Allauddin’s first wife, Madan Manjari. Unfortunately, the second wife expired
during her second delivery, and neither of her two children survived.

Source: Ustad
Allauddin Khan And His Music
, by Jotin Bhattacharya, page 40.

[13] Pandit Vishnu Narayan
Bhatkhande (August 10,
1860September 19, 1936) was an Indian classical musician
widely acclaimed for causing a renaissance in Indian music –


[14] Pandit Vishnu Digambar Paluskar
(August 18, 1872 – August 21, 1931) is seen as the musician who brought respect
to the profession of classical musicians and took Hindustani classical music out from the traditional Gharana
system to the masses of India



(Baba) Allauddin Khan breathed his last in 1972 – the end of a
legendary era in Maihar. In the concluding paragraph to his famous essay, Nikhil
Banerjee recalls the final procession.

There was a very old temple on top of a hill at Maihar known as the temple of Saradamai. Pilgrims came there from far
and near and surprisingly enough they would come to see Baba straight from the
temple. To the poor common people of Madhya Pradesh who knew nothing about
music, Baba Allauddin Khan Sahib was a sort of Sadhu—a noble soul. People of
Maihar loved and honored him like anything excepting the Muslim community, who
did not quite approve of his liberal views on religion. After his death they at
first refused to carry him for burial. There was a storm of controversy. But at
the end we saw that the burial procession was being attended by the Hindus and
Muslims alike and even the chief priest of the temple of Saradamai
joined. It was a marvellous spectacle!

Baba can be compared to Sant Kabir whom both the Hindus and Muslims
claimed to have belonged to their community. I would rather say that like Sant
Kabir he was far above these social distinctions. He was a great Naad Yogi.

My Maestro, As I Saw Him, by Nikhil Banerjee

With the greatest respect for all
Indian musicians past and present, the author believes this thesis convincingly
authenticates the assertion that Dr (Baba) Allauddin Khan was the most
influential figure in the history of North Indian (Hindustani) classical music. He stands alone as the “jewel in the crown” of Indian
music culture. And the author is not
convinced that enough has been done to recognise Dr Khan’s
critical and unequalled contribution
to the preservation, propagation and refinement of the genre. Through a lifetime of dedication and selfless
service, he has single-handedly given the Indian nation something unique to proclaim
to the world: Music as a pathway to spiritual awakening, for artist and
listener alike.

At the very least, it
would be a fitting tribute to this finest of India’s music maestros to
establish a permanent living memorial in his honour—not to glorify him, because
glory was never his pursuit—to advance his crusade for spiritual awakening
through musical expression, before it gets crushed beyond recognition beneath
the stampede for self-gratification that is fast encroaching on his legacy. In 1978,
while writing the Finale to his authorised biography, Jotin Bhattacharya made the
following “earnest appeal to music-lovers” to pursue such a concept.

In this concluding statement of my book I wish to make an earnest appeal
to music-lovers to pool their resources and establish a full-fledged research
centre at Maihar which should blossom into a holy city of music, where pilgrims
from every corner of the world will assemble in search of the most unattainable
and yet the most covetable oneness with the Infinite, though fleetingly, and
evolve a new ‘philharmonic’ movement in world music.

Let that Madina Bhawan form a nucleus of a new renaissance in world
music. Let there be research and innovation carried out by scholars from all
over the world. Let the centre be equipped with the most sophisticated electronic
and other appliances that can convert sound into light and other forms. So that
the basic principle of Nada that is
supposed to be at the root of all Creation—the wave theory—will have further
corroboration in music.

Let the most perfect science and the most perfect art [music] form a
sacred confluence at that sacred place where once that rishi worshipped Ma Sharada.

Allauddin Khan And His Music
, by Jotin Bhattacharya, page 232

Regrettably, more
than 30 years later, the author has found no convincing evidence of this noble suggestion ever
having been taken seriously—not by members of Dr Khan’s family, nor by those in a position
of political and economic power. While the former gurukul at Maihar lies stagnating as a museum, the opportunity for
creating a vibrant research centre is in danger of being lost forever. Apart
from putting up a few statues, the establishment of a few music societies, and annual granting of awards
and scholarships by some music colleges and universities, nothing substantial
has been done within India
to perpetuate Dr Khan’s campaign for spiritual awakening through music. The author
is compelled to ask: Where is the sponsorship for such a worthy concept?

Dr Khan’s
beloved guru, Ustad Wazir Khan, once
said about his favourite disciple’s music:

“So long as the sun and moon will exist, his music will

Allauddin Khan And His Music
, by Jotin Bhattacharya, page 77

What a tragic loss to Indian music
culture if those words are proven to be wrong!


At the time of the author’s first interview for
this thesis, one examiner posed the question: Why did you choose this topic for
your thesis when everybody already knows it to be true? This incident and
others like it have caused the author to conclude that many academics and music
lovers sincerely believe that everyone knows all about Baba Allauddin Khan; however,
this viewpoint simply does not stand up against the evidence. During the course
of conducting this research, the following question was asked of many sincere young
music students and music lovers: What do you know about Baba Allauddin Khan and
his musical legacy? The response was invariably a blank look, followed by the
question: “Who?”

Quite apart from the relatively mundane areas
where Baba Allauddin Khan has not received appropriate recognition, such as
those mentioned in the introduction to this thesis, the real issue at stake is
the lack of appreciation and proper understanding of his approach to music as a
pathway to spiritual enlightenment. Throughout the research process, it became apparent
to the author that many musicians and music scholars alike quite innocently
believe they know a lot about the life and music of Baba Allauddin Khan—however,
when questioned further, their forthcoming responses have been lacking in
accuracy and proper understanding. Apart from quoting the easily refuted claim
that he lived to the age of 110 years, almost everyone cites Ravi Shankar and
Ali Akbar Khan as being Baba’s most successful disciples in sustaining his

However, many observers fail to realise that while
these musicians, and others like them, have certainly been successful in
projecting Indian music onto the world stage, they have not followed the strict
guidelines set down by their esteemed guru.
It is not unreasonable to suggest that their music has been designed to appeal
to the emotions of the listener; and that by presenting the music in this way
these musicians have set the stage for mediocrity well into the future—at least
in terms of the purest form of Hindustani
classical music espoused by Dr Khan. This is not to suggest that their music is
not highly sophisticated and extremely attractive; it is just that it is
designed to excite the listener and, thus, it glorifies the musician.

Perhaps the fault does not lie with these
musicians alone for this unfortunate outcome. After all, the audiences they
first encountered in the West for the most part had no idea of the subtle
nuances of Indian classical music, nor were they aware of the technical intricacies
of the raga. To them, the music must
have represented a totally new and, above all, exciting experience, which lit a
flame of curiosity about Indian music across the Western world.

It is also reasonable to suggest that the most
of the Indian music being played on the world stage today has been thoroughly
westernised, and is being “marketed” in much the same way as popular
music in the West… … … etc, etc.

Following are some sample photographs taken from various sections of this book

Below: The author arriving at the tombs of Ghosh and Tansen in Gwalior

Below: The tomb of Mian Tansen at Gwalior

Below: The tomb site of Dr Khan and his wife, Shrimati Madina Khatun, at the former Gurukul in Maihar

Below left: The tomb of the grand master, Dr (Baba) Allauddin Khan

Below right: The author playing sitar at the tomb of Dr Khan