Monday, August 19, 2013

Khansahib Abdul Karim Khan (1872-1937) - LP published in India in 1966

This LP is a collection of some of the 78rpm records by one of the greatest and most influential singers of last century. See below for his biography.

Ustad Abdul Karim Khan
by Smt. Susheela Misra
(From: "Great Masters of Hindustani Music" by Smt. Susheela Misra.)

In the early decades of this century, Khan Saheb Abdul Karim Khan dominated the world of Hindustani music for well over a generation, and he was a trend setter in this world in more than one sense. He created a new style or gharaana and gave an elan to the history of Hindustani music. He has been acclaimed as the "maestro who conceived, evolved, and popularised the Kirana gharana", and in fact, he changed the entire mood of Khayal and Thumri-singing. Dr. S.N. Ratanjankar wrote to me once about him: "In the late Ustad Abdul Karim Khan Saheb's sweet, tender, and tuneful voice, the Hindustani melodies appeared in a role and mood quite different from those in which they presented themselves in other voices...It was like a walk in a cool, moon-lit garden of sweet-smelling flowers that one felt when listening to the perfectly tuneful, and dreamy cadences of Khan Saheb's music One was lifted up into a dream land. The dream haunted the mind long after the music had ceased. The Khan Saheb never sang a raga, but was in holy communion with it. It was the very divine world, as it were, which made you forget the opposites, and led you to the perfect unity with the Supreme spirit".
Those who have been able to hear the Ustad's music only through his gramophone records, become aware of many shortcomings in his style such as the nasal twang in the voice produced through "a deliberately constricted throat", lack of bol-alaaps, bol-tans, rhythmic play, variety and grandeur. But, his contemporaries who had the good fortune to hear him in person were completely hypnotised by the sweetness of his music and his aesthetic emotion-filled rendering of ragas. Late Prof. D.P. Mukherji who was a reputed music connoisseur, wrote: "Abdul Karim Khan would invite us to enter into the sanctum of music where he was the high priest. He was not an orthodox singer. He would not even sing a composition through. His asthayi was not always true to form. He would make unexpected permutations and combinations. . . . . , But who cared when Abdul Karim Khan was on the dais ! This unorthodox man was a genius. ...Some of the finest exponents of Khayal today are either his pupils or his pupil`s pupils. "
His shishya-parampura includes a long array of celebrities such as Sawai Gandharva, Baharebuwa, Sureshbabu Mane, Balakrishnabuwa Kapileswari, Dasarathbuwa Muley, Roshanara Begum; Hirabai Barodekar and many others who in their turn, have groomed another generation of reputed singers like Bhimsen Joshi, Feroz Dastur,Gangubai Hangal, Manik Verma, Saraswati Rane, Prabha Atre and others.
Abdul Karim Khan was born in 1872 in Kirana near Kurukshetra in the Punjab. Subsequently the style or Gharana that he evolved was named after his birth place, Kiraana. In his perceptive book, "Indian Musical Traditions", Sri Vamanrao Deshpande rightly says that "each gharana has its origin in the distinctive quality of the voice of its founder and it is this quality which broadly determines his style." To this I would also add that the temperament of the founder also plays a considerable role in moulding the style of the gharana.
Abdul Karim Khan was perhaps the first North Indian musician to study Karnatic ragas and incorporate several of them into Hindustani music. His records of songs in "Kharaharapriya", "Saaweri", "Hamsadhwani", "Abhogi" etc. as well as his style of sargam-singing are proofs of his great admiration and love for Karnatic music. Perhaps no single classical musician in those days did so much for the promotion of mutual understanding between Hindustani and Karnatic music as the late Khan Saheb did. The greatest quality of his music was "emotion par excellence", and that was the reason why his classical music was able to move audiences everywhere, whether in the North or South of India. I know of many young men and women in South India who took to Hindustani music, charmed by the spell of Khan Saheb's music. The ecstatic tributes of a discerning western musician and critic after hearing the Ustad, prove how really exalted music overleaps all barriers and transports listeners into a transcendental world.
The critic writes: "I heard him melt half and quarter tones into one another with the effect of magic--- He was a conjurer of sounds...Who that has heard him can forget him. . . ! He not only sang sounds but he became every turn and twist in the song. The atmosphere became surcharged with a musical magic I have contacted nowhere else!".
