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My Life - As Told to His Grandson Azizuddin Khan (Sangeet Samrat Khansahab Alladiya Khan)

My Life - As Told to His Grandson Azizuddin Khan (Sangeet Samrat Khansahab Alladiya Khan)
Item Code: NAN512
Author: Amlan Das Gupta and Urmila Bhirdikar
Publisher: Thema Books, Kolkata
Language: English
Edition: 2012
ISBN: 9789381703021
Pages: 142, (42 B/W Illustrations)
Cover: Paperback
Other Details: 8.5 inch x 5.5 inch
weight of the book: 205 gms

Back of the Book

KHANSAHAB ALLADIYA KHAN (1855-1946) is widely regarded as one of the greatest North Indian classical vocalists of the modern period. He achieved great renown as a singer in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and the Jaipur-Atrauli style that he established continues to be among the most influential idioms of Hindustani music in the country today. He narrated this account of his life to his grandson the Late Azizuddin Khan in the last years of his life and this rare manuscript is now translated with a critical introduction for the modern reader. In it he talks about his early life, his travels, his career as a court singer and of his encounters with other great musicians of his time. This account throws light on the profession of the singer in the golden age of classical music in India, and will be of great interest to musicologists and musicians, cultural historians and sociologists as well as the general reader.

This second revised edition includes several rare photographs; and a translation by Vidushi Shruti Sadolikar Katkar, of an excerpt from a chapter in Govindrao Tembe 's biography of Khansahab, in which Tembe describes his style of singing in great detail.

About the Author

URMILA BHIRDIKAR currently teaches at the Central University of Gujarat, Gandhinagar.

AMLAN DAS GUPTA teaches at the Department of English, and is Director, School of Cultural Texts and Records, at Jadavpur University.

About the Author

SANGEET SAMRAT KHANSAHAB ALLADIYA KHAN (1855-1946) was regarded as one of the greatest exponents of khayal in the golden age of Hindustani classical music. He was born in a family of traditional dhrupad singers, and served in the courts of Jaipur and Jodhpur before settling down in Kolhapur. Maharashtra, around the end of the nineteenth century as the court singer of Shahu Maharaj. His own style was described by his contemporaries as being particularly rich and complex. He trained many eminent disciples including his brother Ustad Haidar Khansahab and his sons Ustad Nasiruddin Khansahab, Ustad Manji Khansahab and Ustad Bhurji Khansahab. Outside his own family his students included Pandit Bhaskarbua Bakhle, Sm Kesarbai Kerkar, Sm Mogubai Khurdikar, Shri Tribhuvandas Jariwala, Sm Leelabai Shirgaonkar, Sm Sushilarani Patel, Pandit Nivrittibua Sarnaik and Shri Gulubhai Jasdanwala. The Jaipur-Atrauli style that he established continues to be among the most respected idioms of Hindustani music in the country today, and among its contemporary exponents the names of Pandit Mallikarjun Mansur (d. 1992), Sm Dhondutai Kulkarni, Sm Kishori Amonkar, Sm Shruti Sadolikar and Pandit Rajashekhar Mansur are well known. He narrated this account of his life to his grandson Shri Azizuddin Khan in the last years of his life.

This rare manuscript is now translated and edited for the contemporary reader. In it he talks about his early life, his travels, his career as a court singer and of his encounters with other great musicians of his time.

Alladiya Khan: My Life is the first title in the MUSIC THEMA series. The focus of this series is on the history and theory of music.

Preface to the first edition

The years 1936-46 were for me the most memorable. Before those years, I remember, when I was very young, Chhote Abbaji [Haidar Khansahab] gave me an ektaari and taught me the basics of music. Bade Abbaji [Alladiya Khansahab] used to come to Kolhapur from Mumbai and he too taught me dhrupad, dhamar and khayal. I was the only child of my parents, and they loved me very much. My mother was seriously ill, and would not allow Bade Abbaji to take me to Mumbai for learning music. I used to go to school in Kolhapur and learn a little singing from my father [Bhurji Khansahab].

In 1936 I went to Mumbai. I used to live with Abbaji, and be with him day and night. What would be the daily routine of a great, sage-like singer like him! Apart from daily chores, he was always drowned in music-thinking of music and teaching music. Even when he seemed to be sitting quietly, he would be thinking of music. His fingers were always counting the beat. Because he was old, and also because of the doctors' advice 'about my health, he could not give me rigorous training. But Abbaji thought that the family tradition must continue and taught me the astai-antaras of several rare raags. It was thought that my father would train me in the common raags and also get me to practise the rare raags that Abbaji had taught.

