On a musical trip to Indore Gharana

Rama Sundar Ranganathan  

The gleaming full moon, the majestic ramparts of the Ahilya Fort, and the calm waters of the Narmada watched over as Rama Sundar Ranganathan gently unravelled the essence of the Indore Gharana at the Sacred River Festival in Maheshwar, Madhya Pradesh early this year. As swars and taans echoed through the long corridors of the fort’s courtyard, you realised that the magnificence of paramparik sangeet is best experienced not inside an air-conditioned auditorium but in heritage spaces.

After the concert, over a cosy dinner under a huge tree at Labboo’s cafe outside the gates of the Devi Ahilyabai Holkar Palace, there was an intense discussion among music lovers about Ustad Amir Khan, the founder of the Indore Gharana and his inimitable style. Some Indore residents rued that this path-breaking singer’s legacy had not been celebrated enough. “Though most musicians were influenced by his music’s charm and appeal, very few acknowledged it. His house in Indore should be turned into a memorial,” said one. “There should be a training academy dedicated to the gharana,” said another. “Nobody could stir the soul like him. We need to make the world more aware of his contributions,” they added. The concert not only kindled fond memories, it brought into focus the significance of traditional styles in preserving the identity of classical music, which is now often juxtaposed with diverse but sometimes unrelated genres.

Ustad Amir Khan

Ustad Amir Khan  

Ustad Amir Khan can be termed a karmavadi sangeetkar, who kept doing what he believed in, unafraid of reactions and remarks. He was said to be a man of few words, which reflected in his unhurried singing, almost lending a dhrupad-like pace to khyal. His meticulous raga elaboration suited his rich and evocative voice. The talking point of his distinct raga progression was the Merukhand technique, influenced by the Kirana gharana great, Ustad Abdul Waheed Khan. The pauses in his singing, the tehraav, let listeners experience the emotion, making his music serene and contemplative.

Since his formative years, he was a thinking and open-minded musician, who was inspired by different legends and their gayaki. He preferred understated elegance and restraint over ornamentation, which was the norm then. Despite being a khandaani and gharanedaar musician, Ustad Amir Khan was keen on developing his own style. His father Shahmir Khan was a sarangi and veena player of the Bhindibazaar gharana, who served at the court of the Holkars of Indore. His grandfather, Changay Khan, was a singer in the court of Bahadur Shah Zafar.

Ustad Amir Khan composed several khyals and taranas, but had no qualms about being associated with cinema. He sang in films such as Baiju Bawra, Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baje and Gooj Uthi Shehnai.

Pt Tejpal Singh

Pt Tejpal Singh   | Photo Credit: Shanker Chakravarty

Rama Sundar Ranganathan is a disciple of Pt. Tejpal Singh (of the Singh Bandhu fame), who trained under the inimitable Ustad and wrote two books on his exceptional gayaki. Rama talks about what it means to be a part of a musical legacy, the specialities of the Indore gharana, and what needs to be done to take the tradition forward.

“When I began to train in music, being associated with a gharana was never on the mind. Only after I started learning from Vidushi Shanti Sharma, an exceptional singer with the unmistakable stamp of the Indore gharana, was I drawn towards the intense and inward looking style the gharana is known for. A disciple of Pt. Amarnath, she taught me for five years before her untimely demise,” says Rama.

Inspired by a feature in this supplement, she approached Pt. Tejpal Singh, the oldest surviving disciple of Ustad Amir Khan. Willing to go any length to share his knowledge, he mentors his handpicked students meticulously. Once Rama went under his tutelage, it led her deep into the Indore gharana. One of the musical values she imbibed from her guru is sakshi bhava, the ability to look at your music (and at yourself ) truthfully and practise with honesty.

Explaining the specialities of the gharana, Rama says that it went against the norm by slowing down the vilambit to ati vilambit in order to bring out the meditative quality. “Jhumra tala, one of the 17 taals that Amir Khusrau was said to have invented, was introduced in concert singing. The Merukhand was brought into use and Persian poetry found its way into the taranas sung by Ustad Amir Khan.”

The founders of the gharanas were constantly engaged in training their shagirds and preparing them to take their ideas and works forward. “A gharana can find acceptance only when it is able to survive for a minimum of three generations. We belong to the third. I wish to perform more to showcase the gharana’s popular compositions such as ‘Jai mata vilamb taj de’ in Hamsdhwani or the taranas in Megh, Suha and Jog. I also want to do more workshops to talk about and demonstrate the aspects of the gharana. I am based in Delhi, but my heart beats for Indore.”

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Printable version | Sep 20, 2021 11:52:02 PM |

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