These posts are dedicated to exploring the music and lives of Tabla players both young and old.
A tabla master of the highest order, Pandit Samta Prasad Ji’s music continues to inspire tabla players, hindustani musicians, and music lovers alike to this day. I often look towards old recordings for inspiration before and after my riyaaz and today I was happy to find this video of Samta Ji’s solo:
I love the power, balance, and clarity in his hand–it feels truly Benarasi to me. It is said that he was known as the ‘king of Banaras’ during his life, and this video certainly illustrates why!
Born in 1921, he comes from a family and lineage of tabla and pakawaj players. His father, Pandit Hari Sunder (also known as Bacha Mishra), initiated the young Samta Ji into tabla, but sadly passed away when Samta Ji was seven. He then became a disciple of Bikku Maharaj, who was himself a disciple of Baldev Sahai (all in the Benaras lineage/gharana of Ram Sahai).
In addition to his prolific classical career Samta Ji was also featured in many films of his day: Meri Surat Teri Ankhen, Sholay, Basant Bahar, and many more. I found a great excerpt from Meri Surat Teri Ankhen that again shows his strength and grace as a brilliant tabla artist.
Below are some additional links for more information on his life. We are truly blessed to hear such incredible masters of the past!
I found this recording on youtube through knisar22’s youtube channel (which is amazing and really active with new uploads from unique recordings all the time). Ramji’s playing is mind blowing! Even though this an older recording without high quality, the essence of his mastery is so crystal clear. The clarity, speed, and sheer variety of his bols is breathtaking. I wish there were more recordings out there of his.
From reading a few articles on the web about Ramji, I learned that he is the son of the famous Benares tabla master Anokelal Ji, and was all set to take the world stage “but that certain other jealous Benares tabla players slipped him some mind-cracking drugs and sent him mad. It is one of the big shames of Benares music-circle politics.” (http://forums.chandrakantha.com/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=982) This intrigues me because regardless if it is true or not, this story adds a certain mystique to his life, which, if juxtaposed on the few recordings of his that are available, tell a story untold about a rare genius. In hindustani music this juxtaposition may not be a necessarily new phenomenon (i.e., of a mysterious life against the work of a genius), but this recording here undoubtedly displays an artistic feat seldom heard. Supposedly, he still plays concerts occasionally, but because he is quite old now rarely gives long performances. I would love to learn more about Ramji’s life, and hear more of his recordings, so if anyone knows what direction to point, let me know!
There are 5 clips loaded of Ramji’s tabla, but I just added one here:
Two things have inspired this post: 1) I have been practicing a famous chalan made popular by Thirakwa Khan Saheb and 2) I am studying lots of Hindi lately. Paired together, I have been thinking about the nature of tabla compositions in terms of genre (if we can really call it that). There are many different types of compositions in tabla, e.g., kaida, rela, laggi, tukra, chalan, etc., and each has its own characteristic, but a character that is sometimes very hard to define uniformly. Some call a particular composition a kaida while other call it a chalan. In fact, I have heard that Thirakwa Khan Saheb himself was not so strict on the names of different types of compositions.
In looking at some descriptions and definitions of tabla compositions on the Internet, it struck me that these attempts were coming close to what Amartya Sen calls the “curatorial” side of colonial scholarship on India. This was the effort of colonial scholars in India to classify and define all aspects of Indian society in order to display them in a book, museum, or some other source with a curator. So with this in mind, the need to classify and strictly define all types of tabla compositions could be viewed as an ideal that originates outside the realm of Indian Classical music, i.e., outside of the very mindset that harbors such a fluid art form. Furthermore, rigid classification might actually go against the fluidity and flexibility inherent to Hindustani music.
When we utilize language as a signifier of what these compositions mean, I think we can come to a better place in understanding tabla compositions without rigidly classifying them. For example: kaida in Hindi/Urdu literally means “rule.” And in this way, a kaida is a compositional form in tabla that establishes rules of how to develop a composition. Laggi, another type of composition in tabla, comes from the word lagatar, meaning continuously. Thus, laggi compositions describe a set of bols (patterns of tabla sounds) that are played in a continuous fashion. This is different from rela however. Of the few stories on how the word and compositional type, rela, came about, one popular idea comes from the notion that it originated from relgari, the Hindi/Urdu word for train. There is another idea though, that rela came from the Urdu expression, rela aya, which signifies a gushing of water, like when a damn breaks and water gushes from the source. The latter, to me, linguistically speaking, helps clarify what rela describes better than any other description. And really, I think that the names of these compositional forms, are just that: descriptions of the sounds and compositions of tabla. In the spirit of Hindustani classical music I do not think these forms are intended to be so rigid that require exact definitions.
Having said all that, I return to my initial inquiry, chalan. Coming from the word chalna, meaning to move, chalan in Hindi/Urdu means movement. In this description then, a chalan is different from a kaida insofar that it does not establish a rule for development, it is rather, a movement. In light of what I wrote above, it seems that chalan is just a way to linguistically describe the sequence of tabla sounds, and not a compositional genre that needs definition and rigid parameters to understand.