The Kirana musical lineage came mostly from instrumentalists--chiefly Sarangiyas. After receiving his training from Kale Khan and Abdulla Khan, Khan Saheb went over to Baroda where he was appointed as a court-musician because of his great merit. After some years, he left Baroda for Bombay, and then went to Miraj. Wherever he went, his sweet voice and captivating style of singing won for him numerous admirers. From there, he proceeded to Hubli and Dharwar and stayed with his brother Abdul Haq. The two brothers often used to sing together. A notable pupil he acquired at this time was Rambhau or Sawai Gandharwa who later on, became one of his best disciples by sheer dint of practice. The Ustad was very punctilious about his early-morning daily practice, and Rambhau unfailingly practised with his conscientious guru every morning. A true "pilgrim of melody engaged in his eternal quest of swaras", Khan Saheb was constantly on the move. When he went to Patna, Roshanara's mother became his pupil.
In 1913 Abdul Karim Khan founded the Arya Sangeet Vidyalaya in Poona. It was a unique institution because the Ustad not only imparted whole-hearted musical training, but himself supported numerous poor and deserving students, took them on tours to give musical variety shows, and trained them up to play on various musical instruments. The ustad was an expert on many musical instruments, especially the Veena and the Sarangi. An expert in repairing musical instruments, he carried with him his set of tools for repairs everywhere because tuning the Tanpuras and perfecting their "Jawaaris" was almost an art in itself with him. The famous Sitar and Tanpura makers of Miraj revered him and looked up to his opinions for guidance.
A branch of this magnanimous institution was founded in Bombay in 1917, but it throve for only 2 or 3 years. When the School had to be closed down, Khan Saheb migrated to Miraj where he built a house of his own, and settled down at last. Though Miraj became the centre of his activities, he continued his musical tours all over the North and even into the far South. During his stay in Hyderabad and the Madras Presidency, his list of admirers and disciples in South India swelled and his popularity grew so much that whichever town he visited, people garlanded him and took him in a grand procession like a king. The ustad was greatly drawn to the music loving people of the South, and he was one of the early Hindustani musicians to kindle a great love for Hindustani music in the people of the South. He had, and still has, hundreds of admirers in the South. In spite of all the fame and adulation that he received, Abdul Karim Khan always lived frugally like a Sadhu, and like the Rishis of yore, Khan Saheb trained his disciples under the Gurukula system. He not only trained them thoroughly in music, but also bore the entire cost for feeding and clothing them out of his own earnings from concerts! Though a devout Muslim, and a devotee of Pir Sayyid Shamma Mira, a mystic saint (whose dargah is famous in Miraj), Khan Saheb was, like Kabir, a devout Hindu too, it is said. In his musical works he used to write '"OM TATSAT SAMAVEDAYA NAMAHA". Although born in a musical Muslim family (on 1lth Nov.1872), Abdul Karim took pride in his Hindu ancestors like Nayak DHONDU, a court-musician of Raja Man Singh of Gwalior (1486-1516 A.D). His first public concert was at the age of 11 (in 1893). Besides being such a great vocalist, Khan Saheb had also an amazing mastery over such varied instruments as Been, Sarangi, Jaltarang and Tabla. In Maharashtra great men like Lokamanya Tilak and Gopalakrishna Gokhale were drawn to his music. In the South, he became a favourite musician in the Mysore darbar, and his music was highly appreciated by great Karnatak musicians like Tiger Varadacharier, Muthiah Bhagawatar and Veena Dhanammal. He also created a stir by advancing the "Shruti Samvad" theory in collaboration with the British musicologist Mr. E. Clements, and is said to bave given a fine demonstration of 22 Shrutis (micro-tonal distances) with the help of 2 Veenas at a public function' presided over by Dr. C.V. Raman.