I used to take him to Leelabai Shirgaonkar's house after breakfast. Shri Gulubhai Jasdanwala used to come for his training in the evening. I used to go to Shirgaonkar's house in the evening to take lessons from Abbaji with Shri Jasdanwala. After that, we would go to Band Stand in Chowpatti. Abbaji would rest a little, or sometimes teach us rare raags. Gulubhai would then drop us home.

Shri Anantrao Shirgaonkar and Seth Gulubhai Jasdanwala looked after Abbaji in the last years of his life. They strove hard to fulfil his only wish-'Mujhe achhi mitti do!'-and acquired a plot in the cemetery. They informed him of this before he died, and he gave them many blessings. The Shirgaonkar family built a marble kabar. Gulubhai and Shirgaonkar also got Abbaji 's statue installed in Kolhapur.

Abbaji was fond of eating paan. Before and after dinner he would rest a little. After dinner he would sit chewing paan and talk about so many things-the astai-antaras of various raags, anecdotes of ancestors, memorable events of his youth, memories of travels, concerts, and how he acquired the family music tradition.

I wrote these things down, collected in this way, and I am happy to make it available to students of music.


Khansahab Alladiya Khan was born two years before the revolt of 1857 and he died shortly before the independence of India. In his long life he witnessed the political and social transformations that culminated in the emergence of the modern Indian state: as a professional singer, his life was profoundly influenced by these changes. Born in a family of court musicians, his own career as a performer was fashioned around princely and aristocratic patrons. He died having seen a fundamental change in the structures of patronage. The period spanning roughly the middle of the nineteenth to the middle of the twentieth century was remarkable in the history of music for a variety of reasons. For one, this is the age when the styles of singing and instrumental performance that we are familiar with were fashioned: whether we think of the content of musical knowledge, or the social structures that regulated it, it is to this period that we have continually to look. Indian classical music thrives on claims of its extreme antiquity and traditionality: the claims are complex, but it is fairly clear that the kind of music that we are familiar with has a relatively short history.

As a performer Alladiya Khansahab won phenomenal acclaim, even in an age when all the major schools of vocal music had outstanding representatives. His success as a teacher ensured that his style of singing remained a major idiom in North Indian vocal music long after his death: the Jaipur-Atrauli style, as this is sometimes called, is still represented by students of his own disciples, and has clearly fared better than many of the other musical idioms that were popular in his time. His own career as a singer and a teacher spanned several decades. His music was especially prized because of the great learning it manifested, as well as for its traditional and authentic character. Khalifa Badal Khan, the well-known sarangi player and popularizer of khayal gayaki in Calcutta, is said to have advised his students to listen to Alladiya Khan as the exponent of authentic khayal gayaki. It is probably true that his style was also seen as being exceptionally difficult, and therefore hard to understand, let alone master; but that would probably add to the awe and mystique that his singing seems to have had.

The account of Khansahab's life that is preserved in My Life gives us an unparalleled insight into the world of music towards the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth. The history of Indian classical music is poor in respect of written documents, especially of an autobiographical character; thus any addition is a welcome one. But My Life is more than just autobiography: the standing of its narrator, and the period of music it stands witness to, make it a rarity. It is a significant addition to a small group of works which would include first person narratives such as Vilayat Husain Khan's Sangeetajnon ke Samsmaran, Alauddin Khan's Amar Katha, Govindrao Tembe's Mazha Sangeet Vyasang and Amiyanath Sanyal's Smritir Ataley. It is a pity that such works are not available in languages other than those they were written in, to say nothing of English translation.

The text of My Life was narrated by Khansahab Alladiya Khan to his grandson Shri Azizuddin Khan in the last years of his life, between the end of 1942 and December 1945. The present translation is made from a typescript of this memoir, which was kindly made available to us by Azizuddin Khansahab. The text is being presented here in full for the first time, though extracts have been printed elsewhere. The language of the text is Hindustani, and contains a number of words and phrases which preserve their Urdu derivation. The language is apparently of the kind that was the common means of interchange among musicians from North India, and does not show any particular sign of local peculiarity. It is clear that Alladiya Khansahab himself was fluent in other languages. He speaks of his early training in Arabic and Persian, and many of his own compositions are in Rajasthani and Khari Boli, apart from the conventional Brijbhasha idiom of some khayal cheezas. The typescript contains a normal quota of misreadings and omissions, and therefore we have compared it with the manuscript copy of the text. Where the text was not clear, we have sought the help of others, notably Azizuddin Khansahab himself, and in other cases, individuals familiar with the issues being discussed.

