Hindi Belt Music

Tales of musical akharas!

Ustad Wazir Khan

Ustad Wazir Khan  

The Raza Library of Rampur has brought out two books that give detailed accounts of Rohilkhand’s music and its history

Rohilkhand covers an area of nearly 25,000 sq. kms. in the northwestern part of Uttar Pradesh and lies in the east and northeast of Delhi and Agra respectively. It came to be known as Rohilkhand as the Afghan Rohilla tribes settled there in large numbers in the early 18th century and established their kingdoms in Bareilly, Rampur and Najibabad besides a few other places. Amroha, Moradabad, Pilibhit and Shahjahanpur are some of the other important towns of this region which has been a witness to not only epoch-changing political developments but also the rise of several gharanas of Hindustani classical music and top musicians. Besides the high-brow art music, the region is also rich in folk musical traditions.

The famous Raza Library of Rampur has brought out two books that give detailed accounts of the region’s music and its history. “Uttar Pradesh ke Rohilkhand Kshetra ki Sangeet Parampara” (Tradition of music of the Rohilkhand region of Uttar Pradesh) is based on the Ph.D. thesis of Sandhya Rani while “Rampur Darbar ka Sangeet evam Nawabi Rasmein” (Music of the Rampur court and Nawabi practices) has been written by Nafis Siddiqi.

It is a well known fact that after the annexation of Awadh, deposition of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah and revolt of 1857 that resulted in the exile of the last Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar to Rangoon, most musicians and dancers shifted to other kingdoms like Rampur, Baroda, Hyderabad, Mysore and Gwalior, besides many other small principalities. It was in the post-1857 era that Rampur emerged as an important centre of Hindustani classical music and dance. That it had rulers like Kalbe Ali Khan and Hamid Ali Khan also weighed in heavily to attract high quality artistes.

Sandhya Rani’s book offers detailed information about Rohilkhand’s folk music and divides it into three streams—folk songs, folklore and chaharbait. While folk songs and folklore mostly deal with seasons and various occasions like child birth, marriage and festivals, chaharbait is a special form that is more prevalent in Rampur and its surrounding areas.

Folk tales are also called Kissa and Raag and folk singers narrate stories that include Alha, Pandain, Dhola, Triyacharit, Gopichander, Bharthari, Jaharpeer, Shravan Kumar and Mordhwaj.

Pathani raag

Chaharbait, also known as Chaarbait, has its origins in Pashto and is part of the popular folk music of Afghanistan. It is also called Pathani raag. It has four stanzas and the first three stanzas rhyme similarly while the fourth rhymes differently. Mustaqeem Khan is believed to be its creator in India and his son Abdul Karim Khan was an accomplished artiste of this form.

After settling in this region, the Afghan Rohillas soon shed Pashto and adopted the local language—a mix of indigenous, Persian and Arabic words that we today know as Urdu. Therefore, chaharbait too was composed in the mixed language and was sung by a group of singers using musical instrument dhaf to keep beat. The group was called akhara. Competitive events among these chaharbait akharas were also organised by wealthy patrons.

The Rampur nawabs, especially Kalbe Ali Khan, were keen enthusiasts of this form of folk music. This book also offers valuable information about the musical instruments such as dhol, khanjari, khartaal, naubat, chameli, chang, naal, nagar and ekatara, and played by folk artistes in this region.

The region gave birth to many gharanas of Hindustani classical music including Rampur gharana, Sahaswan gharana and Bhendi Bazar gharana. Bahadur Husain Khan, Inayat Khan, Fida Husain Khan, Nisar Husain Khan, Chhajju Khan, Nazir Khan, Khadim Husain Khan, Anajani Bai Malpekar and Aman Ali Khan were some of the top artistes of these gharanas.

Shahjahanpur had a vibrant sarod gharana represented by Kaukab Khan and Sakhawat Husain Khan. As Wazir Khan, chief musician at the Rampur court and guru of Nawab Hamid Ali Khan, was also the guru of both Allauddin Khan and Hafiz Ali Khan, their gharanas too could be linked with the Rampur tradition.

Great artistes like tabla wizard Ahmed Jan Thirakwa and khayal exponent Mushtaq Husain Khan too were associated with the Rampur court for a long time.

One finds rare information in Nafis Siddiqi’s book about women singers associated with some rulers of Rampur. One learns that many women courtesan singers were employed by Nawab Ahmed Ali Khan (1794-1840). Their names were Kallo Khanam, Nattho Khanam, Madhumati, Mittho Khanam, Padmani, Guchhiya Domni and Jumaniya. There were four other women singers and none was paid a monthly salary of less than fifty rupees.

While Raza Library deserves appreciation for bringing out such books, one must say that the editing leaves much to be desired. Moreover, they have been written in an academic straitjacket that leaves very little room for modern approach of critical enquiry.

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Printable version | Feb 19, 2020 2:55:05 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/music/tales-of-musical-akharas/article30634576.ece

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