The Musical Legacy of Brahmanbaria
Posted by bangalnama on September 18, 2008
The Brahmanbaria district in the Chittagong division of Bangladesh shares a political boundary with the present Indian state of Tripura, and was part of the greater Comilla district prior to 1984. Meghna and Titas sweep the plains of Brahmanbaria – long-standing witnesses to the cultural legacy of the land. Besides its rich literary heritage, where the likes of Adwaita Mallabarman immortalized Titas and the lives linked so inextricably to the river, Brahmanbaria also boasts of one of the creamiest musical lineages that the East has produced. No wonder the district is often fondly referred to as the cultural capital of Bangladesh!
Sabdar Hossain Khan, or Sadhu Khan, a musician from the Shibpur village of Brahmanbaria, had five sons – Aftabuddin, Samiruddin, Alauddin, Nayab Ali and Ayet Ali. While Alauddin went on to become the world-renowned legendary Ustad Baba Alauddin Khan, founder of the Maihar Gharana, the eldest and the youngest brothers were no less illustrious in their own rights. The next generation, comprising of Baba Alauddin’s children and disciples successfully carried forward the legacy, establishing the Khan family of Brahmanbaria as one of the most celebrated, torchbearing musical lineages in the history of Hindustani classical music.
Aftabuddin was musically inclined since a very young age. Among his various gurus were the twin brothers Ramdhan and Ramkanai – musicians at the court of the zamindar of the adjoining village of Bangora – and Rababi Qasim Ali Khan – musician at the court of the raja of Tripura. He was adept at playing a large number of musical instruments, namely the tabla, violin, flute, harmonium, the two-stringed dotara, and the nyastaranga, a wind instrument, difficult to play for its demand of a solid training in breath-control. He was even known to be able to play several instruments simultaneouly, giving his audience an impression of a one-man-orchestra. He invented two musical instruments – the meghadambur and swarasangraha. Afatabuddin successfully drew inspirations from the folk music of the region and incorporated them into his compositions based on Ragas. He led the life of an ascetic, and was spiritually inclined, earning him the title of Fakir. Though a Muslim by faith, he worshipped the Hindu goddess Kali, and was hence also known as Aftabuddin Sadhu. Such instances of a liberal view of religion ran in the family, and was also most notably manifested later in his younger brother Alauddin.
“To my mind Baba Allauddin Khan Sahib was more of an institution than only a musician.” – wrote Nikhil Banerjee, the Sitar maestro, and one of the most noted disciple of Alauddin Khan, in his tributary essay My Maestro as I saw Him.
Born in 1862, Alauddin took early music lessons from his elder brother Aftabuddin, and then from Gopal Krishna Bhattacharya (aka Nulo Gopal) and Amritalal Dutt at Calcutta and dabbled with musical forms as varied as the Jatra (rural theatre) and Western-style violin. More serious tutelage (on playing the Sarod) under Ahmed Ali Khan and later Wazir Khan Beenkar (court musician of the Nawab of Rampur and one of the last direct descendants of the legendary Tansen) helped craft him as a master of sarod. He became the court musician of Maharaja Brijnath Singh of the Maihar estate in the Central Province (now the state of Madhya Pradesh). During his time as a court musician (1918-1972), Khan completely revamped the Maihar Gharana of Indian classical music. The Maihar gharana dates back to the 19th Century, but Khan’s contribution was so fundamental that he is often thought to be its effective creator.
Ustad Alauddin Khan was fond of compound ragas, and created many ragas of his own, including Arjun, Bhagabati, Bhim, Bhuvaneshvari, Chandika, Dhabalashri, Dhankosh, Dipika, Durgeshvari, Gandhi, Gandhi Bilawal, Haimanti, Hem-Behag, Hemant, Hemant Bhairav, Imni Manjh, Jaunpuri Todi, Kedar Manjh, Komal Bhimpalasi, Komal Marwa, Madanmanjari, Madhabsri, Madhavgiri, Malaya, Manjh Khamaj, Meghbahar, Muhammed, Nat-Khamaj, Prabhakali, Raj Bijoy, Rajeshri, Shobhavati, Subhabati, Sugandha and Surasati. Of these, Manjh Khamaj is perhaps the best known in Maihar repertoire.
The Alauddin School
Ustad Alauddin Khan left behind him an illustrious Maihar school consisting of his own children-cum-disciples, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan (sarod) and Annapurna Devi (surbahar), and other disciples – most notably – Timirbaran Bhattacharya, (sarod), Pannalal Ghosh (flute), Pandit Ravi Shankar (sitar), Pandit Nikhil Banerjee (sitar), Rabin Ghosh (violin), Ustad Khadem Hossain Khan (sitar), Ustad Mir Kashem Khan (sitar), Ustad Yar Rasul “Phuljhuri” Khan (tabla), Ustad Khurshid Khan (sitar), Ustad Ashish Khan (sarod,) Ustad Dhyanesh Khan (sarod), Pandit Jotin Bhattacharya (sarod) and Vasant Rai (sarod) – all luminaries in their own rights. Though he himself gave concerts on the sarod, Alauddin played and gave lessons in many instruments, something that shaped his pedagogy, and is evident from the list of his disciples.
As Nikhil Banerjee reminisced: “Many people raised one common question that how we could learn sitar from an Ustad whose medium of expression was sarod. His biography records many interesting accounts of his training in veena, sursringar, rabab, surbahar and several other instruments. This opened up endless possibilities of those instruments and enabled him to assimilate and introduce a style of playing much bigger in scope and dimension compared to which the old recordings or other sitar playing sound limited. In course of teaching he said to me one day, “I have decided to teach you sitar after the style of Nawab Kutubudaulla Bahadur of Lucknow.” He had such an exhaustive idea about the ‘baj’ or style of playing of every instrument that he could neatly distinguish between them and combine them as well for the best conceivable effect.”
Ustad Alauddin made significant contributions to orchestral music by putting together an orchestra with Indian stringed instruments, the string band now known as the Maihar Band. During 1935-36, he went on an international tour, accompanying the Uday Shankar Dance Troupe as musician. In 1955, he established a Maihar College of Music. He was awarded the Sangeet Natak Academy in 1952, and the Padma Bhushan and Padma Bibhushan – India’s third and second highest civilian decorations – in 1958 and 1971, respectively.
(to be contd..)
1. Fakir Aftabuddin Khan : http://banglapedia.search.com.bd/HT/K_0159.htm
3. Ustad Ayet Ali Khan : http://banglapedia.search.com.bd/HT/K_0168.htm
4. My maestro as I saw him, Nikhil Banerjee: http://www.raga.com/cds/211/211text.html
5. Source of rare photos (Rafiqul Islam) : http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Photos_by_Rafiqul_Islam
A short documentary on Baba in two parts (Source:Youtube)
Article by – Sohini
(Read Part 2 here.)