The text presents relatively few problems in terms of the familiarity of the words used, but the technical terminology of music in particular, and of aesthetics in general, does raise considerable problems of finding equivalents. Usually the problem is of deciding among the different ways of rendering single expressions: for instance, the word yaad, memory, remembrance, often shades into the sense of musical repertoire, or even competence. Such difficulties are very common in the text, and have to do also with the fact that there has been little attempt to evolve terminological equivalents in English for terms used in Indian music. The frequent recourse to the specialized vocabulary of western music is, more often than not, confusing. In translating My Life, we have attempted to treat these terms in context, and in keeping with what we take to be the sense of the sentence. Some of the musical terms have simply been transliterated (e.g. fikra, firat) and have been explained the first time they occur in the text. We have made no attempt to change the order of the narration, or even to prune the obvious cases of repetition. We have added sub-headings for the ease of reading and reference. The text as we have it is poised between the style of oral narration, especially that of an anecdotal nature, and that of writing. The stories that we find in My Life were narrated over a number of years and in committing them to writing, the transcriber made some attempt to sort them chronologically. There is a concern with the linear order of the narrative, and a broad temporal sequence is sought to be preserved, from the account of the narrator's childhood to his service under Shahu Maharaj of Kolhapur-a period of some seventy years. The last two decades or so of the Ustad's life are not described at all. Within this temporal sequence there is often a fairly loose structure of anecdotes, and it is not always possible to assign them a temporal order. Events that happened in Jodhpur are narrated, for instance, with the usual preface of 'Once...'; but a concern for fixing dates and times is also manifested, as in the repeated mention of the age of personalities appearing in the narrative, of historical events, and of locations. The anecdotes themselves are however shot through by startling associations that cut through space and time. Events, persons, places, enter into the narrative at unexpected points: at times we are conscious of an inner narrative which is constructed around the heroic persona of the narrator, and is not amenable to the linear progression of autobiography. Moments of crisis, the quest for honour, great exemplars-are all implicated in this inner narrative.

The orders of the oral and the written are counterpointed in the text in more ways than one; there is above all a clear sense of the entry of the habitual oral narrative technique of the musical tradition into the world of written records. The style of narrative is largely anecdotal, which is the case with the majority of oral accounts; anecdotes habitually serve as a means of communicating information in musical circles, and need close and sophisticated scrutiny. Not only is it the mode in which history appears to us in the case of music, it enters deeply into the ways in which musical transactions are effected even to this day, with stories about the compositions or styles accompanying the instruction in that particular matter. Much remains to be done in the direction of analysing the structures of musical anecdotes: in many cases they serve to make technical points easier to remember, or create a historical context for a composition in terms of a notable performance or particular incident associated with it. Equally clearly one can make out certain ideological moves: anecdotes validate particular interpretations of musical pieces and problems. Many of the stories in My Life are of this kind, where the narrator recounts his own success and the ways in which he wins the acclamation of a learned and sophisticated audience. A brief discussion of some of the problems in this respect would make the text of My Life easier to understand.

The transactions of knowledge in the world of North Indian music continue to be largely dependent on oral communication in spite of technological developments. Musicians still recount anecdotes in the course of performances, especially in small gatherings: frequently they accompany the imparting of knowledge by teachers to students, to say nothing of the discussions of music. For many, the history of music would appear to be impossibly anecdotal, and thus of little value. This impulse towards narrativization, however, might be seen as an inbuilt mechanism which helps to historicize the abstract content of musical training. The absence of date and time is contrasted with the attempt to imagine the practices of music in concrete historical settings. Even forgetting operates as part of the reality effect (Alladiya Khansahab speaks once or twice of his inability to remember a particular point or issue), conferring a greater credibility on what can be actually remembered.

