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Dr (Baba) Allauddin Khan (1881–1972) — founder of the Senia-Maihar Gharana.  

It is the author's belief that Baba Khan must be afforded recognition as the most extraordinary and influential musician in the history of Indian (Hindustani) classical music since Mian Tansen.

Included here are excerpts from the book containing interesting facts and analysis.

Available now at:



First edition published in India, 2011

Cover design, desktop publishing and English editing by Gary McKenzie-McHarg

© Author

This work is copyright. All rights reserved by the author. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted, except brief quotations, in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the author.




Chapter One: Historical Background of Baba Allauddin Khan

Chapter Two: Music Education

Chapter Three: Achievements, Performances and Awards

Chapter Four: Teaching and Students

Chapter Five: Conclusion




Extracts from the Book




The essential research and findings of this book lie in an analysis of currently available documentation — in the form of biographies, books, journals, newspaper articles, essays, manuscripts, letters, interviews and websites — on the life of the late North Indian (Hindustani) classical musician, composer, innovator and teacher, Dr (Baba) Allauddin Khan.

The authors' intention is as follows:

       to compile a substantial report on the origins and formative life experiences of Dr Khan

       to confirm his uniqueness as a musical genius

       to demonstrate his pre-eminent position as the major influence in changing traditional concepts and other important elements of Hindustani classical music

      to proclaim and substantiate that his true music legacy — music as a form of worship — is not afforded appropriate recognition and has been diluted by musicians and scholars alike.

Some people might question Dr Khan's teaching methods and others may criticise his disregard for tradition, but none could seriously question his positive influence on Hindustani classical music as we know it today.  His attitude and abilities were such that he not only illustrated the goodness of music, he also demonstrated the capacity to achieve spiritual enlightenment through music; and his influence on so many other musicians is unprecedented.  However, certain aspects of Dr Khan's life remain a mystery in modern times, as Jotin Bhattacharya [1] observed in the Preamble to his authorised biography on the Ustad.

Emergence of Allauddin Khan in the realm of Indian music has been an event much discussed and written about.  This unique phenomenon has evoked different reactions from different quarters.  So there is no comprehensive treatment of his biography, nor any objective and authentic presentation of his achievements.

To compress between the covers of a book the unlimited variety of this genius and his momentous achievements and yet aspire for being able to do justice to his memory is tantamount to attempting the impossible. This attempt, therefore, is intended to be just a beginning of a discussion on this genius and his attainment, both of which have brought about a revolution in the musical world. More so because unlike his contemporaries, he turned away from commercialism and devoted his creative faculties to attain the eternal bliss of oneness with God through the medium of music and thus ushered in an era of musical regeneration.

Our great names in music have mostly been vocalists.  Swami Hari Das, Baiju, Tansen, Gopal Nayak were all vocalists.  Only in Ustad Allauddin Khan 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 fountainhead.  His significance lies in his not being confined to music alone.  He had a vision that saw the whole Creation attuned to music, making him an eclectic thinker, saint and musician all rolled into one.  Hallowed with these divine gifts, he was more a religious reformer than a mere artiste.

Ustad Allauddin Khan And His Music, by Jotin Bhattacharya, page ix

[1] Jotin Bhattacharya was a disciple and personal secretary of Ustad (Baba) Allauddin Khan, and his authorised biographer.  He lived at the Maihar gurukul from 1949 to 1956.


It seems that Allauddin Khan was always going to be a great musician. We will see in the following pages remarkable reports by his biographers that he started life tapping beats on his mother's breast as a suckling baby, and finished life more than 90 years later tapping beats while in a semi-comatose state on his deathbed. According to members of his family, right from early childhood he showed little interest in anything other than music, even running away from home as a young child to pursue an education in music. This in itself is remarkable, given that his opportunities for a normal education and a comfortable life were guaranteed by the fact that he came from a well-established and quite wealthy family from East Bengal.

With regard to Dr Khan's rightful place in recorded history, there are many musicians, musicologists, music lovers and music critics who have written about him and attested to his greatness.  His contribution to Hindustani classical music is obviously immense, as seen by the large number of world-renowned musicians who studied under his guidance and went on to attract worldwide attention and create previously unheard of appreciation for Indian music.

However, in spite of this, the author's findings also indicate that some people are not willing to recognise Dr Khan as the most significant contributor to Indian classical music; and there is evidence of a distinct lack of appropriate recognition and respect for this musical genius of the modern era.  Whether it is simply ignorance of the facts or a deliberate attempt to play down his importance is difficult to decide.  Regarding criticism from other musicians, it seems probable that there are two basic types; the first coming from musicians who don't approve of any deviation from tradition, and the second coming from musicians who simply cannot match the virtuosity required of such great artistry.

Some of the author's documented evidence of the above includes the following:

  • Attempts to rename the Bhopal Ustad Allauddin Khan Sangeet Academy as the Tansen Academy
  • Lack of accurate and appropriate information on Dr Khan at the website — which claims to inform the public about India's greatest musicians
  • Total neglect and vandalism of Dr Khan's original music school on an abandoned estate in Maihar; and use of the site as a public toilet area
  • Lack of information on Dr Khan at the Gwalior Museum for Musical Heritage


Author's photographs taken at Dr Khan's original music school on an abandoned estate in Maihar


The original building in a vandalised state of disrepair

A man urinating inside the grounds of the old school

Of course, there may be reasons for the disrepair and devastation at the old school.  For one thing, with natural expansion of residential areas, it may be that it now lies in an inconvenient location for the purpose of being a music college, and it may also be that the state government has much higher priorities to attend to than the preservation of an old building that has served its purpose and is well past its prime.  However, it is still a shameful matter to see such great potential going to unnecessary waste.

The author cannot help but think, in these times of expanding tourism and a surge of interest in Indian classical music from abroad, that such an important historical building would admirably serve the state of Madhya Pradesh, and indeed the whole country, as a monument to a great and highly significant musician if it were to be restored and preserved for posterity.  After all, they have only to clean up and repair the place, put some explanatory notices and images around the walls, install a watchman, and charge a small fee from visitors.  The money collected would easily sustain the venture for many years to come and a great historical landmark would survive for the future education of Indians and foreigners alike.

The author feels compelled to ask:  Does the responsibility not lie with the government of the day to take some form of affirmative action in this regard?  Where is their sense of initiative?


Chapter One: Historical Background of Baba Allauddin Khan

1.      Family lineage

There is not a great deal of information available regarding the early history of Dr Khan's family, except what was passed down through the family itself.  The author has relied mainly on the writings of Dr Khan's disciple, secretary and official biographer, Pundit Jotin Bhattacharya in this area.  Bhattacharya wrote that Tripura State where Dr Khan was born lies in the north-east of India in an area known as Satlai Hills.  500 years earlier, part of this district was apparently occupied by primitive and aggressive savages, who were known to eat raw flesh, sometimes even that of humans.  Because of this, the area was deemed unfit for civilian habitation and was officially declared a "no go" zone.

They subsisted on the raw meat drawn from birds and animals.  They did not spare human beings and enjoyed their flesh with great relish.  Men and women alike lived stark naked and were not familiar with the use of fire.  They were so ferocious and aggressive that the region was declared out of bounds for the civilians.

Ustad Allauddin Khan And His Music, by Jotin Bhattacharya, page 1

According to Khan family legend, around that time their ancestor named Dinanath Dev Sharma lived in a cave located within this dangerous area. He was performing tantric sadhana of his Ishtadevi, Shree Shree Ma Kali at a Kali temple situated in the hills there and, according to the legend, avoided any trouble from the savages because he had attained siddhis (supernatural powers).

When and by whom She was installed is a mystery but She was there from ages gone by.  How he came in Her contact and managed to survive against the onrush of the barbarians is a matter of conjecture.  It is said that he was endowed with supernatural power which helped him avert the apprehending calamities.

Ustad Allauddin Khan And His Music, by Jotin Bhattacharya, page 1

According to Jotin Bhattacharya, Dinanath Dev Sharma was once married and had a son, Siraju, before renouncing civilian life.  However, the child's mother died after the birth.  The father raised the boy until the age of seven then placed him in the care of a disciple before renouncing family life in favour of spiritual learning.  The boy, Siraju, grew up with a highly developed social conscience, and later joined the revolutionary party of Debi Chowdharani.  This group finally disbanded under British rule, and most of its members hid their identities to avoid persecution.

For this reason, Siraju changed to the Muslim faith and took the name, Samash Fakir.  He married a Mohammedan girl and they settled peacefully in the village of Mulagram.  The evidence suggests that descendants of Siraju (alias Samash Fakir) were born into the Muslim faith due to a prudent political choice of their forefather years earlier and not necessarily because of religious preference; which may partly explain Dr Khan's attraction to the Hindu faith and places of worship.  Jotin Bhattacharya wrote about the ancestor of Allauddin Khan, Dinanath Dev Sharma, and his son, Siraju; and he also described the further evolution of the family, right up to the birth of Allauddin Khan himself, as follows.

He was the tantric sadhu, Dina Nath Deb Sharma.  In his early stage of life, he was a family man with a spiritual bent of mind.  His wife expired soon after the birth of a male child, leaving the child behind to the mercy of God.  Despite his apathy for family life, the boy was brought up by him with necessary care.  As soon as the child was 7 years old, he was placed under the care of one of his disciples, when he [Deb Sharma] renounced the family life in quest of higher spiritual attainment.

The child gradually developed into a handsome young man with a winsome personality and he had a craze for public service.  To give vent to his urge, in the interest of the masses, he joined the party of Debi Chowdharani who believed in equitable distribution of wealth either by tactful manoeuvring or by force.  Her party was liquidated in consequence of strong repressive measures by the Britishers.  However, before being victimised, most of the members of the group were disbanded with sufficient financial aid to go underground.

Finding no other alternative, the young man was constrained to change his religion.  He embraced Islam and identified himself as 'Samash Fakir' from 'Siraju' to conceal his real identity.  In the course of time, when the trouble abated and normal life was restored, he married a young Mohammedan girl and settled down in the village of Mulagram, his ancestral place, to lead a peaceful life.  He was financially well off and had enough landed property besides hard cash.

Ustad Allauddin Khan And His Music, by Jotin Bhattacharya, pages 1–2



The following Genealogical Chart was taken from page 4 of Jotin Bhattacharya's biography of Dr Khan, with information regarding the third wife of Ali Akbar Khan and their three children added by the author.



2.      Birth and early childhood

a.      Birth

According to available evidence, Allauddin Khan was born at Shivapur (also Shivpur and Shibpur), a village in East Bengal (now Bangladesh) in 1881.  There is no dispute about where Dr Khan was born among his biographers, but there is a dispute about when.  A lot has been written about Dr Khan being 110 years of age at the time of his death in 1972, which would mean he was born in the year 1862.  There was even an official centenary birthday celebration held at Bhopal on October 7th 1962, which was attended by many dignitaries, including the then Governor of Madhya Pradesh, Mr Pataskar, and State Education Minister, Dr Shankar Dayal Sharma.  However, Jotin Bhattacharya totally rejected this view on Dr Khan's age as a misunderstanding based on Dr Khan's own misconception.

While joining Maihar Music College, Baba vouched his year of birth in writing in contradiction to his real age, which gives the impression that his conviction was based on some misconception.  Ustad Allauddin Khan died when he was 91 years old, but his centenary was celebrated by the Madhya Pradesh Government when he was only 81 years old.  This erroneous approach to the assessment of his age is a case of utter misunderstanding caused due to Baba's misconception which led to this confusion.

Ustad Allauddin Khan And His Music, by Jotin Bhattacharya, page 114

From all the sources located by the author, there is considerable variation in accounts of Dr Khan's birth year :

  • his son, Ali Akbar Khan (1862)
  • his great-granddaughter, Sahana Gupta (1869)
  • a close family friend, Anuradha Ghosh (circa 1871)
  • his interviewer in 1929, Harendra Kishore Roy Chowdhury (1881)
  • his official biographer, Jotin Bhattacharya (1881)
  • his nephew, Mobarak Hossain Khan (towards the end of the 19th century).

The author believes that all credible evidence supports the H.K.R. Chowdhury and J. Bhattacharya date of 1881.

  • Hirendra Chowdhury was given the year of Baba's birth as 1881 during an interview with Dr Khan himself in 1929.
  • Jotin Bhattacharya was the personal secretary and a disciple of Dr Khan, and he lived at the Maihar residence (gurukul) from 1949 to 1956.  Moreover, he was requested by Dr Khan to write his biography, and  his research was scholarly and wide-reaching.

The author investigated many avenues of research during attempts to establish Dr Khan's actual birth year, and there is a wide variety of so-called "facts" on the subject—including websites and literature.  However, all research-based academic writings and professional journalism on the subject agree that there were many discrepancies in what was accepted as the truth of the matter.  The conclusions reached by serious scholars and journalism professionals alike is that Dr Khan's age was exaggerated by twenty years and that his birth year was most likely 1881.

Bhattacharya's list of sources for establishing the birth year of Dr Khan as 1881:

  • The Musicians of India, by Harendra Kishore Roy Chowdhury, Zaminder, Ramgopalpur, Mymensingh, 3-10-1929
  • Place of Tansen in Indian Music, by Birendra Kishore Roy Chowdhury, 1938
  • The Lives of Great Musicians, by Shreepada Bandyopadhya, 1949
  • Hamare Sangeet Ratna (Hindi), by Laxmi Narain                                                
  • Amar Katha (Bengali), in manuscript by Ustad Allauddin Khan
  • Sangeet Bigyan Prabeshika (Bengali), Bengali year 1343
  • "Bansi Badak Aftabuddin" by Manilal Sharma (Sangeet Bigyan Prabeshika, Bengali year 1338)
  • "Sital Prayanay" Editorial by Birendra Kishore Roy Chowdhury (Sangeet Bigyan Prabeshika, Bengali year 1350)
  • "Ekti Thumri Gan" by Harihar Rai (Sangeet Bigyan Prabeshika, Bengali year 1364)
  • "Surer Guru Ustad Allauddin Khan" by Shobhana Sen, Desh, 1956
  • Surchhanda – a Bengali monthly magazine devoted to music
  • "Letters of Allauddin" (Basudhara-Bengali year 1368)
  • "Letters of Sangeet Nayak-Gopeswar Bandyopadhya"
  • "Letters of Sangeetacharya Professor Harihar Rai"
Ustad Allauddin Khan And His Music, by Jotin Bhattacharya, page 112, Footnote1


b.      Early childhood

The following anecdotes are taken from accounts by Sahana Gupta (great-granddaughter) in her biography on Dr Khan. They indicate Baba's extraordinary musical tendencies.  Apparently, there were very early signs of young Alam's inclination towards the world of music.  Gupta quotes directly from Dr Khan's own manuscript.

"Testimony to my passion for music comes from what my mother narrated…  She said that as an infant I would listen to my father playing the sitar and tap on her bosom in rhythm with the music…  I would hum the gats which my father played."

Ustad Alauddin Khan / Sahana, by Sahana Gupta, page 25

This remarkable account of Alam's response to music, while still "a suckling babe", provides very strong and convincing evidence of his unique attraction to music.  According to Sahana Gupta, he remembered those gats and hymns that his father produced for the remainder of his life, passing them down through his family.  Gupta quoted from Allauddin's manuscript on this subject as follows.

"I still remember those gats and hymns.  I have taught the same hymns to my son Ali Akbar and son-in-law Ravi Shankar.  These pieces of music are not available with any other Indian musician."

Ustad Alauddin Khan / Sahana, by Sahana Gupta, pages 25–26

In quoting the above extracts about Alam's infancy, the author emphasises that he showed signs of being one-of-a-kind at the earliest stage in life. In all the many stories attesting to the significance of countless Indian classical musicians, there are none the author found to match this anecdotal evidence of Dr Khan's uniqueness.  It was undoubtedly a sign of what would follow.  Another indication of his natural musical ability occurred in the immediate years before he started school.  His elder brother, Aftabuddin, was being trained in tabla so he could accompany their father, Sadhu Khan, in his sitar practice.  As further testimony to Alam's great musical temperament, according to Sahana Gupta's account, very soon Alam had learned the thekas played by Ram Kanal Sin while he was teaching Aftabuddin.

Boro Baba's elder brother, Aftabuddin Khan, learned to play the tabla as their father Sadhu Khan had progressed in his sitar practise and now felt the need for tabla accompaniment.  Aftabuddin practised with the tabla maestro, Ram Kanal Sil, whose elder brother, Ramdan Sil, a violinist, taught violin and vocals.  By the age of four or five, Boro Baba had learned the thekas practised by the tabla maestros and would attempt them on his own.

