History & Culture

Legend of the musical baba

Ustad Allauddin Khan, Sarod Maestro

Ustad Allauddin Khan, Sarod Maestro   | Photo Credit: The Hindu

A look back into the formative days of Ustad Allauddin Khan

It is not surprising that along with a few other places, Delhi too did its bit to pay homage to the musical genius Annapurna Devi, who died some time ago. She had been living in Mumbai for years, and her demise revived memories of her illustrious father, Ustad Allauddin Khan. She had followed in his footsteps, though she had become a recluse, singing seldom but still making delicious fish curry for those close to her. She and her father’s influence was felt in Delhi too, where her husband Pandit Ravi Shankar’s musical performances bore testimony to his ustad’s guidance, as also the Pandit’s interaction with the Beatles in Delhi and Rishikesh, where John Lennon had earlier led them to Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

Ustad Allauddin Khan became Indian classical music’s greatest legend in the 20th century – the mausiqui maestro, who left behind such marvels as Ali Akbar, Ravi Shankar, his daughter Annapurna Devi Shankar, and Pannalal Ghosh, to name a few. Annapurna’s marriage to Ravi Shankar ended disastrously and left her a tragic figure, cut-off from the world of mainstream music, which is a heart-breaking story in itself. She had visited Jaipur during her honeymoon and had been fascinated by the city of hills, lakes and Rajput palaces, though she spent only a night at the now-demolished Kaiser-e-Hind hotel, near Jaipur station. Mark Twain had also stayed here in the late 19th century.

One of Baba Allauddin Khan’s pupils, Jotin Bhattacharya aptly observed: “Our great names in music have mostly been vocalists. Swami Hari Das, Baiju, Tansen, Gopal Nayak were all vocalists. Only in Ustad Allauddin Khan [do] we find the same height and the same depth as well as the same versatile achievements and yet he was essentially an instrumentalist and a host of other stalwarts sprang from this fountain head.”

Jotin Bhattacharya is one of those stalwarts who has probed the life and times of Baba with praiseworthy doggedness. His work gives intimate glimpses of the man who, born in 1881 in a small village in Tripura State where his Hindu forebears who had dwelt for 500 years, had by the time of his death in 1972, become a household name all over the country.

Alam, as he was known in his childhood, was a strange child, who manifested the things in store for him by acts and deeds which surprised his elders. His father, Sadhu Khan was himself a musician of note — he was coached by the great Kashim Ali Khan of the Tansen Gharana, whose wizardry of the sitar is still a byword for excellence in Eastern India. His mother, Harasundari Khatoon divulged to her husband the secret that when Alam was yet an infant, he played the tabla on her breasts, being inspired by the rhythmical sound of the sitar played by his father.

When Alam was five years old, he became the whipping-boy of his brother Aftabuddin (a noted musician in his own right) who forced him to fill his hookah every day, and thus tempted the boy to pick up the habit of hookah-smoking in his childhood. Aftab dodged school and the young Alam followed suit. But he had a different reason for doing so. There was a Shiva temple in his native Shivapur village where the music had inspired the young Alam to attend service and accept the “prasad”. As his time for going to school clashed with puja, bhajan, and aarti at the temple, he decided to cut classes and instead spend his time imbibing the devotional music played in the temple by saints visiting from all over the country. After six months of absence from school, the headmaster lodged a complaint with his father and young Alam’s activities came into the limelight. The next morning, unknown to him, his father followed Alam and found him engrossed in temple music. Perplexed, his father came back home but did not take much notice of the boy’s misdeed. His mother, however, took a stricter view and he was kept in solitary confinement, without food, for several days.

Later, Alam’s elder sister, Madhumalti Khatoon who lived nearby took him home with her. Being the youngest in the family, was her favourite. Here, Alam not only skipped school but also had days of peace and harmony. These ended when his mother fell ill and he had to go back home. However, Alam had tasted the joy of freedom. One day while his mother lay sleeping on her sick bed, he opened the almirah and took away a portion of the family treasure.

With this, at the dead of night, Alam left home at the age of 10 and travelled to Manik Nagar on foot from where he boarded the Narayanganj-bound steamer. Next morning, he caught a train from Narayanganj to Sealdah. Here, the rush puzzled him and he drifted the whole day amidst strange sights and sounds, a village boy lost in a metropolitan town. It had became dark and the lights dazzled him, his body ached from the blows rained on him earlier in the day by street urchins and his stomach longed for food as he stood on the banks of the Ganga, longing for the comforts of his house and the love of his mother and sister.

Young Alam later became the pupil of Gopal Chand Bhattacharya, State musician of the Maharaja of Pathuriaghat and was on his way to success. He made his final abode in Maihar, where he was patronised by the Raja and besides others, trained Ravi Shankar, Ali Akbar and Annapurna Devi too. It was she who eventually maintained her father’s legacy. Her influence was felt as far as Delhi, where some of her disciples not only performed but also settled down and established an association with each other.

Thus was the legend of Ustad Allauddin Khan perpetuated.

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Printable version | Feb 23, 2020 3:50:56 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/legend-of-the-musical-baba/article26237295.ece

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