One of the most melodious classical musicians we have had, Abdul Karim Khan's music always created a sublime atmosphere. The soothing quality of his specially cultivated voice, and his reposeful style of singing were such that the singer as well as his listeners forgot themselves in a sort of "trance". Many of his musical heirs have surpassed him in technical virtuosity, but few have achieved "that degree of hypnotic effect" through music. Not only did he develop his own "Kirana" style of Khayal-badhut, but in his voice even the Thumri "shed its gossamer erotic undertones" and assumed instead "the character of a sad, pensive, and devout supplication". Many reputed musicians of today refer to Abdul Karim Khan Saheb as "Sachche swaron ke devata" (the master who sang perfect notes). He had cultivated a special way of voice production so that his sweet and melodious voice mingled indistinguishably with the drone of the Tanpura strings. This was acquired by him through years of strenuous "Mandra-sadhana", early morning practice for several hours in the lower notes. He stressed on voice culture in his pupils also; and even when he was at the zenith of fame, he never gave up this daily "mandra sadhana". Another outstanding quality of his music was its emotional element. Whatever he rendered, whether a Khayal, Thumri, Hori or Bhajan; the rendition "mirrored his whole inward being". While singing Khayals, he concentrated mostly on "ALAPI", and avoided "layakari", "boltans" etc, probably because he felt these might spoil the emotional atmosphere built up by him. Kans (grace-notes), and "gamakas" as in the Sarangi, and beautiful long unbroken "meends" (glides) as in the Veena, were some of the chief embellishments of his music. These and the emotion which he poured into his Thumris were so moving that often huge audiences wept when he sang some of his famous Thumris surcharged with feeling. The Gramaphone Company has done a great service by re-issuing many of his short items on a long-playing disc and striving to give us glimpses into his impassioned outpourings. Through these records of songs like "Jamuna ke Teer", "Piya Bina Nahi Awat Chain", "Gopala, Karuna kyon nahi--", "Piya ke milan ki aas" and "Naina raseeli", we can but have just flashes of those unforgettable hours a Khan Saheb Abdul Karim Khan transported his hypnotised audiences into a world of pure, sheer melody. On inspired days, he is said to have elaborated one Raga or a single Thumri for hours, and kept his audience spell-bound throughout. Being fond of Alap-ang, Abdul Karim Khan always preferred to sing expansive ragas like Lalit, Jaunpuri, Marwa, Malkauns, Todi, Darbari and so on. Among his chief disciples, Pdt. Balkrishnabuwa Kapileswari deserves special praise for running a school, "Shree Saraswati Sangeet Vidyalaya" carrying on the traditions of his great Ustad. In 1963 he published SHRUTIDARSHAN, a valuable research-work in music incorporating the findings of his guru and his own. The book won for him 2 important awards.
The traditions of generosity and hospitality that Abdul Karim Khan set up at the munificent annual "Urus" of Mirasaheb in Miraj (where he used to feed hundreds of fakirs and encourage musicians lavishly) have been kept up by his devoted widow BANUBAI, and disciples like Hirabai. Numerous were the poor music-students whom Khan Saheb had supported and trained in music. Another example of his generosity is that during his musical tours, he always took his accompanists also with him in the same compartment.
Although frail-looking, Khan Saheb maintained excellent health through regular exercises, disciplined habits, and frugal living. His photographs show him as a tall, slim person dressed immaculately in a black achkan, a cane in hand, a typical moustache and a red gold-bordered turban, and most striking of all, his dreamy eyes about which Mr K. Subbarayan narrates an interesting little anecdote in the Bhavan's Journal (1972):
Mystified by the dreamy eyes of the Khansaheb, Mrs Annie Besant had once discreetly enquired of a disciple whether the master was addicted to any drug. "Indeed", came the reply, "He is very much addicted to the intoxication of music!".
In 1937 Khan Saheb went down to South India to give music soirees in various parts of the Madras Presidency. A huge crowd of admirers saw him off at the Madras Station and nearly smothered him with garlands. He was on his way to Pondicherry with some friends. Feeling very unwell and restless, he detrained at one of the intermediate stations to take some rest. Before lying down, he sang his prayers set in Rag Darbari and then lay down to sleep for ever! It was a most unexpected end and yet so like this great and good artiste to round off his earthly existence with a tuneful bhajan! At the loving insistence of his admirers, his body was taken in a special car to Madras, and thence to Miraj, crowds paying their last homage to the departed singer through out the journey. At Miraj, Banubai gave him a magnificent funeral. Memorial programmes to this great musician are held every year in the month of August.

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