“If someone asks me what my gharana is, I am not sure if I have an answer,” said the tabla maestro Ustad Zakir Hussain at the “Sitar Gharanas of India” seminar in NCPA, Mumbai. He further explained: “I listen to recordings of my father Ustad Allah Rakha and his guru, and I find there are no similarities between them and me. I learnt from them, listened to them, practiced under them and have absorbed, followed, emulated and incorporated it into my music. Yet, when I play it bears no resemblance to what I learnt.” He reiterated that for a passionate student of music “gharana” is never central to the process, it gives a direction to one’s thinking, but what he builds out of it is his own. “I am surprised that there are nine gharanas of sitar, and am even more surprised that there is no Ustad Vilayat Khan gharana and Pandit Nikhil Banerjee gharana, the brightest stars of sitar,” he observed.
Delivering his keynote address, Pandit Nayan Ghosh said “gharana is content” driven by the ideas of geniuses. To practice a gharana is to strengthen the core musical values of a particular style.
The two-day seminar had representatives from all the nine gharanas of sitar, and each of these practitioners explained in depth and detail the features of their music and the influences under which it was shaped. Ably envisioned by Pandit Arvind Parikh, a disciple of the legendary Ustad Vilayat Khan, each of these sessions had demonstrations to support their arguments as well.
“From now there will be something called Dharwad gharana thanks to Arvind Parikhji,” quipped Ustad Usman Khan who represented the tradition of Sitar ratna Rahimat Khan, who brought sitar to south India. Tracing the history of the gharana, he said how his forefather Rahimat Khan learnt the instrument been from a sufi saint Bande Ali Khan saab, and became the first instrumentalist in a family of vocalists. “His guru had told him that music is for enlightenment and not to entertain. Hence, when my forefather expressed his desire to play for a concert, he told him ‘play the sitar, not the been’.” However, as a family and a gharana, Usman Khan saab said that they have believed in the meditative powers of music. “The strings of the sitar should be in resonance with the strings of the soul,” he said. Gharana is only a foundation, “ us par apne imarat banana chahiye .” If tradition was so sacrosanct, Tansen would have been the end of music, the Ustad remarked.
“Being part of a grand lineage, doesn’t automatically make you a worthy heir,” observed the torch bearer of Etawah Imdaad Khani gharana, Ustad Shujaat Husain Khan, son of Vilayat Khan saab. “However, it had guaranteed me an automatic place in the community of music. For one’s own self worth you can keep believing you are giving it your best,” he added in humility. Pt. Arvind Parikh explained the journey of gharana from Thakur Srujan Singh to Ustad Imdad Khan to Ustad Vilayat Khan saab.
Which is my style? – asked Shubhendra Rao, the Maihar gharana representative and among Pandit Ravi Shankar’s dearest students. “Is it the founder Baba Allauddin Khan’s style? Annapurna Devi’s, Pt. Ravi Shankar’s, Pt. Nikhil Banerjee’s or Ustad Ali Akbar Khan’s? How did they all groom their musical talents under the same guru and yet became so distinct from each other?” Posing these thoughtful questions, Shubhendra pointed out that Baba Allauddin Khan’s journey itself was marked by departures: even as he assimilated his own gharana, he picked up various percussion traditions, shehnai and clarinet, he came in close contact with Habu Datta, Swami Vivekananda’s brother and willingly partook his knowledge in Western classical music and went on to setup his own musical band, the Maihar band. “His musical identity is shaped by the often difficult and painful search to learn and live music. It is this identity we have come to know as the Maihar gharana,” Shubhendra explained the forces that shaped the gharana. Further, he explained and demonstrated the specialties of the gharana and how Baba revolutionized certain aspects of sitar playing. Every musician who came to study and practice this gharana, brought in their own elements and enriched it more. Gharana is not a static, Shubhendra said.
The Indore gharana represented by the extraordinary musician Ustad Halim Jaffer Khan is based on been playing techniques. Their ‘baaj’ finds its full expression in vilambit portions, explained Halim Jaffar’s son Zunain Khan. His lecdem was supported by superb display of style and technique and some vintage recordings of Ustad Halim Jaffer Khan.
The Lucknow-Shahjahanpur Gharana has an interesting beginning; the originators of this gharana were in charge of the King’s cavalry and they got interested in music. The founder -- explained Ustad Irfan Khan -- Shafiqullah Khan learnt the sitar and played it with two mishrabs it is said. Most of the compositions that they played were composed by the Senia gharana maestros. Story goes that Yusuf Ali Khan, who ran a sitar making shop in Lucknow, would beg for a composition instead of money for the repairs he did for the maestros. He, it is said, was a repository of some of the most exquisite compositions in the sitar.
The Bishnupur gharana had its roots in Bengal and spread far and wide in Bengal like a huge Banyan tree – “it is actually hard to find the original root,” explained the articulate Mita Nag. Painting an immaculate picture, she said how the Bishnupur gharana has explored all fields of music and incorporated several styles into its form. The early practitioners could play sitar and surbahar, and sing dhrupad. “Jorashankho, the Tagore household played a leading role in patronising the Bishnupur gharana. Ramprasanna Bandhopadhyay was the teacher at Tagore’s house.” From a general outline, she moved to speak of how six generations of her family has been practicing the gharana. “My father Pandit Manilal Nag was influenced by Dhrupad gayaki, and had great regard for Amir Khan saab’s music. The rhythmic aspect of my father’s music is indebted to the Benaras gharana.” What would a contemporary of Vilayat Khan, Ravi Shankar and Nikhil Banerjee do to make his artistry distinct from the overwhelming presence of these three stalwarts? – Mita posed this question on behalf of her father trying to understand his creative turmoils. “He worked very hard to find a style of his own.”
The Senia gharana was well represented by the father and son team of Pt. Debu Chaudhuri and Prateek Chaudhuri. They demonstrated the important features of the gharana with special focus on the contribution of Ustad Mushtaq Ali Khan. Sahana Banerjee’s music spoke more than her words. Daughter of the Senia-Rampur exponent Santosh Banerjee, she stole the show with her fantastic demonstration of the surbahar style of playing the sitar.