Ustad Vilayat Husain Khan, the Agra gharana stalwart, taught a number of stellar names in Hindustani music. His 50th death anniversary was observed fittingly with concerts in New Delhi recently

During the first half of the 20th Century, the Agra gharana was a major presence in the Hindustani classical music scene as it had produced quite a few luminaries of whom Faiyaz Husain Khan, hailed as Aftab-i-Mausiqi (Sun of Music) by one and all, was the brightest star. While he reigned supreme as a star performer, his cousin Vilayat Husain Khan came to be widely regarded as the Acharya of the gharana. He was a veritable repository of the gharana’s musical wealth and had earned an enviable reputation as a vaggeykar (a master musician-composer).

The Agra gharana traces its antecedents to Haji Sujan Khan whose family was primarily that of Dhrupad singers. Two brothers — Shyamrang and Sarasrang — emerged as well-known practitioners of Dhrupad but the tilt towards Khayal occurred with Shyamrang’s younger son Ghagge Khudabakhsh who was born circa 1800. His eldest son Ghulam Abbas Khan, who was born some time between 1818 and 1820 and died in 1932, was the maternal grandfather of Faiyaz Husain Khan and grand uncle of Vilayat Husain Khan. He lived a long life and not only did he train many eminent singers but also supervised the training of many others belonging to at least two generations. Such were his exacting standards that when his grandson Faiyaz Khan was at the pinnacle of his glory, Ghulam Abbas Khan’s only appreciative remark was: “Haan, ladka ab kuchh-kuchh gaane laga hai” (Yes, the boy has started singing a little). Like all the other children in the family, Vilayat Husain Khan also received instruction from him.

Born in 1895, Vilayat Husain Khan emerged as a competent singer, a great teacher and a versatile composer. As his father Natthan Khan, himself a well-known singer, died when he was only six years old, his training took place under the guidance of several elders of the gharana. Those familiar with the world of Hindustani classical music know very well that this is a world where myths and fables are accepted as history and where many musicians do not acknowledge those from whom they have learnt while claiming discipleship of those who never taught them.

However, there are exceptions like Vilayat Husain Khan who acknowledged in writing that he had learnt from as many as 42 gurus. Such was his humility that he has mentioned the names of even those — for example, Rampur’s Fida Husain Khan whose son Nisar Husain Khan was one of the foremost Khayal and tarana singers of the 20th Century — who taught him only one cheez (composition). Listed among these 42 gurus are such greats as Faiyaz Husain Khan, Alladiya Khan, Abdul Karim Khan, Bhaskarbua Bakhle and Mushtaq Husain Khan.

Vilayat Husain Khan too imparted his vast musical knowledge without hesitation to all those who sought it from him. Those who learnt from him included Mogubai Kurdikar, Durga Khote, Ram Marathe, Jagannathbua Purohit, Gajananrao Joshi, Menaka Shirodkar and former ruler of Jammu and Kashmir Dr. Karan Singh, who later became a union cabinet minister and ambassador and is currently ICCR president. The Ustad did not live long and died at the age of only 67 in 1962. His son Yunus Husain Khan emerged as an authentic torch bearer of the Agra gharana but he too passed away prematurely some years ago.

Ustad Yunus Husain Memorial Society recently organised a concert to commemorate the memory of Ustad Vilayat Husain Khan on his 50th death anniversary. Dr. Karan Singh inaugurated the concert that featured vocalist Yashpaul, a disciple of both Vilayat Husain Khan and Yunus Husain Khan, and sitar player Sharmishtha Ghosh. Fateh Muhammad Khan and Kamal Sabri provided accompaniment to Yashpaul on tabla and sarangi respectively while Subhash Nirvan accompanied Sharmishtha Ghosh on tabla.