One of the basic problems that any attempt to understand the history of Indian music encounters, lies in the nature of its records. Some have attempted to do away with anecdotal history altogether, preferring to rely only on the written musical texts of ancient and medieval times; other accounts have chosen to submit the anecdote to the test of 'truth' and thereby to sift fact from fiction. From such a point of view Alladiya Khan's vision of Saraswati and his descriptions of encounters in court would seem to belong to different orders altogether. It is only when we are able to see the anecdote as serving certain distinctive functions in the oral narrative that we can hope to move beyond a naive historicism. In a general way the anecdote operates in musical history as the site of memory; anecdotes told by the narrators about their own experience and those that are repeated about others are not materially different-they may be as vivid and dramatic and invested with more or less of the signs of the real. The possible differences which could be marked here are especially interesting. Amiyanath Sanyal's famous account of the musical life of Calcutta in the early decades of this century is unusually rich in visual detail even when it is in the words of others: Alladiya Khansahab's anecdotes are, on the whole, devoted to the elucidation of musical points and the sense that is continually implicated is that of sound. The contrast is probably to be explained in the problem faced by writers writing prose narratives on music for essentially non-specialist audiences, and the consequent dependence on the visual imagination. This might offer a way of distinguishing the 'literary' character of Sanyal's work and its intended readership from the close circle of musicians and connoisseurs to whom Alladiya Khansahab recounted his stories. Thus, memory is as sharp and retentive in the case of My Life as in the case of literary raconteurs, if in a different way. A song, a musical passage, even the use of a single note in a particular way, can be perfectly reconstructed through the anecdote.

The limits of the anecdote can be established in two important ways. One is that the anecdote is limited by what can be said in a particular case: in other words, by a kind of expectation which is generated by the position of the subject in the ideological world of the narration. Anecdotes about Jahangir Khansahab, Alladiya Khansahab's preceptor, for instance, are related to notions of his learning, the powerful effect that his music had on listeners, his generosity as a teacher and so on. All the anecdotes about him establish a fairly consistent image. These points can be iterated over and over, but rarely if ever departed from. Surprise is an important element, but it comes from the act of repetition rather than the use of reversal. The force of the anecdote might come from the effect of hyperbole, but not usually by contravening expectations. Oral narratives, unlike written texts, have to depend on repetition, as the past of the narrative can be recalled only by iteration. The other limit, evidently, is that of memory of that which can be remembered. Memory operates as a communal force, enabling us to imagine a cohesive musical community. There is essentially no difference between what is recounted by the narrator as part of his own experience, and stories that are heard from others.

One of the most interesting features of musical anecdotes is that they reveal certain kinds of structures that remain unchanged on the whole in different contexts. Stories about musical knowledge (as we find, for instance, in Jahangir Khansahab's knowledge of bandishes or Alladiya Khansahab's ability to construct unusual compositions in My Life) are repeated in different gharanas about ustads owing allegiance to those styles. As such they seem to be part of the way in which musical identities were constructed and valorized. An extensive repertoire, great technical virtuosity, knowledge of swar and lai, and above all the 'taasir' which allowed singers to do as they willed with audiences: such qualities are reiterated in story after story. Other anecdotes, of course, refer specifically to aspects of a particular gharana style and the special qualities which were associated with it. Stories about the Kirana school would emphasize tonality and coloration; those of the Jaipur school would contain references to the intricacy of the taans and the difficulty of the compositions chosen.

At the same time some of the anecdotes underline the problems of trying to reconstruct the 'pre-modern' world of music. Ways of assessing skill or success seem unfamiliar: Mantol Khansahab's unparalleled ability was that he could make his audience cry when he wanted, and even strike them unconscious. There is a running anxiety about the quality of voice, and the major crisis of the narrative is the point where Alladiya Khansahab' s voice suffers a reverse because of the strain put on it at the Amleta court. At other times the appreciation of musical excellence seems tied up with technical questions of interpretation and skill. There is no doubt that the narrative evinces a great deal of sophistication in musical judgement, and there are repeated descriptions of debates and discussions among musicians. But even when one has accounted for the major changes in the production and reception of music that occurred in the course of Alladiya Khansahab' s career, many of the problems that emerge from the stories that he recounts remain difficult to understand. The point about the duel between him and the sarangiya Kirach Khan is a case in point: while Khansahab is singing Jaitkalyan, Kirach insists on playing improvisations in Puriya and Marwa. The present forms of these raags afford limited scope for comparison. If the point is not just the incompetence of the sarangi player, one has probably to consider specific problems relating to interpretation of raags.

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