Ustad Alauddin Khan / Sahana, by Sahana Gupta, page 26

At the age of five, Alam was admitted to school where his elder brother, Aftabuddin, also attended.  Further evidence of his unique attraction to music comes through accounts of his truancy from this school, and his preference to attend bhajan singing and sitar playing at the Shiva temple rather than go to school.  On this subject, Sahana Gupta, again quoting from the manuscript of Dr Khan, wrote the following.

Boro Baba considers his life to have started at the age of seven, when he realised his passion for music.  It was from this age that he began to dedicate every moment of his life to music. Shibpur, where Boro Baba was raised, had a famous Shiva temple, where morning and evening prayers (puja and aradhana) were conducted daily.  On his way to school, Boro Baba would pass by the temple and stop to watch the prayers.  Sadhus from various regions and places assembled there to conduct prayers. They would sing bhajans and play the Sitar.  The sound of music mesmerised Boro Baba and he would forget to attend school. Boro Baba describes his hunger for music as it developed:

"Gradually, I got habituated to this routine. I woke up early in the morning and went to the temple instead of school. Everyone in the family presumed that I was going to school as I carried my books along and nobody bothered to keep an eye on me.  This passion for music gradually compelled me into continued absence from school and I repeatedly turned up at the temple, eager to listen to the sadhus' songs and music.  In the evening, when all the other children returned from school, I too came back with them."

It wasn't long before his teachers brought the matter of his continual absence to the notice of his parents.  Sure enough, he had to bear the brunt of their anger.  He was beaten, tied to a bamboo tree and punished in several other ways.  But it was too late!  By then, Boro Baba's attachment to music had become fiercely strong.  At such a young age, he had already decided that he was not going to school any more and would only learn music.

Ustad Alauddin Khan / Sahana, by Sahana Gupta, pages 25–26

Jotin Bhattacharya's account of Alam's truancy confirmed the above anecdote, but it also illustrates very early development of a strong devotional tendency and an attraction to places of worship regardless of their religious denomination.  Though a Muslim, Alam apparently saw no problem with participating in the Hindu puja services at the Shiva temple, even if attraction to the music was his initial motivation.  This in itself is remarkable, and perhaps originates from the fact that his recent ancestors were themselves Hindu.  Bhattacharya wrote about this period of school truancy as follows.

There was a famous temple of Lord Shiva in Tripura, excavated and maintained by the State.  It was in a flourishing state because sufficient Debuttar property was attached to it.  Accordingly, the locality was known as Shivapur after the name of Shiva.  The high pitch of musical demonstration, manifested by the devotees as a part of divine service was a source of inspiration to young Allauddin.  It became his practice to visit the place daily to attend the service and take Prasad with reverence.  The temple was often visited by reputed saints from all over India as a symbolic gesture of veneration.  His urge for musical proficiency can be attributed to his attraction towards the sanctuary, but his devotional turn of mind added momentum to it.

His time for going to school synchronised with the puja, bhajan and arati at the temple.  It helped him to tide over a difficult situation created by himself without being exposed to his parents.  Gradually, he was so much fascinated with the devotional activities of the temple that he neglected his studies and spent most of his time there.

Ustad Allauddin Khan And His Music, by Jotin Bhattacharya, pages 6–7

Ravi Shankar also confirmed Alam's love for music at a very early age, and his grasping of any opportunity to learn from those around him.  He recounts the family's efforts to discourage him from wishing to become a professional musician. For Alam's father and brother, music was purely a source of personal pleasure and family entertainment.  They strongly believed that life as a professional musician would be detrimental to Alam's future.  Confirming Dr Khan's unique rise to greatness against all obstacles, including strong resistance from within his own family, Shankar wrote as follows.

His father used to play the sitar for the family and for his own pleasure.  And Baba's older brother, Aftabuddin, was a very talented and versatile musician who, too, did not perform professionally but played solely to express the music he felt within himself.  In his later years, he became a very religious man and was revered equally by the Hindus and the Muslims who knew him.  So it was natural that the musical inclinations of little Alam, as my guru was called by his family, were intensified by listening to his father with sitar and his brother playing a variety of instruments, including the flute, harmonium, tabla, pakhawaj, and dotara.

Young Alam used to steal into the little music room at home to try to play some of his older brother's musical instruments—and was frequently punished for it.  When his family realized that Alam had this burning love for music, they became worried that he might decide to be a professional musician and did not encourage him, for music was not thought of as a respectable profession for a young man.  When young Alam wanted to leave his home and devote all his life to music, his brother, the influential one in the family, refused to let him go.  The family much preferred that he take up regular studies in a school.

My Music, My Life (1st Edition), by Ravi Shankar (1969), page 52

According to Dr Khan's own manuscript, as it appears in translation by Mary J. Khan, he gave an account of his relationship with his elder brother, Aftabuddin. He provides an unflattering description of his brother's attitude and behaviour, and certainly doesn't thank him for the smoking habit. Regarding the local school, he refers to himself as being "there to study" and being "liked by all the teachers", which indicates that although his main desire was to be a musician, he was a good student when he actually attended school.

I was admitted to the village school where Aftabuddin also studied.  At times, when I did not go to school, he beat me.  He was an ill-tempered person.  He was addicted to tobacco.  I had to fill his hookah for him at the back of our house, so that my parents would know nothing.  If he did not get his tobacco in time, he beat me half dead.  The days when he got it on time, he forced me to smoke.  If I refused, he beat me. I was so scared of his beatings that smoking became a habit. He also maintained a horse for which I had to supply grass.  If I refused to bring the grass, he would beat me.  He was so naughty and he beat me so much that I will not forget it even after my death.

Aftabuddin neglected his studies in school.  As a result, the teachers beat him with canes – which pleased me most – or twisted his ears.  He was so addicted to tobacco that he told lies to the teachers to get out of school.  When he came back, his eyes would be red.  Dinu Munshi, the teacher, seeing his red eyes, knew he had smoked tobacco and he would start caning him.  Because of these severe punishments, Aftabuddin left his studies and started to fly kites and fish.  I, Alam, was there to study.  I  was liked by all the teachers.

The Diaries of Baba Allauddin Khan: A Film Script, by Mary J. Khan


Chapter Two: Music Education

1.      First teachers

It seems very likely that Dr Khan's great love for music originated from his father, Sabdar Hossain Khan (alias Sadhu Khan). According to Sahana Gupta, the young Sadhu Khan was so enchanted with music that he used to travel quite a long distance from Shivapur to the court of Tripura's king just to hear the music of the great musicians who performed there. Following an incident that occurred during one of his trips to Tripura, Sadhu Khan had the good fortune to be accepted as a student of the great rabab player Ustad Kashim Ali Khan (Tansen Gharana) who was actually a direct descendant of Mian Tansen. Because Sadhu Khan was not a family member, the great Ustad declined to teach him on rabab but instead taught him how to play on sitar. Gupta wrote about the incident that led to Sadhu Khan's introduction to sitar as follows.

Such was his love for music that Sadhu Khan would stand for hours in the sun or rain and even hide in the bushes of the palace in order to listen to music.  One day, he was found hiding and hauled up to the palace where Ustad Kasim Sahib confronted him.  Sadhu Khan humbly told him that he was a farmer from Shibpur who loved music and travelled to Tripura just to hear the Ustad playing the rabab.

The Ustad was touched by his devotion and even went on to teach him.  He taught Sadhu Khan the sitar though; instead of the rabab, as tradition bid him to pass his art on only to his sons.  Thus, Sadhu Khan became a disciple of Ustad Kasim Ali Khan, who belonged to the legendary Tansen's musical lineage; resulting in Boro Baba's rich musical inheritance.

Ustad Alauddin Khan / Sahana, by Sahana Gupta, page 25

Sadhu Khan was a non-professional musician from Shivapur village in East Bengal (now Bangladesh). He and his wife, Harasundari Devi, had five sons—Samiruddin, Aftabuddin, Allauddin, Nayab Ali and Ayet Ali—and two daughters—Madhu Malati Khatun and Kadar Khatun. The second son, Aftabuddin, was also musically inclined from childhood. Sadhu Khan's various gurus included Ustad Kashim Ali Khan (rabab). and the reputed musician brothers Ram Dhan Seal (tabla) and Ram Kanai Seal (violin), who were musicians at the court of the Zamindar.

Alam's first teachers were his father, Sadhu Khan, his elder brother, Aftabuddin Khan, and any musicians who visited the family to teach and play with the father and brother. Otherwise, he learnt music wherever he could, including from wandering musicians and sadhus at local temples. Bhattacharya wrote about the influence of the Seal brothers and other reputed musicians who visited the Khan home.

His father, Sadhu Khan, was not favourite of his [Baba's] grandfather, Mather Hussain Khan.  He could not be properly educated in view of his inclination towards musical enterprises.  But lucky, indeed, he was to be a disciple of a distinguished musician, Kashim Ali Khan (Tansen Gharana) who taught him sitar.  He had the privilege of being associated with other celebrated musicians of Tripura State, like Haider Hussain Khan, Keshab Babu, Jadu Bhatt and others.

Aftabuddin Khan, elder brother of Ustad Allauddin Khan, was trained by the reputed musicians of the calibre of Ram Kanai Seal and Ram Dhan Seal in various branches of music…  Alam picked up the musical notations by over-hearing the demonstrations of his father and that of the Seal brothers, thanks to his subtle insight into music.  In the later part of his life, he left these notations as his legacy to future generations in view of their superiority over other ragas and raginis.

Ustad Allauddin Khan And His Music, by Jotin Bhattacharya, page 5

Below:  Dr Khan's father, Sadhu Khan (left), and his brother, Aftabuddin Khan (right)

Source: Ustad Alauddin Khan / Sahana, by Sahana Gupta, pages 26–27


2.      Vocal training with renowned singer Gopal Chandra Bhattacharya

After Alam's adventures with the Jatra minstrels, and following his second departure from Shivapur at ten years old, his travels brought him to Calcutta where he went through a difficult and testing period, especially for one so young. He found the unfamiliar environment of Calcutta both strange and hostile. He was homeless and disoriented, bullied, robbed, abused, hungry and totally ignorant of his surroundings. Not even aware of available drinking water, he quenched his thirst by drinking salty water from the Ganges. His recollections of arriving at Calcutta are recorded by Jotin Bhattacharya and Sahana Gupta in their biographies. Referring to Dr Khan's manuscript, Gupta quotes his own words about the initial experience upon arriving there.

"As I walked, I looked at the people around me, their clothes.  It seemed that they did not belong to our country.  I did not have the courage to speak to any of them.  I also stared at the tall buildings – two, four, five and even seven-storeyed buildings!  They were almost touching the sky.  I wandered around, not knowing where to go, and stood in the middle of the road, amazed and confused. People passing by gawked at me as if I was a wild being. Some of them even bullied me.  Young boys walking on my right and left pulled my ears.  I wanted a way out of the situation and decided not to stand still at a place and gape at buildings."

Boro Baba, walking further to the west, managed to reach the River Ganga near the Howrah Bridge.  He then treated himself to some dal-puri from a street shop, got himself a container to fetch water and quenched his thirst with the saline water from the river…  Finally, making a pillow of his small bundle of clothes, the little boy slept on the steps of the riverbank – very likely with many others.  This meagre bundle also contained his fortune of twelve rupees.

The morning, however, had a rude shock in store for Boro Baba.  He woke up to find the bundle missing from beneath his head.  It was stolen!  The poor boy started to cry in the realization that he had been robbed of his sweetest dream in life.

Ustad Alauddin Khan / Sahana, by Sahana Gupta, pages 31–32

Jotin Bhattacharya's account of what happened following the robbery illustrates the harsh realities and unforgiving nature of Calcutta at the time, and is testament to the remarkable maturity and resilience of the young Alam. Although he found himself destitute and totally at the mercy of human nature in this foreign environment, he did not give up nor did he specifically ask for assistance. After shedding a few tears and feeling dejected, he simply carried on, somehow managing to maintain faith in his destiny and, yet again, demonstrated his pure determination and raw courage. Bhattacharya wrote about what happened following the robbery in Calcutta as follows.

The police constable on duty, instead of sympathising with him, abused him for his foolishness.  Tears rolled down his cheeks.  He lost his heart but he did not lose his head.  Soon he made up his mind and took his loss with composure.  Thus, he was completely stranded in a cosmopolitan town like Calcutta, without any reference or resource whatsoever.

Being helpless, he strolled along the man-made track on the bank of the Ganges.  Proceeding further, he met a couple of sannyasis in Namtalla Ghat, the famous cremation ghat of Calcutta.  Besmeared with ashes, they were engaged in preparing bhang to enjoy its narcotic effect.  Moved by his plight, one of them took pity on him and enquired the reason of his grief. He narrated to him his tale of misery, how he was deprived of his belongings.  The sannyasi consoled him and advised him not to worry.  He told him that it was all for the best and asked him to take a dip in the Ganges.

He plunged deep into the water and took his bath naked and came back with his dress on.  The hermit offered him a pinch of ash to swallow with the help of holy water from the Ganges; so he did.  He directed him to proceed through Nimtalla Street, heart within and God overhead.  He proceeded accordingly and finally reached a place where the poor and destitute were being fed under the management of a charitable trust.

When he reached there, he found that a number of people were taking their meals without any distinction of caste, creed and nationality.  One of the employees of the trust asked him to take his food.  He spared no time to take his meal.  Thereafter, he was directed by him to drink water from the tap nearby.  He hastened up to it and as soon as he pressed the button, water poured out.  He was no less surprised to drink fresh water of palatable taste.

Ustad Allauddin Khan And His Music, by Jotin Bhattacharya, pages 10–12

Then his luck began to change. He had already decided to start searching seriously for a music teacher, and fervently prayed to God to bless him with success. It was around this time, according to Bhattacharya's account, that he met a sympathetic young man who was visiting the dispensary. Alam told him of his desire to find a music teacher and the young man arranged for him to visit his home, where his mother was overjoyed to meet him and hear about where he was from and what had inspired him to come to Calcutta.

For some reason, he trusted this kindly woman who, after hearing everything that had transpired, told him that the sacrifices involved in his life at this tender age were a positive indication of his assured success in the future. Here was a woman with good knowledge of music who, like others before her, recognised something special in young Alam's musical ability, and she wanted to help. Bhattacharya described what happened next.

She inquired of him, if he could sing.  He replied in the affirmative and reproduced the song of the Shiva temple of Tripura State with correct notations.  She was deeply impressed and remarked that his voice was melodious and had a superb timbre, which was a rare combination.  Being well versed in music herself, she felt inclined towards him.  She directed him to accompany her to her husband, Bireswar Babu, in the outer apartment of the house, where ladies had restricted approach.  She requested her husband to introduce Alam to his guru for learning music.  She not only advocated his cause but also stood guarantee for a boy, who was no better than a street urchin.  He [Bireswar Babu] was impressed by his nature and musical demonstration which had subsequently been intensified by her recommendation with impartial advocacy.

Eventually, Bireswar Babu took him to his revered guru, Gopal Chandra Bhattacharya, alias Nulo Gopal, the famous State musician of Maharajah Jotindra Mohan Tagore of Pathuriaghata, a scion of the most enlightened and cultured family of Bengal.

Ustad Allauddin Khan And His Music, by Jotin Bhattacharya, pages 12–13

Thus, after enduring much suffering at the hands of fate and circumstance in Calcutta, Alam had finally found his guru in Gopal Chandra Bhattacharya, alias Nulo Gopal. His initial training was strict and rigorous, but apparently he enjoyed it immensely, overjoyed at finding such a splendid and talented teacher. On this, Bhattacharya wrote the following.

He was taught the lesson of swaragram by his guru, Nulo Gopal. Daily he used to get up at 2 a.m. and practise music with him up to 5 a.m.  He got immense pleasure thereby.  Unlike other orthodox musicians, his guru was liberal in training his disciples.

One of his teacher's favourite students, Ganga Ram Thakur who was in advanced stage of learning music, taught him the reverse action of swaragram, known as Palta Alankar. By virtue of his [Alam's] intense sadhana with immaculate austerity, he could win over the heart of his guru and guru-bhai to have the best out of them.  His progress was amply accelerated by their kind co-operation.

Nulo Gopal was one of those talented artists of India, who had no attachment to the worldly lures.  He was a compelling source of inspiration to him [Alam] and was partly responsible for hewing his musical destiny, which was finally shaped by Ustad Wazir Khan of Rampur State.

