Ustad Asad Ali Khan was one the great Rudra Veena players of our time, so his recent death is a huge loss to the world of Hindustani Classical music. While his forefathers were court musicians in Jaipur, Rampur, and other North Indian Courts, he himself was a 7th generation musician. He was never married, but adopted a son, Zaki Haidar, who was also a disciple of his. Another disciple of his was Bikramjeet Das of Kolkata.
There are not many Rudra Veena players in India left, at least not as there where in times previous, and as I reflect on Ustad ji’s life and music, I am reminded once again of the depth and scope inherent in Indian Music. And although Rudra Veena’s popularity in general may be declining, to witness the accomplishments of today’s living masters of other instruments (sitar, santoor, tabla, vocals, etc.) is extraordinary. I say this, because instead of focusing on what is changing in Indian Classical Music (i.e., what is lost), it is sometimes more beneficial to look at what is gained from previous efforts. And what better way to look at Ustad ji’s life than through the lens of how his accomplishments helped shape the music of today’s performers.
As I head off for a practice session myself on this eve of Guru Purnima, through reflecting on Ustad ji’s life, I give pranaam to all the great musicians who have worked so hard to develop this wonderful and boundless music.