The ustad behind Senia gharana

Two recent music festivals have drawn our attention; the first, named after Ustad Allaudin Khan, was held in Maihar, Madhya Pradesh; the second festival, held in Kolkata, celebrated the music of the Ustad’s daughter, Annapurna Devi. Held in great reverence by the Hindustani music world, this family’s exceptional musical skills can be traced back to Guru Ustad Mohammed Wazir Khan, who is hardly remembered today. He passed away in 1926.

Ustad Wazir Khan

Ustad Wazir Khan  

Born in 1860, Wazir Khan was a descendent of Tansen’s daughter Saraswati. Her lineage boasted well-known exponents, as they were ‘beenkars’ (who played the rudra veena) whereas the family of Tansen’s son were ‘rababiyas’ (who played the rabab, which was later modified as sarod). Wazir Khan too played the rudra veena and his expertise was hailed by his contemporaries. The style was dhrupad. Being accepted as his disciple was next to impossible; his position in the court of Rampur was second only to the ruler’s.

Getting an audience with him took days; even senior musicians like Ustad Rajab Ali Khan of the Indore court were made to wait. Even when one got to meet him, the visitor had to sit on the floor and was not allowed to occupy the seat next to Wazir Khan.

He lived a life of opulence. His chair was made of silver and he smoked a silver hookah. Even the meals served were elaborate, forcing the nawab to once joke about how several houses could have been built with the money spent on his food.

Interestingly, Wazir Khan was not the senior-most disciple of the lineage; it was his cousin, Mir Nasir Ahmed in the court of Bahadur Shah Zafar, the great-great grandson of the legendary Sadarang, who was the main disciple. Among the Senia ustads, only one disciple in the family was regarded as the main gandaband (the sacred thread denoting the musical link) patt shishya or inheritor of the tradition.

One of Ustad Wazir Khan’s most celebrated disciples was Ustad Hafiz Ali Khan, who, because of his training under the Tanseniya rababiyas, was immediately accepted by Ustad Wazir Khan as a shagird.

The story of how Allaudin Khan was taught by this reclusive master is fascinating. Khan reached Rampur as a disciple of sarodiya Ahmed Ali, who stopped teaching him while in Rampur. In his early 20s, Allaudin was not equipped to be a professional musician. He wanted to learn from Wazir Khan, and with great difficulty persuaded the nawab to tell the musician to teach him.

Ustad Allaudin Khan

Ustad Allaudin Khan  

In an interview to Prof B. R. Deodhar, Allaudin Khan said, “Nawab sahib sent his car, Ustad Wazir Khan was given ₹1000, clothes and other gifts, and the ‘ganda’ was tied. But before this, the Ustad made me take a vow that ‘I shall not visit the houses of dancing girls or take food at their houses or teach them music’.”

But his travails continued even after being accepted as a disciple. Allaudin Khan said, “Each morning, I would go to his house at 7 a.m., wait till noon, clean his spitoon and shoes, but no music lessons would happen. This continued for two and a half years.” The nawab had made arrangements for his stay, but not for food, so he had to live on what he could get to eat. Despite not being taught at all, the initial years were not really wasted, as he managed to pick up music from the Ustad’s housekeeper, Abdul Rahim. Though he belonged to the barber by caste, Abdul Rahim’s family had worked for generations with the Senia Ustad’s family, and had thus informally picked up music. This was an accepted practice that if the musician died early, the retainers would teach the younger generation the family music.

Finally one day, Wazir Khan asked Allaudin Khan why, if he was married, he didn’t live with his wife; to which Allaudin said that until he was trained as a professional musician he couldn’t afford to marry. This touched the Ustad, and he then started lessons. Finally, at the age of 34, Ustad Wazir Khan allowed Alluddin to perform concerts, and during one concert in Kolkata, the Maharaja of Maihar invited Allaudin Khan to his state as court musician.

Ustad Allaudin Khan lived in Maihar till his death. His style of music, that he taught to several disciples, is referred to even today as the Senia Maihar beenkar gharana, not forgetting it emerged from the rudra veena. Today, of course, the family is known for being sarodiyas, and the festival held in Kolkata recently was a sarod festival, featuring practitioners belonging to the various sarod gharanas.

The Delhi-based author writes on Hindustani music.

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Printable version | May 14, 2021 7:57:12 PM |

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