Once, his guru enquired of Alam regarding the arrangement of his meals.  When he narrated to him the tale of his hardship, the teacher felt sorry for him and exerted his personal influence to ensure necessary arrangement for his food in the palace of Maharajah Tagore, where he took his meals regularly for seven years, during the period he was under the training of his guru.

Ustad Allauddin Khan And His Music, by Jotin Bhattacharya, page 14


3.      Other teachers and instrumental education

Following the loss of his beloved guru, Nulo Gopal, Alam was understandably very distressed and didn't know what to do about further training. After discussions with Kiron Babu of Calcutta, he decided he would cease his vocal training out of respect for his deceased guru and commence instrumental training. Kiron Babu introduced him to Swami Vivekananda's brother, Amritlal (alias Habu) Dutta, an expert and extremely versatile instrumentalist, who commenced teaching Alam in both Indian and Western styles. By all accounts, their relationship endured for life. Sahana Gupta wrote about Alam's introduction to instrumental music as follows.

In this manner, his instrumental lessons under the tutelage of Habu Dutta started.  The initial training period was devoted to the swargam, through which he was made aware of finer points of notes and swar.  The instruction went on for seven years, at the end of which he could play 360 paltas.  Under his new teacher, Boro Baba became proficient in various indigenous as well as foreign musical instruments, like the sitar, flute, piccolo, mandolin, and banjo under his new teacher.  Habu Dutta was quick to recognise the genius in Boro Baba and remarked that he would be widely acknowledged and feted as such someday.

Ustad Alauddin Khan / Sahana, by Sahana Gupta, page 41

Gupta also documents evidence of Alam's desire to learn as much as humanly possible on as many instruments as possible. Apart from what he was able to learn from his new guru, Habu Dutta, Alam sought out many other teachers for training in both Indian and Western instruments. The final list of those who added to his body of musical knowledge is very impressive. Among them were such notable musicians as Mr. Robert Lobo, conductor of the Eden Garden Orchestra in Calcutta who, with his wife, taught Alam Western classical music for violin and piano; Amar Das the popular Indian-style violinist; Hazari Ustad the famous shenai player; Nanda Lal Babu (also known as Nanda Babu) the famous percussionist; Ustad Ahmad Ali Khan the sarod maestro, whose forefathers were the court musicians of the last Mogul Emperor, Bahadur Shah of Delhi; and, finally, his most beloved and talented guru, Ustad Wazir Khan the beenkar of Rampur, who was a direct descendant of the legendary Mian Tansen. For forty years, Allauddin also learned dhrupad from Mohammed Hussain Khan, and he studied other styles of singing from the many vocalists he met along the way. In her chapter titled Mastering Instruments, Sahana Gupta wrote the following account.

In the meantime, instead of being satisfied and complacent, Boro Baba became frantic to master every instrument that he could lay his hands on and eagerly looked for opportunities to further his musical knowledge.  Even while learning from Nulo Gopal, he had started mridangam lessons from a guru named Nanda Babu.  He learnt the violin in the notation of Western music from Mr Lobo, a Goanese bandmaster at Eden Gardens, and the clarinet and cornet from another Western teacher in Darjipara, Calcutta.  He learnt the Indian style of the violin from Amar Das, a prominent musician of the time.  He became conversant with complicated instruments like the sanai, naquara, tiquara and jagajhampa under the able guidance of Hazari Ustad, and prevailed upon Nanda Babu to teach him percussion instruments such as the pakhawaj, mridangam and tabla.

Ustad Alauddin Khan / Sahana, by Sahana Gupta, pages 41–44


Allauddin's Khan's tutelage under Ustad Ahmad Ali Khan was at first very difficult. According to Sahana Gupta, he spent much of his time performing mundane household work just like a servant, including cooking, cleaning, shopping, and otherwise catering to the personal needs of his guru. He would also have to cook for any guests who arrived at the master's house. But, he did it all without complaint, so great was his desire to serve his guru and learn everything he could from him about playing sarod.

After his induction as a disciple, it was part of Boro Baba's responsibility to take care of all the household chores.  He did everything a servant would be expected to – cooking, cleaning the house and the toilet, arranging for tobacco puffs, shopping and also massaging his master's feet before the latter went to sleep.  Ustadji had taught Boro Baba how to prepare a number of Hindustani delicacies such as pulao, korma, rotis, paranthas, shammi and seekh kababs and zarda.  If there were any guests visiting the house, Boro Baba had to cook for them as well.  Although all of these tasks were a lot for a single person to handle, Bora Baba never complained.

Ustad Alauddin Khan / Sahana, by Sahana Gupta, page 51

As time went by, Allauddin was sometimes allowed to play alongside his guru at the concerts he gave in Calcutta, which was a great opportunity to put his musical skill on display. He would mostly play on tabla or mridangam, but was sometimes allowed to accompany the Ustad on violin. It was something that did not escape the attention of the knowledgeable Calcutta audiences either, and Allauddin began to gain recognition for his genius as a musician. About these concerts when he accompanied his guru in Calcutta, Gupta wrote as follows.

Ahmed Ali Khan occasionally went for mujras (concerts) in Calcutta, where Boro Baba accompanied him on the tabla and sometimes on the mridangam.  Occasionally, he was even allowed to give sath (company) on the violin, a performance that was much appreciated by the audience.  In fact, there were times when the sound of his violin was considered superior to Ahmed Ali Khan's sarod, and Boro Baba stole the show.  The concerts were an indication of Boro Baba's musical genius.

Ustad Alauddin Khan / Sahana, by Sahana Gupta, page 51

However, according to Jotin Bhattacharya, the Ustad did not teach Allauddin in a very generous spirit. Though he taught him the basics, he did not pass on anything of a substantial nature to his gifted student. Apparently, he belonged to the old school of thinking, which involved withholding knowledge from disciples who were not blood relatives. This situation caused Allauddin to rely purely on his cleverness and natural ability to learn the music by listening. Bhattacharya described the situation as follows.

In those day most of the ranked musicians had the tendency to keep their knowledge confined to their family.  They were extremely conservative and did not like to pass it on to their disciples, in disregard to their capability.  In the absence of any suitable descendant, their age-old art withered away with themselves, causing irreparable loss to the young music aspirants and the country.  They were mostly illiterate.  His Ustad, Ahmad Ali Khan, was one of the musicians of the same school of thought.

Ustad Allauddin Khan And His Music, by Jotin Bhattacharya, page 24–25


Dejected and homeless, and even contemplating suicide, Allauddin decided that he must approach the great Beenkar of Rampur, Ustad Wazir Khan, and make an all out effort to become his disciple. What happened between the time that he decided to approach Ustad Wazir Khan and when he was finally accepted by the Ustad is also recorded in his manuscript. The following account shows, yet again, the extreme difficulties and disappointments that confronted Allauddin, and it demonstrates his grim determination to succeed regardless of substantial setbacks in his quest to become a great musician.

At that time, it was the custom among the Pathans and the Muslims to provide food for others even if they themselves had to fast.  I received fine food from them for almost two months.  When I felt in better health, I decided to go directly to Mohammed Wazir Khan's residence to see if I might persuade the greatest of all musicians to teach me.  For six months I went each day, but the sentries would not allow me to enter.

Frustrated and depressed, I decided to put an end to my life. With the one rupee I had left, I bought two ounces of opium.  I visited the mosque to say my last namaz.  The maulavi of the mosque asked me why I was sitting there with such a shattered face.  I told him about my failure to meet Mohammed Wazir Khan, and my plan to end my life.  He consoled me and gave me some food to eat.  He encouraged me to try my luck again and told me that committing suicide was a great sin.  Then he drafted a petition to the Nawab of Rampur on my behalf:

"My residence is in Tripura state. While in the court of Tripura, I came to know that there are many learned people in the court of the Rampur Nawab.  Just as the Emperor Akbar of Delhi had the great musician Tansen in his court, so the court of Rampur has the great musician Mohammed Wazir Khan.  I have come to learn the veena from him.  For six months I have tried to see him by going to his gate, but the sentry does not allow me to enter.  Therefore, out of grief, with my last rupee I have bought two ounces of opium with which to kill myself.  Since I know it is a sin to commit suicide, I make one last appeal to the court to arrange for my musical training."

The maulavi then advised me to block the road as the Nawab Sahib went for his evening drive.  I kept that appeal in my pocket for almost a month but no opportunity presented itself.  Then, one evening as the Nawab was going to the club to see a drama written by Mohammed Wazir Khan, I stepped in front of his car with my hands raised.  At once a policeman grabbed me. Nawab Sahib asked the police chief what the matter was.  He replied that a Bengali musician was praying for his patronage. Nawab Sahib was intrigued.  I gave him my appeal and the opium.  The Nawab asked his secretary to read the appeal to him.  After hearing it, to my surprise, he said he would not go to see the drama.  He ordered his secretary to take the Begum Sahiba to the drama, and to inform Wazir Khan to come to him.  Then he asked me to get in his car and took me to Hamid Manzil, his palace.

The Nawab's name was Hamid Ali Khan.  He was the chief disciple of Wazir Khan, and a great scholar.  He was also a great vocalist and had learned thousands of dhrupads as well as veena.  He asked about my experience in music.  I told him about Nulo Gopal, Habu Dutta, Lobo Prabhu, Mohammed Ali Khan and all of the others who taught me vocal music, violin, clarinet, shehnai, sarod, tabla, mridangam, etc.  "Which instruments do you have with you now?" he asked.  I said, "Sarod and violin." He sent me in his car to get my instruments.  Then he asked me to play sarod.  I played alap, jor, jhala, lari, etc. in Rag Yaman.  He was overwhelmed with joy.  When I played violin for him, he was amazed and said he had heard such violin playing in Europe, but never in India.

When Mohammed Wazir Khan arrived, the Nawab Sahib received him with great respect and told him that he had not attended the drama because of me.  He told him about my training and my playing and recommended that he accept me as his disciple. Wazir Khan agreed.  Thus, by the grace of Nawab Hamid Ali Khan, I became the disciple of Wazir Khan.

Nawab Sahib arranged all the formalities of a Nara ceremony. Costly jewellery, shawls, and other valuables were presented to Wazir Khan in a golden casket at his expense.  Nawab Sahib asked him to teach me veena, but Wazir Khan said that he could only teach me sarod, rabab and sursringar since the teaching of veena was confined to members of his family.  With folded palms, I said, "I will not learn veena.  I will only learn what you wish."  He made me promise that I would not teach these arts to baijis and prostitutes.  I was provided with a small house near Wazir Khan's house.  When I became a disciple of Wazir Khan, the musicians who had refused to teach me earlier accepted me and showed me kindness.  Though I had a place to stay, I still did not have money to eat, so I started visiting the State Band.  Bandmaster Raja Hussain, a renowned dhrupad singer, offered me a job playing violin for the band two hours every morning at a salary of 12 rupees per month.  It helped me a lot.  However, Wazir Khan forgot me totally.

For three years, I went to his residence every morning and waited at his door from 6:00 to 10:00 a.m. I n the afternoon I visited Mohammed Hussain Khan who taught me sarod, and Karim Khan, brother of the famous sitar player, Hafiz Khan, who taught me many gats and taras on sitar.  Wazir Khan's negligence was partly compensated by their training.

The Diaries of Baba Allauddin Khan: A Film Script, by Mary J. Khan


Chapter Three: Achievements, Performances and Awards in Classical Music

1.      Musical virtuosity/ability with different instruments

Nowhere in the history of Indian Classical Music is there a musician / composer / innovator / teacher of Dr Allauddin Khan's stature. His amazing virtuosity with different instruments included: flute, clarinet, cornet, piccolo, mandolin, banjo, violin, piano, sarod, shenai, naquara, tiquara, jagajhampa, israj, sursringar, surbahar, sitar, rabab, mridangam, tabla, pakhawaj, plus a variety of other string and percussion instruments. It seems that he could make music on any instrument placed in his hands; which demonstrated his versatility and remarkable skill. The following anecdotes demonstrate the power of his musicianship, as recounted by Annapurna Devi, Sahana Gupta, Jotin Bhattacharya, and Ravi Shankar.

Tributes to Baba from Ustad Alauddin Khan / Sahana, by Sahana Gupta

1.       As a musician, he had mastered many instruments. This list is already mentioned. He was also the first one to introduce the concept of an orchestra in Indian music. Certain renditions were so intense and moving that the audience could hardly control their tears. I [Annapurna Devi] remember even the Maharajah of Maihar had to walk out of one of the concerts since he didn't want his people to see their ruler so overcome with emotion.

Foreword by Annapurna Devi, page 12

... ... ...

7.       Once, a group of young American and European professional dancers approached Boro Baba and requested him to explain the subtleties of Indian classical music to them. Glancing at their fashionable attire, Boro Baba decided that their intentions were far from serious and, therefore, casually strummed a part of Raga Multani, a deeply moving composition, on his sarod. After playing for a bit, he glanced up and was amazed to see his audience visibly moved; some of them actually had tears rolling down their cheeks. Ashamed of his biased judgement, he instantly started performing with intense concentration. He played Raga Bhimpalasree and Raga Pilu for over three hours, and his flawless rendition led the listeners to exclaim: "You have given us life. We will never forget it."

Chapter 11, pages 85–86

Tributes to Baba from Ustad Allauddin Khan And His Music, by Jotin Bhattacharya

9.       In the year 1925 the Tripura Prince, Maharajah Manikya Bahadur, had invited Ustad Enayat Khan for a sitar evening. One after the other Amar Bhattacharya and Aftabuddin [Baba's brother] gave up accompanying him on the tabla. What now? How could the Ustad complete the already advanced evening successfully? Allauddin, without any ado, got up and the programme resumed with the great sarod maestro playing the tabla to Enayat Khan's primo.

Chapter 9, page 62
... ... ...

12.    There were a couple of sittings of his musical recitals before Sri Aurobindo, who appreciated his music with the remark: "He has attained the state of ecstasy through the medium of music". It was an achievement to gain favourable opinion of a saint of Sri Aurobindo's spiritual attainment, one who would not comment on anything lightly.

Chapter 9, page 53

13.      The musicians of the reputation of Ustad Allauddin Khan, Ustad Hafiz Ali Khan, Patwardhan, Vishwa Deb, Sachin Motilal, Hiru Ganguly and others graced the occasion of All-India Music Conference held at Senate Hall, Allahabad, in 1934. The renowned tabla player Hiru Ganguly of Calcutta expressed his desire to demonstrate solo in Pancham Swari (15 matras) but none dared accompany him either on sarangi or on harmonium because of its intricate nature. Finding no way out, Baba accompanied on violin to help him succeed—a rare instance in the musical world.

Chapter 9, page 54

... ... ...

15.      At the age of 50, Ustad Allauddin Khan was a mature musician, when he attended All-India Music Conference at Calcutta held under presidentship of Maharajah Manindra Nandy of Kashim-bazar. Stalwarts like Ustad Karamatullah Khan (sarodia), Ustad Imdad Khan a great sitar virtuoso and other noted musicians graced the occasion. The presence of the most unassuming Allauddin Khan was taken by them lightly. In view of their sound knowledge of music, they dismissed him as an ordinary musician. A hush fell upon the assembled people when Ustad Allauddin Khan gave a splendid exposition of Raga Puria on his sarod, continuously for four hours. The spectators were spell-bound all through and were completely possessed with his music. The reverberation of the dying notes echoed in their heart for hours. They were amazed at his supremacy which could not be challenged. He was ranked as best musician of the year by the panel of experts, which raised him to eminence. When requested to comment, he replied that it was by the grace of God.

Chapter 9, page 55

... ... ...

18.      In the year 1952, Allauddin gave his finest performance of rabab in two sittings on the All-India Radio, Allahabad. He was accompanied by Pt Mannulal Mishra and Pt Amarnath Mishra of Varanasi. That performance has still remained unequalled in musical history.

Chapter 9, page 58

... ... ...

21.       His endless perseverance in the practice of sarod and violin has distinguished him in the foremost rank of the musicians of India. It is said that while playing his favourite raga at Maihar, he lost his identity when small birds perched and pecked on his head without his knowledge. Such was his concentration of mind.

Chapter 19, page 127

Tributes to Baba from My Music, My Life, by Ravi Shankar

26.      I saw him for the first time at the All-Bengal Music Conference in December, 1934. In contrast to all the other musicians, who were wearing colorful costumes, turbans, and jewels, and were bedecked with medals, he seemed very plain and ordinary, not at all impressive. But even in my immaturity, it did not take me long to realize that he had qualities that far outshone the gaudiness of his colleagues. He seemed to shine with a fire that came from within him. Although I did not know enough about music then to discern his musical greatness, I found myself completely overwhelmed by everything about him.

