United by the love of ragas

The two towering giants Ustads Thirakwa And Amir Hussain Khan. Photo: Special Arrangement   | Photo Credit: grjgm

Vallabhacharya’s famous Krishna ode, “Adharam Madhuram, Vadanam Madhuram…,” was his response to my customary “Khansaheb, aadaab o tasleemaat arz hai” Urdu greeting. Placing himself on a chaadar in the living room of his humble Mumbai home, the octogenarian with reverence and fluidity, recited the Vedic Gayatri Mantra and the ‘Surah Al Fatiha’, the opening chapter of the Qur’an, both incidentally, as scholars from both communities believe, share the same meaning.

“Beta, I am a devout Muslim, but here are Shri Krishna and Saraswati Ma I revere so much”, and there they were, in the form of resplendent idols placed beside an image of the mausoleum of his Sufi Peer and one of Ramana Maharshi for whom, he was honoured to perform.

“Nahin beta, khade ho kar theek se dekho,” he insisted, when I lazily glanced at the idols, still seated on the floor!

Indeed, Ustad Abdul Halim Jaffer Khan, the last surviving legend of his generation, is truly the living Dervish of pluralism and national integration. With his irresistible smile and overwhelming affection, the Ustad’s principles seemed to embody the teachings of venerated Andalusian Sufi Ibn el Arabi, of ‘Wahdat al Wujood’ (unity of all existence) and ‘Wahdat ad Deen’ (unity of all faiths).

Reciting a famous Persian verse by the towering Sufi Amir Khusro, ‘Kaafir e Ishqam, Musalmani maraa darkaar nist’ (I am a pagan, my creed is love, my community of Muslims I do not need), he explained how true love was the only universal truth and tradition. “Like in music, it is the Rig Veda, in life, it is love, the only true Gharana. Pyaar Muhabbat ka Gharana!” he smiled.

Indian classical music has been the greatest medium of uniting people of various faiths, the ocean of sound dissolving all boundaries and differences between them. An unpoliticised, innate way of life, bearded Khansahebs performing poojas and Pandits in dhotis singing praises of Sufi saints and sharing a parent-child relationship with their Ustads under the same roof is of no surprise.

“Tabla Ustad Ahmadjaan Thirakwa and my father’s guru, lived with us for several years. He was like a grandpa to us. We as children would sit on his lap listening to the tales of the Ramayana! My father’s other Guru, Ustad Amir Hussain Khansaheb, though regular in his Namaaz, would wear a dhoti and accompany Baba to Ramakrishna Mission. While Baba did his jaap, Khansaheb, right in the sanctum sanctorum of the temple, would do his tasbeeh!” reminisces the tabla and sitar maestro, Pandit Nayan Ghosh. Himself a devout Hindu, although never beginning his day without his pooja, he never forgets to offer salaams while passing by the Dargahs of Sufi saints.

It is believed that the saintly Ustad Amir Hussain Khan would always bless his students and juniors with the words “Paramatma sukhi rakhe”, and place his hands on his tabla and say “Sharda ma ki qasam,” to assert his point. There is also a story of how he paid respect at a Satyanarayan Katha held at a certain disciple’s home and even applied tilak on his forehead, followed by an earth- shattering tabla solo for the local people in the humble neighbourhood.

Baba Alauddin Khan, the guru of Pandit Ravi Shankar and Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, though unfailingly regular at the local mosque, prayed at the Kali Temple near his home in Maihar, Madhya Pradesh, until the last day of his life. His son and Sarod monarch, Ali Akbar Khan, carried on the tradition.

The Jaipur-Atrauli doyen Ustad Alladiya Khan, true to his Brahmin forefathers, clad himself in dhoti and wore the jenev thread till his last. Saraswati poojas during Vasant Panchami were a regular feature at sitar stalwart Ustad Mushtaq Ali Khan’s Kolkata residence.

While the soulful bhajans of Ustad Abdul Karim Khan, a devout Sufi follower, made history, Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan’s signature, ‘Hari Om Tatsat,’ spoke of tales from Hindu mythology, Pandit Mallikarjun Mansur’s rendition of ‘Pratham Allah’ in Shivmat Bhairav, Ustad Amir Khan’s ‘Jinke Mann Ram biraje’ in Malkauns, Pandits Rajan and Sajan Mishra’s rendition of ‘Khwajah Moinuddin Peer Ajmer Aaye’ in Shankara and Pandit Pratap Narayan’s ‘Mann Hindu, Tann Musalman’ are etched in every connoisseur’s soul.

The giant of the historic Agra Gharana, ‘Aftab e Mausiqui’ Ustad Faiyaz Khan and his family, though devout Muslims, took pride in their Vaishnavite Brahmin ancestry, their khayaals on Krishna still resounding in concert halls. Like shehnai-Nawaaz Ustad Bismillah Khan’s ‘Sur ki Ibaadat’ (devotion through music) at the temples of Banaras, the nadaswaram of his southern counterpart, Sheikh Chinna Moulana and his torchbearers resounds in south India’s ancient temples. The words of towering Sufi mystic Rumi seem to sum-up the spirit of universal faith “For those who savour the wine of unison with the Beloved Divine, the mosque and the temple are but one”.

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Printable version | May 6, 2021 3:22:20 PM |

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