Chapter 2, page 51

... ... ...

28.      Unlike some other musicians, Baba has never been stingy or jealous about passing on to deserving students the great and sacred art that he possesses. In fact, when he is inspired in his teaching, it is as if a floodgate had opened up and an ocean of beautiful and divine music was flowing out.

Chapter 2, page 57


2.      Development and refinement of musical instruments

Apart from being an outstanding musician, conductor and composer, Dr Khan was also an extremely gifted instrument-maker and, along with his brother, Ayet Ali Khan, made serious beneficial changes to many existing musical instruments, particularly the sursringar and the sarod. He was also a great innovator. The resources in a small princely state like Maihar were limited. The palace had a grand piano and violins could be obtained with some effort but other western instruments were simply out of reach. Till the time a cello could be ordered and supplied, Baba got a sarangi made which measured twice the size of usual one. It had strings which could be tuned and using a large bow would give out a deep tone almost that of cello. He named it Saranga. Dr Khan also created other new instruments such as the chandrasarang, sitar-banjo and the nal tarang, which is constructed from gun barrels and is played by striking with an iron rod.


Dr Khan's modifications to the Sarod

Dr Khan's modifications to the sarod represent his most important instrument-making contribution to Hindustani classical music.  He based all the music he taught for any instrument around his musical concepts and arrangements on sarod. Jotin Bhattacharya, himself a sarodist trained by Dr Khan, provided a detailed history of the sarod in his biography, including illustrations of his guru's improvements.


It is obvious from the above extracts from Jotin Bhattacharya's biography that Dr Khan's alterations to the sarod were not just of a minor nature, and that his amazing skill-set extended far beyond his master musicianship. These alterations  provide ample evidence of his genius in the field of instrument-making, regardless of other contributions he made to Hindustani classical music.

Ustad Allauddin Khan and His Music, by Jotin Bhattacharya, pages 120 & 121

Below: Dr Khan with his Sarode, Chandra Sarang, Violin and Rabab

Ustad Allauddin Khan And His Music, by Jotin Bhattacharya, page 37


3.      Raga inventions and compositions

Dr Allauddin Khan first learned about Western notation from Mr. Robert Lobo—conductor of the Eden Garden Orchestra in Calcutta—and his wife. He then used this newfound knowledge to invent a notation system for Indian music, which, over the years, allowed him to write down and preserve his many raga compositions and creations. This notation system is used by Indian musicians in the modern era of Indian music. Dr Khan also composed classical ragas with harmonies for orchestral music, which opened up a whole new field in Indian music production. The following quotation by Mary J. Khan in her synopsis for a film based on the diaries of Baba Allauddin Khan, explain Baba's achievements with regard to musical notation, and his breaking with traditional teaching methods.

Baba Allauddin was instrumental in developing a system of notation for Indian music. And, almost single-handedly, with his passion to pass on the music to all who could learn, Baba Allauddin broke the formidable tradition of secrecy that had surrounded Indian music.  He foresaw that this would be the way by which classical music could survive in a pure form in the democratic world brought into being with Independence and the invention of recording technology.

The Diaries of Baba Allauddin Khan: A Film Script, by Mary J. Khan


Jotin Bhattacharya also wrote about Dr Khan's raga inventions, and listed his favourites.

The main ragas invented by Baba are Madan-Manjari, Mohammad, Sursati, Subhavati, Dhabalasri, Hemant, Hem-Bihag, Hemant-Bhairav, Haimanti, Manj-Khamaj, Madhavgiri, Bhagawati, Bhuvaneshwari, Gandhi, Gandhi-Bilaval, etc., which are worth mentioning. His favourite ragas are Yaman, Hemant, Hem-Bihag, Tilak-Kamod, Sri, Bilaval, Darbari, Shuddha Basant, Puria-Dhanasri, Shuddha Bhairavi and Shuddha Kalyan.

Ustad Allauddin Khan And His Music, by Jotin Bhattacharya, page 127

Dr Khan was known to use his favourite ragas and inventions as part of the exercise routines he formulated to train his students.  The following selected extracts (five of his raga compositions, and five of his raga inventions) are just some examples from Bhattacharya's biography to indicate the broad scope of his talent as a composer and inventor of ragas. We can also see from the illustrations on the following pages that Dr Khan was a thorough and systematic teacher.

Five of Dr Khan's raga COMPOSITIONS adapted as practice exercises for his students—selected from Jotin Bhattacharya's authorised biography, Ustad Allauddin Khan And His Music


Five of Dr Khan's raga INVENTIONS adapted as practice exercises for his students—selected from Jotin Bhattacharya's authorised biography, Ustad Allauddin Khan And His Music


4.      Musical performances – live and recorded

It would be impossible to identify all of Dr Allauddin Khan's musical performances and recordings since there are no complete records of such things. However, quite apart from those recitals he gave as a disciple with his gurus, his official biographer, Jotin Bhattacharya confirmed that he gave many musical recitals. Some of the more notable ones are listed below.

        Dr Khan organised an orchestra (the String Band, now known as the Maihar Band) with 100 orphaned children that he had taught to play strings, brass, bagpipes, and drums. Dr Khan performed along with the orchestra on many State occasions – dates unrecorded.

        The Maihar Band was recorded by the renowned company His Master's Voice (HMV), vide record numbers G.C.8, 10177, 10178 and P 6663 under the caption "Maihar State String Band" in the tunes: "Majuma Sanja-Sitar khani, Khamaj, Ektal; Majuma Sanja-Tilak-Kamod Tha-Dun Choutal; Majuma Sanja-Hindustani Posta Dadra; Majuma Sanja-Hindustani Posta Ektal" – dates unrecorded.

        In 1925, the Tripura Prince, Maharajah Manikya Bahadur invited Ustad Enayat Khan for a sitar evening. After Amar Bhattacharya and Aftabuddin Khan gave up trying to accompany him on tabla, Dr Khan took over the tabla and played to Enayat Khan's sitar.

        At the Fourth All-India Music Conference at Lucknow in 1925, Dr Khan gave a magnificent recital on violin of Ragas Kafi and Tilak Kamod to the accompaniment of Biru Mishra of Varanasi on the tabla. In the subsequent sitting, Ustad Abid Hussain Khan accompanied him on the tabla. In a further recital at the same conference, Dr Khan was accompanied by Rai Chand Boral of Calcutta on the tabla.

        Headed by Dr Khan, a select group of 18 artists from the Maihar Band performed twice at the Fourth All-India Music Conference at Lucknow in 1925, where they played Yaman-Kalyan, Tilak-Kamod and Kamaj.

        At the All-India Music Conference in Jodhpur, Dr Khan accompanied Ustad Wazir Khan's grandson, Dabir Khan, on the mridanga – date unrecorded.

        Dr Khan performed several musical recitals before Sri Aurobindo – dates unrecorded.

        Dr Khan gave a musical performance on surshringar for a radio program at Calcutta, which was hailed among his best ever – date unrecorded.

        In 1931, at the age of 50, Dr Khan attended the All-India Music Conference at Calcutta held under presidentship of Maharajah Manindra Nandy of Kashim-bazar. The audience was enraptured when Baba gave a splendid performance of Raga Puria on sarod for four hours continuously.

        In 1934 at the All-India Music Conference held in the Senate Hall at Allahabad, Dr Khan accompanied renowned tabla player Hiru Ganguly of Calcutta on violin for a demonstration in Pancham Swari (15 matras), which was hailed as a rare event in the musical world.

        Dr Khan, playing tabla, accompanied the famous esraj maestro Chandrika Prasad of Pewar Estate (Gaya) in the Panch Bhairavi. Their larant, sath-Sangat and jawal-jalab (question-answers) continued for hours in which Dr Khan's achievement on tabla was highly appreciated. He was afterwards awarded several gold medals in recognition of his superior playing, which at the time made him more popular as a tabla player than a sarodia – date unrecorded.

        The first gramophone record of Allauddin Khan came out in 1935. These were recitals on the sarode and violin, and the discs were brought out by the Megaphone Gramophone Company. Later, long-play records of these recitals were also produced.

        Dr Khan first began popularising the Senia–Maihar Gharana in a 1935–36 international tour with Uday Shankar's dance troupe.

        Some of Dr Khan's recordings have been released on CD, on the Great Gharanas: Maihar compilation in RPG/EMI's Chairman's Choice series.

        In 1937 at the Allahabad All-India Music Conference, Dr Khan was accompanied by Kaviraj Ashutosh Bhattacharya of Varanasi on the tabla.

        At the All-India Music Conference at Allahabad in 1944, Dr Khan was accompanied by Samta Prasad, alias Gudai Maharaj, of Varanasi on the tabla.

        At the All-India Music Conference at Varanasi in 1948, Dr Khan was accompanied on tabla by Kishan Maharaj of Varanasi.

        In 1952, Dr Khan gave his finest performance of rabab in two sittings on the All-India Radio, Allahabad. He was accompanied by Pt Mannulal Mishra and Pt Amarnath Mishra of Varanasi. That performance still remains unequalled in musical history.

        In the year 1952, Dr Khan was accompanied by Hirendra Kumar Gangopadhyaya (alias Hiru Ganguly) with Ravi Shankar on tanpura, at the Tansen Music Conference in Calcutta.

        In the year 1959, at the age of 78, Dr Khan gave a public performance on Aurobindo Jayanti at Park Circus Ground, Calcutta, with grandson Ashish Khan; they were accompanied by tabla maestros Karamattullah Khan and Kishan Maharaj.

        In 1959, Dr Khan was also recorded playing sarod at his residence in Maihar by two visiting professors of botany who specialised in plant pathology. Their purpose was to collect pure tunes on tape-recorders to investigate the "effect of music on plants".

        Dr Khan featured in the documentary film Baba (1969), directed by N.D. Keluskar.

        In 1970, at the age of 89 years, Dr Khan gave his last public recital as a maestro at the Maihar Sangeet Festival, where he played the violin.

        Dr Khan featured in the film Rāga (1971), directed by Howard Worth.

Sourced from Ustad Allauddin Khan And His Music, by Jotin Bhattacharya


5.      Achievements and awards

a.      Achievements

The lifetime achievements of Dr Khan are too numerous to count, but there is no doubt he spent his entire life in service to God and music. Some of his more significant achievements include the following:

*        Invented a notation system for Indian classical music

*        Pioneered the orchestration of Indian musical instruments with the Maihar Band

*        Established the Maihar College of Music at his home in Maihar

*        Reformed the outdated guru-shishya parampara tradition

*        Created thousands of new compositions for existing vocal and instrumental ragas

*        Invented hundreds of new vocal and instrumental ragas

*        Improved existing musical instruments, particularly the sursringar and the sarod

*        Created new musical instruments, including chandrasarang, saranga, sitar-banjo and nal tarang

*        Through his teaching at Maihar, produced countless maestros to play Hindustani classical music and present it to the world

*        Established the Senia–Maihar Gharana – also worthy of mention here is the fact that Indian musician nominees and/or winners of the prestigious Grammy Awards in the USA include:

-       sitarist Ravi Shankar (winner 1966, 1972 & 2002; plus four nominations)

-       sarodist Ali Akbar Khan (nominations 1970, 1983, 1996, 1997, 1998)

-       guitarist Vishwa Mohan Bhatt (winner 1994)

-       sarodist Ashish Khan (nomination 2007)

Note: All of the above artists are from the Senia–Maihar Gharana and were students of Dr Khan, except Vishwa Mohan Bhatt who was a student of Ravi Shankar.

One of the most important achievements of Dr Khan was the establishment of the Senia–Maihar Gharana, sometimes referred to as the Senia Allauddin Gharana. This gharana originated from the Senia Gharana initiated by Mian Tansen, which gives it great significance in the context of Hindustani classical music history. The Senia–Maihar Gharana was expanded and re-shaped from the original Senia Gharana by Dr Allauddin Khan. It was named after Maihar in Madhya Pradesh, where Allauddin Khan settled in the latter part of his life, from 1918–1972.

Initially, some musicians did not regard the Senia–Maihar Gharana as a true gharana in the strictest sense, especially as its founder did not belong to a family of professional musicians and the tradition had not existed for the required three generations[1].

Initially, some musicians did not regard the Senia–Maihar Gharana as a true gharana in the strictest sense, especially as its founder did not belong to a family of professional musicians and the tradition had not existed for the required three generations[1]. However, given the notable contribution to Hindustani music by Dr Khan and his descendants—son Ali Akbar Khan and grandson Aashish Khan—who, together, clearly represent three generations of one family from the Senia–Maihar Gharana, this particular reservation has since been resolved.

[1] To be able to call a school/tradition a Gharana there must have been three generations of established teacher–disciple pedagogic relationships already gone before.    Source:


Musicians of the Senia Gharana of MianTansen and Senia–Maihar Gharana of Allauddin Khan

Sourced on 28th August, 2009, at


From Mian Tansen to Wazir Khan

Mian Tansen was born in 1520 near Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh and is considered to be one of the greatest musicians in the history of Indian classical music. The Tansen style of music was originally based on the inspiration of Indian Rishis, but was later enriched by influences from the music of Arabia and Persia. Tansen was a disciple of Baba Ramdas of Oadh and also a disciple of highly esteemed saint and musical seer Swami Haridas of Vrindavan; and he later learned about the influences of Arabic and Persian music from Pir Mohammed Ghaus of Gwalior.

Eventually, Mian Tansen resided as chief musician in the court of Mogul Emperor "Akbar the Great" (16th century). Tansen's talent was so great that he was referred to as one of the "Nine Jewels" (navarathna) of the court of Akbar. It is even said he could work miracles (nada siddha) and create rain by singing the monsoon Raga Megh Malhar, and create fire by singing Raga Dipak. This special power attributed to some of the great masters in earlier times was mentioned by Professor R. C. Mehta[1] in his essay, Agra Gharana, when he was commenting on the reputed power of the legendary musician Haji Sujan Khan to light lamps when he sang Dipaka Raga. Professor Mehta offered the following cautionary perspective on the subject.

Sometimes the stories about musicians and music carry incredible elements in them. Such exaggerated elements are meant to establish the extraordinary powers of musicians or the mystical power of music. But they do not help in the understanding or evaluation of their music. Aesthetic enjoyment or evaluation do not get enhanced by such stories. So, whether Sujan Khan lit lamps or not, he may be accepted as a singer of considerable merit.

Indian Classical Music and Gharana Tradition, by R. C. Mehta, pages 78–79

[1] Professor Ramanlal C. Mehta is a distinguished vocalist of Kirama Gharana. He retired as Principal of the College of Indian Music at MS University of Baroda in 1978. He was a composer and producer at All India Radio for 9 years, and an expert member of their Central Music Audition Board. He founded the Indian Musicological Society in 1970, serving as Editor of its Journal. He is also a respected author of many books on the subject of Indian music.


It is generally considered that the Swami Haridasji and his student Tansen laid the foundation for the renaissance of Indian classical music through their dhrupad style of singing; Tansen himself was responsible for several hundred dhrupad compositions and his daughter, Saraswati Devi, became a famous dhrupad singer—married to Raja Misar Singh (Naubat Khan). Allauddin Khan's teacher, Ustad Wazir Khan, was the last musical descendant of Tansen at that time. Wazir Khan, also known as Chhatrapal Singh, taught in Calcutta and Midnapur before joining the court of Rampur in 1900, where he became the tutor of Nawab Hamid Ali Khan.

Below left: 16th century depiction of Akbar the Great, Mian Tansen & Swami Haridas — Below right: Ustad Wazir Khan


Through his teachings, Ustad Wazir Khan built up the musical careers of the following outstanding musicians.

  1. Allauddin Khan (Sarode
  2. Hafiz Ali Khan (Sarode)
  3. Mehdi Husssain Khan (Dhrupad & Kheyal)
  4. Mustaque Hussain Khan (Kheyal)
  5. Pramathanath Bandopadhya (Rudra veena)
  6. Jadabendra Mahapatra (Surbahar)
  7. Pundit Vatkhandeji (the great musicologist)

Sourced 8th August, 2009, at 

After completing training under Wazir Khan, Allauddin Khan took responsibility for the continuing evolution of the Senia Gharana of Tansen, through establishment of the Senia–Maihar Gharana. Sahana Gupta commended Dr Khan's great work in furthering the cause of Indian classical music both in India and abroad; and she lamented the fact that he is not given enough credit for his fundamental contribution to the evolution and survival of this valuable tradition. Gupta emphasised that it was primarily Dr Khan's work that placed Indian classical music in its rightful place on the world stage.

He [Boro Baba] left behind a greatly enriched tradition of music which has since been passed down generations of music lovers, keeping his memory alive. He never lusted after material gain or fame. He always wanted to learn and to create; qualities that took him to eminence. It is a sad fact that in the world of contemporary Indian classical music, not enough is remembered of the fundamental contributions he made to evolve its tradition and enable subsequent generations to carry on.

Music is said to be immortal – it continues to exist and flourish well past its creators. While on one hand, Ustad Alauddin Khan forged new ways of taking the rich Indian classical music tradition to the masses in his homeland, he took it beyond its boundaries – to its rightful place on the world stage.

Ustad Alauddin Khan / Sahana, by Sahana Gupta, Epilogue, page 125

Jotin Bhattacharya afforded high praise to Dr Khan for another unique achievement in the field of Indian classical music; which involved transforming the artists' approach to performance on rabab, been, surshringar, sitar and surbahar. Bhattacharya also credited Dr Khan with creating a whole new system of music by modifying and combining the various pre-existing aspects of the Hindustani classical music system. Both these achievements have prevailed to the present day, having been popularised by his many disciples.

Towards the end of the mediaeval period, Akar-matrik and Danda-matrik systems of music were in vogue in Bengal but Baba preferred the latter, which he followed rigidly. The credit for transformation of rabab, been sursringar, sitar and surbahar in the lines of the sarod goes to him.

He made an exception by playing dara-dara in sarod, while all the musicians were in the habit of playing diri-diri. It is said that Hafiz Ali Khan also acted accordingly, but in fact he played on mixed dara-dara. Pure dara-dara and rada-rada was an innovation of Ustad Allauddin Khan, and was unique to him. He succeeded in casting his spell on everybody who came in contact with him and transforming them… … …

The musicians of the mediaeval period and thereafter had the specialised knowledge of a particular branch of music, while Baba was an exception to this. He modified the system and made a balanced combination of different aspects of music and the credit for the implementation and popularisation of his achievement in the above regard goes to his son and son-in-law. Both of them can be regarded as the concrete symbols of the world-wide success of the originality of his genius.

Ustad Allauddin Khan And His Music, by Jotin Bhattacharya, pages 126–127



b.      Awards

Many official recognition awards were granted to Dr Khan during his lifetime. The following list of awards, titles and honours bestowed on him was compiled from information furnished by his biographers, plus examination of documents at the former gurukul in Maihar.

*        1944Vadya Acharya title from Bhatkhande University of Music, Lucknow

*        1948 Attended India's first music conference following Independence

*        1952 – Fellow, Sangeet Natak Akademi (National Academy of Performing Arts)

*        1958 – Padma Bhushan Award

*        1961 – Sangeet Acharya Award, Indrakala Sangeet Vishwavidyalya, Khairagarh

*        1963 – Doctorate of Literature Award from Rabindra Bharati University, Calcutta

*        1964Desikottam – honorary doctorate – Visva-Bharati University Shantiniketan

*     1971 – First Hindustani classical musician to receive Padma Vibhushan Award


Chapter Four: Teaching and Students

1.      Home at Maihar

Maihar, situated in the hills of Madhya Pradesh, gained its name from Ma-ka-haar, meaning the place where Parvati's necklace descended after she was slain.  It was founded by the Rajputs of the Khajuraho clan in 1778, and became part of British India early in the nineteenth century. Its main significance to Hindus is the Shree Shree Sharada Ma temple, which dates back to the sixth century A.D.  The temple is perched on top of a hill, and devotees have to climb hundreds of steps to reach it.  Some pilgrims take the winding road around the hill for part of the journey but all must climb the last steps to reach the top.

Shree Shree Sharada Ma is the State deity of Madhya Pradesh and is generally believed to have supreme powers.  Dr Khan was himself a devotee of the goddess and attributed his considerable success in music to her blessings.  Until the removal of the monarchies in the years following India's Independence, Maihar State, which measured about 400 square miles, was ruled by the Rajput Princes.  The second-last ruler was His Highness Maharajah Brijnath Singh, who worked together with his guru, Dr Allauddin Khan, to further the cause of music in the state.

Shree Shree Sharada Ma Temple at Maihar

According to Bhattacharya, after achieving recognition as a superior-class performance artist and deciding to leave Calcutta, Dr Khan was directed to Maharajah Brijnath Singh of Maihar State by renowned harmonium player Shyamlal Khetri, who had been appointed by the Maharajah to find a suitable musician to teach him. The requirements set by the Maharajah were that he must find someone well versed in both vocal and instrumental music, and Allauddin easily fitted this description.

After a rather unusual trial – which included playing via a telephone link and being repeatedly ordered to change instruments after just a few minutes of playing – Ustad Allauddin Khan was chosen as the Maharaja's personal music guru and appointed as the official court musician of Maihar. However, because he was against the idea of receiving a salary for teaching, Dr Khan was gifted a plot of land by the Maharajah to ensure his income.

When Ustad Allauddin Khan was seriously thinking to leave Calcutta, he met Shyamlal Khetri who was deputed by His Highness of Maihar to look around and enlist the services of an all-round musician for him. Therefore, he was in search of a class musician because he was fully aware of the Maharajah's firm determination not to acknowledge any musician as his guru who was not well versed in both vocal and instrumental music. Coincidently he spotted him out and directed him to proceed to Maihar, under specific request to His Highness to enlist his services. Accordingly, Allauddin Khan left Calcutta for Maihar at the first available opportunity.

He was received with all cordiality at Maihar and was lodged in the guest house meant for V. I. P.s. He was asked to present himself before His Highness on an auspicious day, earmarked for the purpose. He reached the Durbar on the scheduled date and time and started tuning his sarod under instruction from Ghurrey Maharaj, a Maihar State musician who accompanied him on tanpura. After some time His Highness appeared in audience and enquired of Allauddin Khan's welfare and told him that he had chosen him as his guru without any prejudice. Allauddin thanked him for his kind enquiry and expressed his gratitude for his generous selection. Without wasting any time, His Highness requested him to play on the stringed instrument. As soon as he started his sarod, he became unmindful and asked the musician to take rest. The Ustad was dejected at this show of casual negligence... ... ...


One of Dr Khan's favourite and most respected disciples, Nikhil Banerjee, painted a vivid picture of life at Maihar, in his essay, My Maestro, As I Saw Him. He made it very clear that there was no room for luxuries and no time for lazing about.  Yet, he also described a profoundly sincere and saintly guru who was gentle and generous in nature and "bubbling with humanity" but who was also afraid of spoiling his disciples and even his grandchildren if he showed them too much affection. An excerpt from this essay is reproduced below.

Maihar is a place of extreme climate and it becomes unbearably hot during the summer because of the limestone factories that surround it. Once, his son Ustad Ali Akbar Khan Sahib bought an air-cooler and took it to Maihar with the expectation that it might give him [Baba] some relief. After a few days it was rejected with scorn. As long as his health permitted him to move, he would wash his own clothes every day and would go to the market to buy his daily necessities; he would not let the students go there and waste their valuable moments of practice.

He practised austerity in his own life and had therefore the right to impose it on us. He was a disciplinarian and would never allow the slightest deviation from his ideals of simple living, strict observance of Brahmacharya during our stay at Maihar, a total withdrawal of the mind from all kinds of superficialities, directing all the energy to practice of music and concentration. In going to enforce all this he had to keep up a certain hardness which was, in reality, a show. Stories of Baba’s severe scoldings, beating with the bow of violin and throwing of tabla hammer are so common that people are sometimes terribly mistaken to assume that he was a kind of an old village schoolmaster lacking in any sophistication, with only the ability to be rather ridiculously stern.

But this image of himself he deliberately projected in order not to allow any liberty to the disciple. He always had the tension that soft treatment on his part would only spoil them. One day I heard him speaking out rather candidly, “Don’t you see that I am a grandsire? Don’t I feel like taking them (meaning his grandchildren) in my arms and patting and loving them? But I am afraid it may spoil them.” Here was the inner voice which could be heard seldom or never. Beneath the veil of toughness was the soft and tender soul bubbling with humanity.

We used to watch with wonder how in different corners of his premises he arranged to set up wooden pieces of shelter-racks to let the birds build up their nests. At the time of his meals these birds would gather around him and he enjoyed their company. Whenever any Sadhu or saint was around, Baba would give him God-like treatment, offering food and clothing. He used to clean with his own hand the left-overs of their food and never let us touch them.

Excerpt from My Maestro, As I Saw Him, by Nikhil Banerjee

An essay printed in the booklet Afternoon Ragas, Raga Records © – Raga 211

Sourced 25nd October, 2009, at


The author visited the former gurukul of Dr Allauddin Khan at Maihar for research purposes. The main building, designed by Dr Khan himself, is built in the traditional north Indian style with external walls on all four sides and a central courtyard.  The caretaker showed the author around the building. The entrance room where guests were welcomed contains a small amount of seating furniture and a glass display cabinet with some of Dr Khan's prized musical instruments, wrapped in cloth. His personal chamber and that of his wife are kept just as they were when both were alive and living there.

The walls of Dr Khan's personal chamber are literally covered with pictures of saints of all denominations, poets, musicians, composers, writers, doctorates and other certificates conferred upon the Ustad, and some important social and political personalities of the time. The walls of his wifes chamber, by contrast, are literally bare except for the one wall facing her bed, which has pictures of her immediate family, and a few posters relating to some events and performances.

The following are some photographs taken when the author visited the former gurukul at Maihar.  In the first picture, the Ustad and his wife's tombs are in the building to the left, and the main residence is the double-storey red building in front of the gate.


Entrance hall to the former residence (left) and Dr Khan's personal chamber (right)


2.      Personality and nature

a.      Routines, attitudes and behaviour

By all the accounts of those in a position to really know him, Dr Khan possessed a unique personality with all the positive qualities you could expect to find in a true genius. His dedication to achieving his goals was one-pointed; and this was matched by his intense desire for union with the Divine through music. His intellect was outstanding and his morality was unquestionable; and he expected no less from his students and those he came into contact with, regardless of their standing in society. He was also well known for his strong dislike of the Indian caste system, and for his love and caring attitude towards the under-privileged. On the subject of Dr Khan's personality traits, Bhattacharya wrote as follows.

He was an intellectual giant and an institution by himself. He was an embodiment of civility and simplicity blended in balanced proportion. He was highly reliable, thoroughly dependable and extremely modest. He was grave but jolly, quiet but lively, polite but manly. He was a man of firm determination and strong conviction. His most amiable disposition and simple manners endeared him to all who came into his contact. All combined, he was a unique personality.

His character was flawless and he hated people who indulged in immorality. He was not at all a diplomat. He did not hesitate to confess his mistakes and hated flattery. His dynamic potentiality in every sphere of his life was impressive.

He did not appreciate the sophisticated touch of modern society and did not believe in the invidious distinctions of man-made caste system, which to him were a corrupt practice to undermine the prestige of humanity as a class. According to him, the phenomenal progress of society should in no case be impaired by imposing caste restrictions to the detriment of humanity.

He believed in the saying that 'Cleanliness is next to Godliness' and he scrupulously followed the idea and led the sattvika [pure] life of a vaishnava.

Ustad Allauddin Khan And His Music, by Jotin Bhattacharya, pages 45–46


Allauddin Khan was always inclined to tell the truth even when it might cost him dearly, either physically, when he was beaten by his mother for admitting his truancy, or when it might affect people's image of him as a person, such as when he openly declared his egotism in relation to his talent as a musician following his departure from Calcutta—as documented in his manuscript.

I heard from fellow musicians that during the Durga Puja, the top-class musicians of India were invited to participate in a music festival in Muktagacha Raj Darbar in the Mymansingh district.  I thought: Why shouldn't I go there, play my music and mesmerize the audience. After all, I have become a reputed musician.  But actually, in the back of my mind a devil was working in the form of pride to make me think by singing and playing theater songs I could make an audience crazy for my music.

The Diaries of Baba Allauddin Khan: A Film Script, by Mary J. Khan

There was no real need for Dr Khan to declare his misguided vanity in his manuscript, yet he chose to do so; perhaps he intended it to stand as a warning to his many disciples that vanity does not belong in the heart of a worthy musician.  The episode was also recounted by Sahana Gupta and Jotin Bhattacharya, as mentioned earlier in Chapter Two: Music Education, Other teachers and instrumental education of this thesis.  These examples of truthfulness and honesty show a man of principle which, by all accounts, was a rarity among his peers.


Apparently, even though he was a superior musician who was liked and well respected by his peers, Dr Khan also had an intense dislike for pomp and ceremony. Unlike so many Ustads of the time, and even those today, he was never one to dress himself in fancy silks and wear expensive adornments for his recitals. He always came to these occasions dressed neat and tidy in the most simple cotton dhoti and cap. Sahana Gupta wrote about this as follows.

Boro Baba shared a musical platform with the ustads of various gharanas who admired him and were awed by his dexterity on various instruments. In those days, established musicians dressed splendidly, rather like maharajas, in resplendent silk turbans and gold-threaded costumes, with gold medals displayed on their chests; and then there was Boro Baba – in his unadorned cotton dhoti and plain white cap – he was the essence of simplicity among showmen.

Ustad Alauddin Khan / Sahana, by Sahana Gupta, page 69

Another strong feature of Dr Khan's personality was the kindness he showed towards the less fortunate people in this world. By all accounts, he always responded to such people with great sympathetic action, and offered meaningful support in whatever way he could. His daughter, Annapurna Devi, attests to her father's compassion for the poor in her Foreword to Sahana Gupta's biography.

I possess deep shraddha (respect) for him from my early childhood. He was different from anyone else I had met in my life. He was simple, ego-less, truthful, full of love and respect for people but, above all, he was an embodiment of compassion when it came to poor people.

Ustad Alauddin Khan / Sahana, by Sahana Gupta — Foreword by Annapurna Devi, page 10

This deep sense of compassion was also the driving force behind Dr Khan's response to a disastrous outbreak of sickness—which some observers at the time called a plague—in Madhya Pradesh in 1918. It left many children orphaned and homeless, and their lives might have finished in ruin if not for the actions of Allauddin Khan. About this particular episode, Sahana Gupta wrote the following.

In 1918, there was epidemic outbreak of red fever in the state which reportedly left many people homeless and orphaned. Boro Baba was deeply moved by what he saw, and soon after, along with the Maharajah, he conceived the idea of giving musical training to several orphan children who were victims of this tragedy.

Thus began the story of India's first orchestra, a group of young boys and girls between eight and sixteen year of age, whom Baba taught with great dedication and passion.  The Maharajah lent his full support and procured various Indian and a few Western instruments for the children.  Boro Baba adopted twenty-eight of them, started teaching them from scratch and gradually trained them into a band of talented instrumentalists.

Ustad Alauddin Khan / Sahana, by Sahana Gupta, page 72


Nikhil Banerjee also revealed the humanitarian side of Dr Khan's nature, when he recounted incidents that he witnessed while staying at the gurukul in Maihar.

I cannot resist the temptation to narrate a couple of episodes which reveal Baba's humanity.  There was one woman who was mentally deranged and stayed near Baba's house.  In the evening she would frequently visit Baba while he was engaged either in playing or teaching us.  We even noticed that various herbal medicines were externally applied on her head to cool down her nervous system.  This lady would keep her head on Baba's lap and while listening to music fell asleep.  The stern teacher never felt disturbed but rather compassionately said "Ah, what a pity that she suffers so much! Let her have some rest at least!"  Other than those who witnessed this scene, how can anybody recognize what he actually was!

Once, in the market at Maihar, he watched a person sitting out rather dejected in a corner with a number of dholaks to sell but not heeded by anyone.  He was touched, so much so that he took up one dholak and started playing. The result was obviously a crowd around him.  Many of them were throwing coins and a few dholaks (folk drums) were sold out within a short time. Baba saw that some monies were collected. He gave it all to the dholak-seller and went home happy.

My Maestro, As I Saw Him, by Nikhil Banerjee


On the other hand, there was apparently another side to the personality of the maestro that must be told.  The only biographer who actually went into any great detail about this darker side of Allauddin Khan's nature was his authorised biographer, Jotin Bhattacharya.  Though others mentioned his disciplinarian approach and occasional outbursts, they did not elaborate nor offer many explanations.  Bhattacharya also recounted that Dr Khan had actually insisted on him telling the exact truth without fear or favour when writing his biography. On this, Bhattacharya even lamented the fact that Dr Khan wanted him to tell his story without covering up any aspect that people might find distasteful.

I was one of Ustad Allauddin Khan's closest disciples. As his secretary and student, I had a decade-long association with him and enjoyed his confidences also. A rare privilege indeed!  Some time in 1971, there was an occasion when Baba took me aside and demanded gurudakshina.  I was hardly in a position to grasp the meaning of his demand.  Then he explained it to me and it turned out to be presenting Baba as faithfully as I can with truth and objectivity.  He enjoined upon me not to suppress even his penchant for swear words. He had all his life shunned encomiums [compliments].

This has laid immense responsibility on me for he had also ideas of my literary propensity to which I may hardly lay any claim.  This has been a very heavy call and I wonder how far I can rise to it.  Many incidents and topics which I would fain omit had to be incorporated in the narration as I am under pledge to present him truthfully.  These should therefore be taken in the spirit in which they are presented – prayerfully.  Facts are allowed to emerge as facts.

Ustad Allauddin Khan And His Music, by Jotin Bhattacharya, Preamble, page x


Another reason given for outbursts against other musicians related to the endurance of exceptional opposition in his efforts to change traditional thinking with regard to classical music.  Bhattacharya recounted one particular incident when Dr Khan had invited Ravi Shankar to play on sitar for a group of veteran musicians, and one of them objected on the grounds that Allauddin was teaching on sarod, which according to him did not suit translation to sitar.

Some haughty Ustad objected, saying: "It has been a baz (style) of sarod, how can you make him play it on his sitar?" This refers to the then unwritten convention that the special type of music for sarod cannot be played on sitar, or vice versa.  It was regarded almost like serving western dishes on a plantain leaf. Baba all his life had worn himself thin to pull down these artificial barriers.  He had derived the essence of each baz, each pattern, and blended them into a musical rainbow.  He had suffered untold hardships and humiliations to combine the separate playing patterns into a common lore for all instruments; thus had evolved the combined sequence of alap, jod, jhala, gat, etc. The other Ustad was questioning the very basis of Baba's life-work, i.e., codification of instrumental styles.

At such moments Baba would descend to curses and swear words.  "You people have fragmented the art into this baz and that baz. You have sarod-baz, sitar-baz, kabutarbaz, randibaz and laundebaz, Shame on you! I am only a votary of Goddess Sharada. I know no baz, I only know her sadhana. And that is why I have combined into my sarod or sitar playing all your different varieties of instrumental music."

Ustad Allauddin Khan And His Music, by Jotin Bhattacharya, page 84

Bhattacharya also revealed what he felt were other reasons for Dr Khan's ill-tempered outbursts and his "sense of purity and sanctity".  He pointed out that years of repression and living a life of self-denial when it came to the "good things of life" had taken a lasting effect on him.  This part of Bhattacharya's biography is particularly revealing in that it shows the remarkable strength of character and high sense of morality possessed by Allauddin Khan, even in his youth when most young men would not have hesitated to take advantage of the many opportunities for self indulgence that presented. Unlike so many pretenders to greatness, he was truly only interested in God and a musical mission.


Though obviously not enjoying the task, Bhattacharya seemed to be keeping to his vow of "truth and objectivity" when he revealed that Dr Khan was something of a tyrannical dictator in the family home.  But, again, he honourably offered reasonable speculation as to why it was the case; and at the end of the passage he also made reference to Dr Khan's loss of memory being a possible reason for his occasional depressed mental state, which later led to him requiring an operation.

Baba outside his house was a totally different person than his other self within the walls of his 'castle'.  He was a veritable tyrant in his own house, and an oriental type at that.  Ma Manjari would never raise her voice above a whisper. Members of his family would always be in a bowing posture and would retreat without turning their backs as in a court of a mediaeval despot.  Sole exception to this autocratic rule was Annapurna Shankar who knew her father through and through and so would act according to his mood.  When he returned from his forages outside Maihar he would not stand a moment's delay in getting his warm water for feet or his welcome tea.  He would explode and bring the whole house down.  Everyone walked on tiptoes.   The simple lady of the house had meekly followed him year after year without a murmur. It is strange, but they were a fact, these despotic outbursts of this dictator!

Somewhere deep inside there was some unnameable sorrow; some hidden anguish which erupted in his house where there was no longer the need of wearing the gentle and kind exterior that he donned when he stepped out.  Deep down at the base of his being this man was unhappy! Perhaps because he repressed his natural instincts in his youth!  Or was it something more basic, more abiding or more germane to the whole human situation… more of the existential crisis of choice?  But something lurked inside him, and that must have later impaired his memory, necessitating a cerebral operation.

Ustad Allauddin Khan And His Music, by Jotin Bhattacharya, page 88


The author has also considered the possibility that nicotine addiction may have been a contributing factor to Dr Khan's reportedly spontaneous mood changes.  There is no doubt that Dr Khan was a regular smoker throughout his life—his hookah can still be seen in his room at Maihar, and photographs depicting him smoking cigars and cigarettes are reproduced in two of the biographies referred to in this book.  Dr Khan recounted in his manuscript how he was forced into tobacco addiction by his brother, Aftabuddin.  He also mentioned the violent effect upon his brother's mood when the tobacco did not arrive on time.  The following quotation comes from his manuscript, as recorded by Mary J. Khan.

"He [Aftabuddin] was an ill-tempered person.  He was addicted to tobacco.  I had to fill his hookah for him at the back of our house, so that my parents would know nothing.  If he did not get his tobacco in time, he beat me half dead.  The days when he got it on time, he forced me to smoke.  If I refused, he beat me.  I was so scared of his beatings that smoking became a habit."

The Diaries of Baba Allauddin Khan: A Film Script, by Mary J. Khan

Below: photographs from the biographies of Sahana Gupta and Jotin Bhattacharya showing Dr Khan's hookah (which is still kept in his room at Maihar) plus smoking a cigar and a cigarette


Of course, it cannot be known whether Dr Khan's smoking had increased or decreased around the time of his breakdown; therefore, the idea of nicotine addiction being a contributing factor to his sudden mood changes can only be raised as a possibility and not a certainty. It is possible that, due to aging and slowing down in his busy routine, his smoking had increased. It is even possible that the effects of his addiction were more pronounced in older age. But, unquestionably, with currently available medical knowledge on the negative effects of nicotine addiction, any responsible doctor today would recommend not smoking, especially in someone affected by bad nerves.

Though difficult to prove with any certainty in the case of Dr Khan, modern research methods do supply plenty of evidence that smoking is a contributing factor to mood alteration; which could partly explain some of the mood changes mentioned by Dr Khan's biographers. In the interest of providing evidence to support the claim that nicotine addiction causes mood alteration, the author located the following websites and recorded relevant passages from various medical reports.

The addictive effects of tobacco have been well documented. Tobacco is considered to be a mood and behaviour altering substance that is psychoactive and abusable. Tobacco is believed to be as potentially addictive as alcohol, cocaine, and morphine.

Sourced 5th March, 2010, at

[Tests] showed that the nicotine-dependent patients had significantly decreased concentrations of the amino acid N-acetylaspartate (NAA) in the anterior cingulated cortex, part of the brain that processes pleasure and pain. Reduced NAA levels have been reported for a number of psychiatric and mood disorders.

Sourced 22nd October, 2009, at


There is no doubt that everyone who reaches old age has to endure some form of illness or affliction; and in that regard, Dr Khan was no different to anyone else. Whatever the reasons for his alternating moods in the latter part of his life, nothing can detract from his vast ocean of achievements and his unequalled contribution to Indian classical music. Jotin Bhattacharya expressed his feelings on the idiosyncrasies of his beloved guru, and noted the extraordinary fact that, even in his last moments, Dr Allauddin Khan only had a mind for music.

But with all these idiosyncrasies Baba had a soul of solid gold. His humility and aversion to pomp was rooted in his spiritual being. Perhaps all the angularities I have described here to redeem my pledge to the departed soul arose from all the misery, discord, and untruth he found around him. Perhaps it was a cry of despair for the mankind? Because he ever lived the life of a recluse dedicated to his sadhana. The rest of the world was mithya (illusory) for him… …

And so I often feel that at close quarters what I observed and felt as Baba's idiosyncrasies are not so, but are his soul's cries in agony for the jarring, grating noise to which we have reduced our dear earth that had heard in her days that celestial music which only souls like Baba are attuned to. Even towards his last moments in coma, everyone tearfully noted his hand going through the motions of a tabla player.

Ustad Allauddin Khan And His Music, by Jotin Bhattacharya, pages 89–91


b.      Religion and spirituality

Dr Khan was an enigma when it came to his religious beliefs and habits. Most people today would recognise him as a Muslim due to his name, but that was not always the case. As mentioned in the Introduction to this thesis, Jotin Bhattacharya made the observation that Allauddin Khan was more of a religious reformer than an artist; and all the available evidence supports this view.

It was common knowledge among his disciples that he was devoted to the goddess Saraswati, in the form of Shree Shree Sharada Ma, and that he performed daily Namaz for the whole of his life. Jotin Bhattacharya observed the following.

He [Baba] was a born Mohammedan, brought up under the environment of the Hindu culture.  Hence, his activities were pro-Hindu, but he was equally inclined towards his own religion, which one could see at close quarters in his mode of action.  But people were generally under the wrong impression that he was through and through a Hindu, and a Muslim only in name.  He believed in most of the world religions since the basic principles of all religions are the same.  Purification of soul is of fundamental necessity for a man, which can be achieved by a firm faith in universal brotherhood.  It is not the religion which matters much, but it is the quality of a man which counts in building up his character.

Ustad Allauddin Khan And His Music, by Jotin Bhattacharya, page 46

As previously stated in Chapter Four of this book, a very old and famous temple dedicated to Shree Shree Sharada Ma stands at the top of a hill in Maihar. Dr Khan was a devotee of this goddess and that is why, despite more lucrative offers from other royal courts, he never left Maihar.  Bhattacharya recounted an incident that occurred when Dr Khan was once refused entry to Sharada Ma temple by the local priest.

Once, in veneration to Shree Shree Sharada Ma of Maihar State, he climbed up the 557 steps with some offerings for puja.  It was a trial on his part in his advanced age.  In complete disregard of his deep sense of veneration, his entry was barred by the priest. To give vent to his feeling he forced his entry into the temple against opposition.  The matter was brought to the attention of His Highness with all its implications. In consideration of the circumstances the latter approved of his action.

His profound devotion for Shree Shree Sharada Ma deserves appreciation.  He had firm conviction that all his prosperity he owed to Her.  He did not avail himself of the opportunities and prospects of much better and more lucrative positions offered by His highnesses of Jodhpur, Kashmir, Rampur (after the death of Ustad Wazir Khan) and Patalia who wanted him to become the court musician.

During his protracted illness, when it was proposed to shift him to Calcutta for treatment, he objected to it. He preferred to die at Ma Sharada's feet, rather than to be cured elsewhere. Such was his devotion and faith in Her, which carried him through.

Ustad Allauddin Khan And His Music, by Jotin Bhattacharya, pages 50–51

Annapurna Devi also confirmed her father's "ecumenical" spirit, his sincere devotion to goddess Sharada Ma, and his daily performance of Namaz in the Foreword to Sahana Gupta's biography.

Baba was also deeply religious but ecumenical in spirit.  He worshipped Sharada Ma and read Namaz five times a day.

Ustad Alauddin Khan / Sahana, by Sahana Gupta — Foreword by Annapurna Devi, page 12

Dr Khan believed that each person is born with a natural ability to experience oneness with God through any form of creative endeavour, and he trained his disciples to pursue that ideal in their music. In her biography, Sahana Gupta expressed this philosophy as follows.

A superhuman power lies dormant in every human being, but he/she has to be inspired and aroused to enjoy this exalted feeling of oneness with God by developing his/her creative faculties, whether spiritual, musical or poetic.

Ustad Alauddin Khan / Sahana, by Sahana Gupta, page 95

As mentioned earlier in this book (Chapter One: Historical Background – Birth and early childhood) Jotin Bhattacharya wrote that Dr Khan had a devotional approach to music right from early childhood. His first teachers, apart from his father and brother, were the saintly musicians who played at the famous temple of Lord Shiva in his local village. The young Alam was so attracted to this temple that he preferred staying and listening to the devotional music rather than attending school. The music he heard from the devotees as part of their divine service was a source of great inspiration to him, and this set the stage for his lifelong approach to music.

His urge for musical proficiency can be attributed to his attraction towards the sanctuary, but his devotional turn of mind added momentum to it.

Ustad Allauddin Khan And His Music, by Jotin Bhattacharya, page 7

An extract from Ravi Shankar's autobiography also shows Dr Khan's ecumenical spirit.

His family were Bengali Muslims, converted to Islam only three or four generations before. The village they lived in was predominantly Hindu, and they all spoke Bengali. And so, even though his family were Muslim, Baba knew all the ways of Hindus and was well acquainted with their customs and ceremonies. Later, he was to follow a way of life that was a beautiful fusion of the best of both Hinduism and Islam.

My Music, My Life (1st Edition), by Ravi Shankar (1969), page 51

Dr Allauddin Khan was not only a devoutly religious man who followed established rituals; he was also a deeply spiritual man who avoided all the material trappings of success. He led a simple and austere life, rarely giving public performances and only seeking worthiness in his students to serve the cause of music. The following extract from Nikhil Banerjee's tribute essay provides further evidence of Dr Khan's spiritual reverence for the music and for the guru, but especially for the deity.

He would say, "Whenever you are giving a performance, meditate on your Guru first and then you will see that he takes you over and carries you through. Whenever you play a Raga, begin with worshipping and welcoming it. Imagine it to be deity. Bow down and pray that it should have mercy on you and it should become alive through your medium. Never approach a raga with a feeling of pride or vanity in your heart. Music grows out of the purest feelings of your soul and hence the mind of the musician, if only purified, can produce the vibration."

Baba’s behaviour on the stage sometimes became rather erratic. But this was only the result of a certain tension and apprehension that he might fail to establish the raga. I saw him many times uttering Namaz and even crying out “Ma, Ma” to Goddess Saraswati. This appeared strange to people. But I had the most glorious experience to hear the same person playing sursringar to himself in Maihar with all the serenity and calm of mind. I still remember that after a couple of minutes it seemed too much for me. The emotional appeal was so tremendous that my entire being was gone to pieces, senses suspended and it was a trance all over. Anyone who heard him there could realize how great a Naad (Sound) Yogi he was.

My Maestro, As I Saw Him, by Nikhil Banerjee

In an interview with Shobhana Sen for Desh magazine[11] during the 1956 All-India Music Conference at Delhi, Dr Khan was responding to a complaint from a companion who was with Sen at the time. The man claimed that, in spite of his best efforts, he could not make good progress in music.  Dr Khan's response to this gentleman indicates the totally spiritual approach that he had towards his music.

"It requires great sacrifice allied with high pitch of concentration of mind and body. The ragas originated from God. Success in music can only be achieved by His kind grace. It should be looked upon and pursued with clear conception with a new perception of mind. If the tune is genuine, it can melt the heart of a man and that of an animal as well. May it be whatever it is; it surely has a dynamic potentiality in it. When I play on, I concentrate myself to the extent that I gradually forget the time, place, environment and finally my own identity in order to worship that omnipresent God in me. With the rhythm of my tune, I aspire to attain a state of oneness with God."

[11] Shobhana Sen is an artist from West Bengal – interview published in Bengali magazine, Desh, on 27th October, 1956.


3.      Teaching methods

a.      Guru-shishya parampara and gurukul

Gu means "darkness" and ru means "remover". Guru literally means "remover of darkness" or, in plain language, someone who enlightens us.  Shishya means "pupil, scholar or disciple".  Parampara means "transmission from one to another".  Guru-shishya Parampara is a tradition of spiritual and practical mentoring where knowledge is passed from guru (teacher) to shishya (disciple).  Such knowledge, whether it be vedic, agamic, artistic, architectural, musical or spiritual, is imparted through the developing relationship between the teacher and the disciple. Kul means "house, home, household, dynasty or clan".  The word gurukul simply means guru's home.

Information sourced 1st February, 2010, at

The guru-shishya parampara tradition is particularly relevant to the music dynasties of India. Many Indian musicians learned and developed their skills in established music families—which emphasizes the idea of music as a way of life. However, in many cases, this tradition encouraged an attitude of "protecting family business" by not giving access to outsiders. Dr Khan ignored this principle and, in doing so, made a unique contribution to Indian classical music by training musicians who might otherwise never have had access to music knowledge, because they did not belong to a music family. Distinguished vocalist and musicologist Professor R. C. Mehta, in one of his essays on Indian classical music, described the Hindustani classical music system of guru–shishya parampara as follows.

On the whole, Hindustani classical music has been assiduously preserved and orally transmitted through the ages under the traditional system of guru–śiya (ustād–murīd, teacher–pupil) of śikā paramparā (transmission of instruction). This tradition of sīnā ba-sīnā tā'līm—face to face (lit., breast to breast) instruction—has generally been the exclusive preserve of the male members of musicians' families.

Indian Classical Music and Gharana Tradition, by R. C. Mehta, page 126

Professor Mehta also argued that this inclination to keep traditional music knowledge within the family has greatly damaged Indian music culture.

The traditional text has done immense good and also immense harm. Good they have done in preserving our rāgas and gāyakis too. But there is the other side. The texts have been so much sanctified that the zealous musician has mostly clung to them for the survival of himself and his family. It means to him his livelihood; so much so that he puts a price on the cījas he has learnt. It is to him like a magic trick or jādī-būtī formula, to be divulged to his kith and kin only. Over reliance on the traditional cīja has resulted in the loss of many cījas and also rāgas.

Indian Classical Music and Gharana Tradition, by R. C. Mehta, pages 149–150

Dr Khan was not solely a musician by family tradition—his main learning came after he had left the family home—and he never allowed the "family members only" tradition to influence his student-selection process.

His father and brother were highly accomplished musicians but in a strictly non-professional sense—for them, music was a personal form of expression and something reserved for family and friends. However, Allauddin broke this family tendency of non-professional performance by training his own children and grandchildren (and many other future masters) as professional musicians at his gurukul in Maihar.

Of course, there was never any question of monetary payment to the master under the guru–shishya parampara system. The only thing the disciple had to offer the guru was unconditional love, service, and devotion to learning; and the guru generally rewarded the sincerity of the disciple with love, skill and wisdom. It is well documented that Allauddin Khan did not seek monetary reward from his disciples—thus indicating his deep understanding of this great tradition. Importantly, he appeared to recognise very early in his life that music was a way to self-realisation for the musician and not simply a means for providing entertainment and creating personal wealth.


Accounts by former disciples inform us that Dr Allauddin Khan was the ultimate teacher who possessed all the requirements for transforming his students into the highly esteemed musicians they later turned out to be.  Many former disciples have said that he had a "Midas touch" about him, turning everything into gold.  Pundit Nikhil Banerjee praised his guru as an "institution" in the following excerpt from his much publicised essay.

To my mind, Baba Allauddin Khan Sahib was more of an institution than only a musician. While staying at Maihar, Baba gave us a life-style very much like that of an Ashram or hermitage. As a person, he was simple, unassuming and completely devoid of egoism. He lived a life with the minimum of necessities and always helped himself to the best of his physical abilities. He washed his own clothes every day. He had a strong aversion towards any kind of luxury which, he believed, could only make a man materialistic and pleasure-loving and not idealistic and sensitive.

My Maestro, As I Saw Him, by Nikhil Banerjee


b.      Theoretical and practical training methods

There can be various reasons why a person might wish to become a musician; some simply seek personal pleasure and some pursue fame and monetary gain, while others do it purely in a spirit of devotional service.  It is well documented that Dr Khan was a spiritually inspired musician, with his over-riding desire being to connect with God through music—he never sought money, material gain or praise for his efforts. He also strongly advised his disciples to pursue the same path, and the following extract from Jotin Bhattacharya's biography illustrates his reasoning.

A superhuman power lies dormant in every human being which has got to be inspired and aroused to enjoy the exalted feeling of oneness with God by developing any one of his or her creative faculties, may it be spiritual, musical or poetical. In this process a heavenly state is realised. It is a state of temporary mental alienation, known as ecstasy, when one loses one's physical identity and enjoys eternal bliss of communion with God. Utter purity of body, extreme simplicity of mind and utmost sanctity of soul in addition to a high level of musical attainment can lead one to a state of ecstasy which is virtually divine.

These are the reasons why Baba advised his disciples to regulate their lives by the most tenacious pursuit of purity of body and mind in addition to the single-minded sadhana. He pleaded for svara-sadhana and declared that with the best of his efforts, he could enjoy the eternal bliss only on rare occasions in his life.

In the initial stage of his training to the students, Baba used to train the students both in vocal and instrumental music simultaneously. Along with svara-sadhana he continued the practice of instrumental music for at least three years. He imparted sound knowledge of palta, meend, gamak, bol, laritan, ekahara tan, sapat tan, jhala, krintan, sparsha and murchhana to his trainees, because these are supposed to be the foundation of svara-sadhana.

Ustad Allauddin Khan And His Music, by Jotin Bhattacharya, page 130

Dr Khan was a strict teacher who demanded the best from his students. He felt that continual practice was the only way to succeed. During his training years, his own self-imposed practice sessions could sometimes last up to 20 hours in a single day, and he encouraged that kind of strict regime in many of his brightest disciples, including his son Ali Akbar and son-in-law Ravi Shankar. One story related by Pundit Ravi Shankar reveals that Baba was so obsessed with practice that he would tie his hair to the ceiling by a cord, so that if he fell asleep he would be awakened by the tugging on his hair.

Baba has always been a strict disciplinarian with his students, but he had imposed upon himself an even stricter code of conduct when he was a young man, often practising sixteen to twenty hours a day, doing with very little sleep, and getting along with a minimum of material things. Sometimes, when he practised, he tied his long hair with heavy cord and attached an end of the cord to a ring in the ceiling. Then, if he happened to doze while he practised, as soon as his head nodded, a jerk on the cord would pull his hair and awaken him. From early childhood, Baba was ready and determined to make any sacrifice for music. Indeed, his entire life has been devoted to music.

My Music, My Life (1st Edition), by Ravi Shankar (1969), page 51

And not only did Dr Khan believe in long hours of practice, he also believed in many years of practice before a disciple was truly ready to perform at the highest standard. One of the best illustrations of his attitude regarding longer term practice is contained in the words of his famous son, Ali Akbar Khan.

"My Father taught me that if you practice for ten years you may begin to please yourself, after twenty years you may become a performer and please an audience, after thirty years you may please even your guru, but you must practice for many more years before you finally become a true artist – then you may please even God."

The Diaries of Baba Allauddin Khan: A Film Script, by Mary J. Khan


As one of Ustad Allauddin Khan's most technically accomplished sitar students, Pundit Ravi Shankar was in the ideal position to offer an educated opinion on the teaching abilities of his former guru, and to shed some light on his practical training methods. Ravi Shankar has successfully taught countless musicians on the finer points of Indian music instrumentation, no doubt using knowledge he gained from his guru; therefore, his written observations are worth close examination.  The following excerpt (written while Dr Khan was still living) from Shankar's autobiography, My music, My Life, provides insight to the practical training methods used by Dr Khan.

As a teacher, Baba aims at perfecting the hand and finger technique of the student.  No matter what instrument the student may choose, Baba insists that the student who shows promise should also learn to sing the palta, sargams, and other song compositions, carefully delineating the scope of the raga and its distinctive notes and phrases and correctly using the microtones, or shrutis, to give the proper effect to the music and make it come alive.  The reason for this is, of course, that the basis of our music is vocal, and it is composed primarily of melody, of embellishment, and of rhythm; any melodic phrase, with or without a definite rhythm, that can be sung can also be played on an instrument, with each instrument's own features bringing a special quality to the sound.

According to our tradition, even the instrumentalists are required to have a moderate command of the voice.  This makes it easier for them when they take on the role of teacher to instruct their students, merely by singing the gats, or tans, or todas, or even the alap, jor, and jhala.  Along with the ability to sing the melodies, Baba recommends that his students learn to play the tabla and acquire a good knowledge of taladhaya (rhythmics).

In mastering the fundamentals, the student learns all the technique of properly handling the instrument of his choice, working in the particular idiom, tonal range, and musical scope of a given instrument by practicing scales, palta, sargams, and bols taught by the guru.  Generally, Baba starts with basic ragas like Kalyan for the evening and Bhairav for the morning, first giving, many pieces of "fixed music" in the form of gats, tans, or todas based on the raga.  By "fixed music" I do not mean music that is written down as it is in the West; rather, I am referring to what we call bandishes, which literally means "bound down", but in this context means "fixed".

These are vocal or instrumental pieces, either traditional compositions or the teacher's own, that students learn and memorize by playing over hundreds, even thousands of times, to be able to produce the correct, clear sound, intonation, and phrasing.  Thus, Baba lays a solid foundation for the student to know the sanctified framework of the ragas and talas ... ... ... etc, etc.

My Music, My Life (1st Edition), by Ravi Shankar (1969), pages 56–57


4.      Significant and influential students

Dr Allauddin Khan had countless disciples, many of whom went on to become great musicians and teachers in their own right. The following information on his most significant and influential students illustrates the major role he played in developing and propagating Hindustani music in the modern era, both in India and abroad.

      Annapurna Devi (surbahar)

Born as Roshan Ara Khan in 1926 at Maihar in Madhya Pradesh, India, Annapurna Devi is the only recognised female Surbahar maestro in Indian classical music.  Though her father praised her as the best and most pure of his students, Annapurna Devi never took up music as a professional performer and never made any commercial recordings of her music.  In spite of this, she gained a huge following and won the hearts and minds of classical music critics and devotees throughout India.

Going by the accounts of Jotin Bhattacharya and Swapan Kumar Bondyopadhyay, Annapurna gave very few public performances. Her first performance was reportedly at a private audience before the Maharajah of Maihar, which was also attended by her father, Dr Khan.  Bhattacharya wrote about the Maharajah's reaction to her playing as follows.

When she was at her best, he was inspired and tears of joy trickled out of his eyes in spite of the fact that he was critical in musical appreciation.  He [the Maharajah] remarked that he was more or less hypnotised by her performance, which was indescribable.

Ustad Allauddin Khan And His Music, by Jotin Bhattacharya, page 75

Annapurna's authorised biographer, Swapan Kumar Bondyopadhyay, confirmed that her first public performance was before the Maharajah of Maihar, and he also noted five occasions when she performed in jugalbandi (duet) with her husband Ravi Shankar, including two at the Constitution Club of New Delhi. In 1956, she also performed at the opening ceremony of the Ali Akbar College of Music in Calcutta and, finally, at the Suburban Music Circle in Santa Cruz, Bombay, sometime after 1956. By all accounts, nobody has ever heard her play in public since that time.

As a teacher, Annapurna Devi carried forward the unadulterated Senia-Maihar Parampara and has trained many famous students, including late sitar maestro Pundit Nikhil Banerjee, sarod maestro Ustad Aashish Khan and world-renowned flautist Hariprasad Chaurasia.  In 1998, in an article titled "Annapurna" published in the magazine Women & Home, it was reported by Mohan Nadkarni that Annapurna Devi claimed Indian musicians today are mediocre, and she intimated that few of them have what it takes to make very good teachers.  In the follow excerpt, Nadkarni also provided a list of some of her distinguished disciples plus her awards and some activities.

"Unfortunately, most of our musicians are mediocre; artistes anxious to make a dash to the stage before they have even learned to crawl...

While the earlier Ustads and Pundits were tight-fisted in the dissemination of their vidya, today there are not many gurus left to hand it down.  Admittedly, we still have some very good 'concert artistes', but most of them are either too busy or not erudite enough to create a proper parampara.  The result is that many so-called artistes (including some of our most popular ones) are projecting before the audience distorted or even vulgar images of an art which is infinitely noble; an art which has the power to lead you into a trance onto the shores of tranquility."

Annapurna Devi has reared an impressive array of shishya parampara.  The line-up includes, besides those mentioned earlier, Shashwati Ghosh, Amit Hiren Roy, Sudhir Phadke, Daniel Bradley, Peter Van Gelder, Sandhya Apte, Headset Desai, Rooshikumar Pandya and Prabha Agarwal, all sitarists; Bahadur Khan, Jyotin Bhattacharya, Uma Guha, Basant Kabra, Pradeep Barot, Stuti Dey, and Suresh Vyas, among sarodists; and Nityanand Haldipur and Milind Sheorey, among flautists.

Even though she has remained aloof from the world of concert music, Annapurna Devi's greatness as an erudite guru has been mercifully recognised and appreciated at the official level.  She has been a recipient of the Sangeet Natak Akademi award (1991), Padma Bhushan (1977), and Sharngadev Fellowship of Sur singar Samsad (1988).  She has served as professor of music at the NCPA since its inception, till 1983 and presently is the guiding spirit behind the activities of Acharya Allauddin Music Circle in Mumbai."

"Annapurna", by Mohan D. Nadkarni — Published in Woman & Home, January 9, 1998.

Sourced 25th October, 2009, at

In terms of her musicianship, Annapurna was ranked the highest of all Dr Khan's illustrious disciples by many who heard her play.   This included her father, who reportedly once made the following statement to her.

I want to teach my Guru's vidya to you because you have no greed.  To learn you need to have infinite patience and a calm mind.  I feel that you can preserve my Guru's gift because you love music.

An Unheard Melody: Annapurna Devi, by Swapan Bondyopadhyay, page 17

It was reportedly said by renowned vocalist Amir Khan that Annapurna Devi displayed the best of Dr Khan's teachings.  Though she has always rejected such comparisons, she apparently has reservations about the dilution of her father's music by even his best disciples.  According to her biographer, Swapan Kumar Bondyopadhyay, Annapurna finds the music of today far removed from the purest form taught by her father and feels that audiences have been misled in their understanding of classical music.

It was reportedly said [by Amir Khan] that in her music there was eighty percent Baba Allauddin Khan, while Ali Akbar Khan had seventy percent and Ravi Shankar had about forty percent.  Annapurna may have never wanted to comment on such comparisons as she found them unjust, and they have never made any difference to her.  But there is little doubt that in her own determined fashion she has promoted the pure and true talim of her father, Baba Allauddin Khan.  She now says that she found it unfortunate that even his front-ranking disciples have diluted his teachings.

"The music you hear today – especially instrumental music – is miles from its purest form.  It is regrettable that the taste of the listeners has also been forced to change.  Naturally, if I played today, most people might think I am too slow, or even boring."

An Unheard Melody: Annapurna Devi, by Swapan Bondyopadhyay, page 53

As a female musician learning in a mostly male domain, Annapurna Devi developed strong and inspiring views on the ability of women to find their place in the world of music, and in any other field of endeavour.  Prior to marriage, she had enjoyed the same basic freedoms as her brother, Ali Akbar, but this soon changed when household duties and child-rearing entered her world.  She found that time for practice was inhibited, and other constraints of marriage were a great hindrance to progress.  In his biography, Swapan Kumar Bondyopadhyay recorded her views on this subject, which carry a powerful and inspiring message for the women of India as well as a cautionary note about jealousy for their husbands.

Annapurna had discovered the trials of learning music early in life: "I believe that learning music is an extremely demanding task that requires time, commitment and continuous effort.  I have observed that in our society, as long as a woman is not married, she may be able to give what it takes to continue her rigorous riyaz.  I don't think there are any physical limitations that come in the way of a woman mastering an instrument. All she needs is a burning desire, a right guru, discipline and determination."

Looking back at those difficult years, Annapurna says: "I strongly believe that women are as capable as men. I am very happy that in India more and more women are realising their potential, asserting themselves and making their presence felt in various spheres of life. I have great respect for women who stand up for what they believe in and fight for the cause of women against all odds. I do not agree that for women career and marriage do not go together. If there is a mutual respect and understanding between the husband and wife and if there is an absence of jealousy, both can build their own careers and still be happily married."

An Unheard Melody: Annapurna Devi, by Swapan Bondyopadhyay, pages 20–21

Annapurnaji was undoubtedly the darling child of her father and she imbibed not only his music but also his life philosophy.  In reply to a question put to her by an interviewer some years ago, she reportedly cited the reasons for choosing a life of self-denial as follows.

"It was during my years of studentship that my father would repeatedly tell me that my music should not be treated as a product for public display.  It was a means of achieving one's own fulfilment, which should lead to one's own development as a human being."

For very good reasons, Annapurnaji Devi is described as the very embodiment of Allauddin Khan's pure and deep devotion to his music.  She is rightly hailed as the ultimate reference point to the musical ideology of Allauddin Khan.  It is only in her that the quintessence of the Maihar parampar is preserved.

Sourced 10th October, 2009, at

Other significant disciples of Dr Khan included in this section of the book are:

Ali Akbar Khan (sarode), Ravi Shankar (sitar), Nikhil Banerjee (sitar), Timir Baran Bhattacharya (sarode), Jotin Bhattacharya (sarode), Sharan Rani (sarode), Bahadur Khan (sarode), Vasant Rai (sarode), Rabin Ghosh (violin), Pannalal Ghosh (bansuri), Vishnu Govind Jog (violin), and Aashish Khan (sarode).


Chapter Five: Conclusion

Dr (Baba) Allauddin Khan's unique contribution to Hindustani classical music came through his deep understanding of music, his musical virtuosity, his many raga compositions, his invention and application of music notation, his cross-breeding of instrument function, his instrument-making skills and, most significantly, his teaching methods and philosophy. However, all of these fine attributes were second-place to his dedication to achieving oneness with God through music.

This combination of qualities in Dr Khan produced so many maestros who, through their own performances and teachings, guaranteed the survival of Hindustani music, thus demonstrating Dr Khan's profound influence. As Rajeev Taranath said in his interview for Musical Life – Little India, "Allauddin Khan was the fountain from where all the streams of talent emerged, and Baba taught every instrument on the planet… he created great musicians in every genre".

No doubt, Dr Khan was responsible for the musical development of many of the great musicians now performing Indian music around the globe. He started his own quest to become a musician at such an early age, running away from home as a mere child to pursue his dream. He travelled widely in search of teachers and endured every conceivable setback, overcoming all kinds of obstacles during his early years.

He learned from every possible teacher, beginning with his father and brother, and their teachers, sadhus, temple singers, street musicians, and later in life, some of India's finest masters. He never shied away from difficulty nor weakened in his resolve; and as a result of his intense learning, was able to impart an incredible body of knowledge and understanding to his disciples over a period of more than fifty years. Like no other teacher before him, Dr Khan's legacy of musical artists is seemingly inexhaustible—it includes his own students and students of his students—with such great names as the following.

Annapurna Devi (surbahar), Ali Akbar Khan (sarod), Ravi Shankar (sitar), Nikhil Banerjee (sitar), Bismillah Khan (shenai), Jotin Bhattacharya (sarod), Rajeev Taranath (sarod), Joyas Biswas (sitar), Philip Glass (pianist & composer), Yehudi Menuhin (violin), David Murphy (conductor), Ayet Ali Khan (sarod), Timir Baran Bhattacharya (sarod), Rabin Ghosh (violin), Shyam Ganguly (sarod), Vasant Rai (sarod), Khadem Khan, Mir Kashem Khan, Bahadur Khan (sarod), Yar Rasul Khan, Projesh Banerjee (sarod), Sipra Banerjee (sarod), Suprabhat Pal (sarod), Sharan Rani (sarod), Panna Lal Ghosh (flute), Ram Ganguly (sitar), Sripada Bandyopadhyaya (sitar), Rebati Ranjan Debnath (sitar), Mrs Sheela Bharatram (sitar), Idri Singh (sitar), Jitendra Pratap Singh (sitar), Arun Bharatram (sitar), Mrs Swarnalata Chopra (sitar), Naidu (violin), Roshan (violin), Jatindra Nath Banerjee (violin), Ram Pyro (harmonium), Ghurrey Maharaj (dhrupad), Gulgul Maharaj (harmonium), Vinay Bharatram (dhrupad), Aashish Khan (sarod), Dyanesh Khan (sarod), Khurshid Khan, Shubendra Shankar (sitar), Indraneel Bhattacharya (sitar), Sanat Banerji (sarod), C. L. Das (sarod), Ranjit Banerjee (chandra sarang), Dyuti Kishore Acharya (sitar), Balai Banerjee (sitar), Bibek Ranjan Singha (sitar), Nirmal Kumar Roy Choudhury (sitar), Hiren Mukherjee (sitar), Basantrai Brahmabhatt (sarod), Pratima Roy Choudhury (sitar), Pranesh Khan, Vishwa Mohan Bhatt (Mohan veena, Indian slide guitar), Krishna Bhatt (sitar & tabla), Salil Bhatt, Brijbhushan Kabra, Satyadev Pawar, Vinay Bharat Ram, Vishnu Govind Jog (violin), Ameena Perera, Hariprasad Chaurasia (flute), Debasis Chakraborty (Indian slide guitar), Debi Prasad Chatterjee (sitar), Nityanand Haldipur (flute), Sudhir Phadke (sitar), Pradeep Barot (sarod), Basant Kabra (sarod), Kokila Rai (surbahar), Chandrakant Sardeshmukh (sitar), Shashwati Ghosh (sitar), Amit Hiren Roy (sitar), Daniel Bradley (sitar), Peter Van Gelder (sitar), George Harrison (sitar), Sandhya Apte (sitar), Headset Desai (sitar), Rooshikumar Pandya (sitar), Prabha Agarwal (sitar), Uma Guha (sarod), Stuti Dey (sarod), Suresh Vyas (sarod), Milind Sheorey (flute), Anupam Shobhakar, Rick Henderson, Siddhartha Banerjee, Debanjan Bhattacharjee, Aditya Verma (sarod), Ranajit Sengupta (sarod), Amelia Maciszewski, Dishari Chakraborty (santoor), Rishi Ranjan, Amitava Majumdar (sarod), Prasenjit Sengupta (sarod), Somabanti Basu (sarod), Joydeep Mukerjee (sarod), Dr Seema Ganatra (sitar), Satyam Rai (sarod), Mallar Bhattacharya (sarod), Tarun Bhattacharya (santoor), Samaresh Chawdhury (vocals), Bikram Ghosh (tabla), Kartick Kumar (sitar), Paul Livingstone (sitar), Ronu Majumdar (flute), Gaurav Mazumdar (sitar), Udai Mazumdar (tabla), Manju Mehta (sitar), Ramesh Misra (sarangi), Barunkumar Pal (Hamsa veena), Barry Phillips (cello), T. Radhakrishna (sitar), Shubendra Rao (sitar), Kartik Seshadri (sitar), Daya Shankar (shehnai), Stephen Slawek (sitar), Aditya Verma (sarod), Shiv Balak Tiwari, Som Kartik Sharma, Shyam Bihari, and so many more.

Source:  The above substantial but otherwise incomplete list of musicians of the Allauddin Senia–Maihar Gharana was compiled from various sources, including the biographies of Jotin Bhattacharya, Sahana Gupta, and Swapan Bondyopadhyay


Musicologists would agree that Mian Tansen was the central figure in the formation of the main gharanas of Hindustani classical music. However, when it comes to establishing who the most influential figure was in the transformation, revival and subsequent survival of Hindustani classical music, it is difficult to ignore the life and work of Dr (Baba) Allauddin Khan. These two great masters, Tansen and Allauddin Khan, were from completely different eras in music development. Tansen flourished during a time when Indian music was largely the domain of the ruling classes and, as such, relied on them solely for sponsorship. There was no serious competition from other forms of music to threaten the musicians' survival during this time. It was largely a formative period for Hindustani classical music, and it was mostly performed before elite audiences.

Dr Khan, on the other hand, lived during a completely different period, when the power of the ruling classes was in decline and Hindustani classical music found itself in a transition period and on a distinct downward slide—without the sponsorship it had previously enjoyed, it was in great danger of falling into obscurity. The world had changed dramatically and everything suddenly came into the public domain, where there was great competition from other musical genres and artistic endeavours. Leading musicologist of the time, Pt Vishnu Narayan wrote in 1920 about his grave concern for the decline of Hindustani classical music in a letter to a friend.

Nobody appreciates its great utility. People will certainly repent one day. The next decade will kill most of the leading musicians and scholars.

Two Men and Music: Nationalism in the Making of an Indian Classical Tradition, by Janaki Bakhle

It seems reasonable to assume that if Indian classical music had not regained popularity with the general public, it could not have survived—and this is where Dr Khan's contribution is so unique. It is in this sense that the author argues that Dr Khan was the most influential musician in the history of Hindustani classical music. There is no intention by the author to compare Mian Tansen with Dr Khan because their individual contributions, though equally impressive, were of different kinds. However, it is difficult to resist quoting Jotin Bhattacharya, who listed the similarities between the two great masters in a short chapter in the closing pages of his biography on Baba Khan.

1.      Tansen was born a Hindu, Allauddin Khan had Hindu heritage.

2.      Both were born and nurtured in the musical environment.

3.      Both had deep aesthetic sense and sharp memory.

4.      Both were highly spiritual and equally emotional.

5.      Both had intense creative faculty in the musical sphere.

6.      Both enjoyed experience of ecstasy through the medium of music.

7.      Both had training from renowned State musicians.

8.      Both were State musicians themselves.

9.      Both were undisputed masters of music of their ages.

10.  Both were held in the highest of estimation by the society.

11.  Both had imposing personality.

12.  Both had two wives[12].

13.  Both had four living issues.

14.  Both had talented and reputed heirs.

15.  Both had majority compositions with Hindu themes and some small number dedicated to Islamic themes.

16.  Each had a talented daughter who carried forward his mission.

17.  In both cases, the ages were controversial.

Ustad Allauddin Khan And His Music, by Jotin Bhattacharya, page 227

Two other men who played a vital role in reinvigorating and restoring Indian classical music to its rightful place within Indian culture are Pundit Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande[13] and Pundit Vishnu Digambar Paluskar[14]. However, without the massive input by Allauddin Khan, especially in reforming the guru-shishya parampara tradition, and producing so many maestros to play the music and present it to the world, the achievements of the other two may have proved fruitless in the longer term.

[12] Allauddin Khan's eldest brother, Samsuddin, got him married a second time in retaliation for a perceived insult from the family of Allauddin's first wife, Madan Manjari. Unfortunately, the second wife expired during her second delivery, and neither of her two children survived. 

Source: Ustad Allauddin Khan And His Music, by Jotin Bhattacharya, page 40.

[13] Pandit Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande (August 10, 1860September 19, 1936) was an Indian classical musician widely acclaimed for causing a renaissance in Indian music – 


[14] Pandit Vishnu Digambar Paluskar (August 18, 1872 – August 21, 1931) is seen as the musician who brought respect to the profession of classical musicians and took Hindustani classical music out from the traditional Gharana system to the masses of India 



Dr (Baba) Allauddin Khan breathed his last in 1972 – the end of a legendary era in Maihar.  In the concluding paragraph to his famous essay, Nikhil Banerjee recalls the final procession.

There was a very old temple on top of a hill at Maihar known as the temple of Saradamai.  Pilgrims came there from far and near and surprisingly enough they would come to see Baba straight from the temple.  To the poor common people of Madhya Pradesh who knew nothing about music, Baba Allauddin Khan Sahib was a sort of  Sadhu—a noble soul.  People of Maihar loved and honored him like anything excepting the Muslim community, who did not quite approve of his liberal views on religion.  After his death they at first refused to carry him for burial.  There was a storm of controversy.  But at the end we saw that the burial procession was being attended by the Hindus and Muslims alike and even the chief priest of the temple of Saradamai joined.  It was a marvellous spectacle!

Baba can be compared to Sant Kabir whom both the Hindus and Muslims claimed to have belonged to their community.  I would rather say that like Sant Kabir he was far above these social distinctions.  He was a great Naad Yogi.

My Maestro, As I Saw Him, by Nikhil Banerjee

With the greatest respect for all Indian musicians past and present, the author believes this thesis convincingly authenticates the assertion that Dr (Baba) Allauddin Khan was the most influential figure in the history of North Indian (Hindustani) classical music. He stands alone as the "jewel in the crown" of Indian music culture. And the author is not convinced that enough has been done to recognise Dr Khan's unique, critical and unequalled contribution to the preservation, propagation and refinement of the genre. Through a lifetime of dedication and selfless service, he has single-handedly given the Indian nation something unique to proclaim to the world: Music as a pathway to spiritual awakening, for artist and listener alike.

At the very least, it would be a fitting tribute to this finest of India's music maestros to establish a permanent living memorial in his honour—not to glorify him, because glory was never his pursuit—to advance his crusade for spiritual awakening through musical expression, before it gets crushed beyond recognition beneath the stampede for self-gratification that is fast encroaching on his legacy. In 1978, while writing the Finale to his authorised biography, Jotin Bhattacharya made the following "earnest appeal to music-lovers" to pursue such a concept.

In this concluding statement of my book I wish to make an earnest appeal to music-lovers to pool their resources and establish a full-fledged research centre at Maihar which should blossom into a holy city of music, where pilgrims from every corner of the world will assemble in search of the most unattainable and yet the most covetable oneness with the Infinite, though fleetingly, and evolve a new 'philharmonic' movement in world music.

Let that Madina Bhawan form a nucleus of a new renaissance in world music. Let there be research and innovation carried out by scholars from all over the world. Let the centre be equipped with the most sophisticated electronic and other appliances that can convert sound into light and other forms. So that the basic principle of Nada that is supposed to be at the root of all Creation—the wave theory—will have further corroboration in music.

Let the most perfect science and the most perfect art [music] form a sacred confluence at that sacred place where once that rishi worshipped Ma Sharada.

Ustad Allauddin Khan And His Music, by Jotin Bhattacharya, page 232

Regrettably, more than 30 years later, the author has found no convincing evidence of this noble suggestion ever having been taken seriously—not by members of Dr Khan's family, nor by those in a position of political and economic power. While the former gurukul at Maihar lies stagnating as a museum, the opportunity for creating a vibrant research centre is in danger of being lost forever. Apart from putting up a few statues, the establishment of a few music societies, and annual granting of awards and scholarships by some music colleges and universities, nothing substantial has been done within India to perpetuate Dr Khan's campaign for spiritual awakening through music. The author is compelled to ask: Where is the sponsorship for such a worthy concept?

Dr Khan's beloved guru, Ustad Wazir Khan, once said about his favourite disciple's music:

"So long as the sun and moon will exist, his music will survive."

Ustad Allauddin Khan And His Music, by Jotin Bhattacharya, page 77

What a tragic loss to Indian music culture if those words are proven to be wrong!



At the time of the author's first interview for this thesis, one examiner posed the question: Why did you choose this topic for your thesis when everybody already knows it to be true? This incident and others like it have caused the author to conclude that many academics and music lovers sincerely believe that everyone knows all about Baba Allauddin Khan; however, this viewpoint simply does not stand up against the evidence. During the course of conducting this research, the following question was asked of many sincere young music students and music lovers: What do you know about Baba Allauddin Khan and his musical legacy? The response was invariably a blank look, followed by the question: "Who?"

Quite apart from the relatively mundane areas where Baba Allauddin Khan has not received appropriate recognition, such as those mentioned in the introduction to this thesis, the real issue at stake is the lack of appreciation and proper understanding of his approach to music as a pathway to spiritual enlightenment. Throughout the research process, it became apparent to the author that many musicians and music scholars alike quite innocently believe they know a lot about the life and music of Baba Allauddin Khan—however, when questioned further, their forthcoming responses have been lacking in accuracy and proper understanding. Apart from quoting the easily refuted claim that he lived to the age of 110 years, almost everyone cites Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan as being Baba's most successful disciples in sustaining his legacy.

However, many observers fail to realise that while these musicians, and others like them, have certainly been successful in projecting Indian music onto the world stage, they have not followed the strict guidelines set down by their esteemed guru. It is not unreasonable to suggest that their music has been designed to appeal to the emotions of the listener; and that by presenting the music in this way these musicians have set the stage for mediocrity well into the future—at least in terms of the purest form of Hindustani classical music espoused by Dr Khan. This is not to suggest that their music is not highly sophisticated and extremely attractive; it is just that it is designed to excite the listener and, thus, it glorifies the musician.

Perhaps the fault does not lie with these musicians alone for this unfortunate outcome. After all, the audiences they first encountered in the West for the most part had no idea of the subtle nuances of Indian classical music, nor were they aware of the technical intricacies of the raga. To them, the music must have represented a totally new and, above all, exciting experience, which lit a flame of curiosity about Indian music across the Western world.

It is also reasonable to suggest that the most of the Indian music being played on the world stage today has been thoroughly westernised, and is being "marketed" in much the same way as popular music in the West... ... ... etc, etc.


Following are some sample photographs taken from various sections of this book


Below:  The author arriving at the tombs of Ghosh and Tansen in Gwalior

Below:  The tomb of Mian Tansen at Gwalior


Below:  The tomb site of Dr Khan and his wife, Shrimati Madina Khatun, at the former Gurukul in Maihar


Below left:  The tomb of the grand master, Dr (Baba) Allauddin Khan

Below right:  The author playing sitar at the tomb of Dr Khan


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