Finally, here is the beautiful chalan that inspired this post (performed here by Anindo Ji and his son Anubrata). The chalan actually starts at around minute 2:20, but is recited by Anindo Ji at 2:30.
What an artist! I have been enjoying listening to Mahapurush Mishra Ji’s youtube clips recently and wanted to know more about his life. Here is a short biography of him that I found on the internet. I wish there was more on his life somewhere though–I want to order Aban Mistry’s book, Tabla and Pakhawaj soon so I can supplement some of these online biographies with the knowledge she gathered for that book.
“Pandit Mahapurush Mishra (1932-1987) was a disciple of Pandit Anokhelal Mishra, a revered master of Tabla. Mahapurush was a famous Tabla accompanist to many topmost musicians and a professor at the Ali Akbar College of Music in Calcutta (now Kolkata). He spent most of his time during the late 1960s in USA teaching, recording, and appearing widely in numerous classical music concerts. There are far too few of his Tabla solos in circulation. However, this solo album of Pandit Mahapurush Mishra, a very rare-of-its-kind, is an invariably spectacular display of his virtuosity and musicality, which he is renowned for.
Longtime Tabla master, sideman to the stars, and Ustad Ali Akbar Khan’s main accompanist throughout the better part of three decades until his death, Pandit Mahapurush Mishra has also appeared on the Beatles b-side of Lady Madonna, George Harrison’s The Inner Light (recorded in Bombay in January 1968 with the vocal tracks added in London the next month) as well as on Harrison’s Wonderwall soundtrack.” (http://www.questz.com/artists/mahapurush-mishra)
There are currently two short biographies of Ustad Shaik Dawood Khan online (www.tablaustaddawood.com and www.chandrakantha.com/dawood/) that I drew from for this biography. My other sources for this paper were interviews I was able to do in the summer of 2008 in Hyderabad, India, with his son, Shabir Nisar.
PART I – Contexts
In 1916, the year Ustad, Shaik Dawood Khan was born, India was in the midst of assisting the British in fighting the First World War. Two years earlier, in August of 1914, Britain declared war on Germany and began sending Indian troops, over a million of them, to Europe and the Middle East to help their cause. India’s economy suffered tremendously and, as in many times of war, inflation occurred. Dawood Khan was born into an India ruled by the British and struggling for its Independence. In 1915, the freedom fighter Tilak re-entered Indian politics in the Congress party, and India persisted in its road to become independent from British Rule.
During the decades leading up to his birth, an explosion occurred in the number of Indian political organizations called Sabhas. Caste relations were being re-negotiated and there was “…widespread movement[s] towards modern organizational forms” (Metcalf and Metcalf 138). Many castes and sub-castes were making a move to reclaim a particular position in society for economic and political reasons, which did not exist before and were now taking on new forms. This was due in a large part to a census the British ordered where many groups desired to be recognized as “higher castes.”
During the late nineteenth century, there were also many movements in the arts that related to emerging classes and political struggles over representation. Two musicologists in particular were at the forefront of musical revolution involving Hindustani music in particular: Bhatkande, and Palushkar (Bhakle 2007). Hindustani music was undergoing a transformation from court music to “North Indian classical music.” Since there were no more courts following the fall of the Mughals in 1857, hereditary Hindustani musicians were required to find new avenues for seeking patronage to support their music. Some continued to flourish in the court of the Nizam in Hyderabad, but most had to be adaptive in their strategies to survive. There was a new interest in theatre arts (including music), especially Marahastra, West India.
It was through these performances that Dawood Khan was first exposed to music as a child. Although he did come from a musical family, his parents were extremely fond of music and took him to the theatre often. Dawood Khan was born in the state of Maharastra on December 16, 1916. His life as a non-hereditary musician was a product of a new India, one that was rapidly changing from exclusive, self-contained groups, to a nation desiring to establish its independence and an identity separate from colonial rule. If Dawood Khan had been born during another period in Indian history, his mastery of the tabla and life as a musician would not have been possible. His life’s work is a direct reflection of the political conditions of his time as well as his intense dedication to riyaaz (practice).
It is well known that the musicologists mentioned above, Palushkar and Bhatkande, had certain agendas in creating new arenas (i.e., music schools, something unheard of before their time) for Hindustani music while, consciously or not, taking power away from its current culture bearers: hereditary musicians of Muslim families. As Bhakle posits in her book though, hereditary musicians were extremely aware of these moves and were keen to adopt strategies that would allow them to continue as culture bearers. Even though music schools began to spring up everywhere in India in the late nineteenth and earlytwentieth centuries, the fact of the matter was that the true performers of the day were still shaped and “created” by hereditary masters of Muslim descent. There was a period, which Dawood Khan comes out of, when these hereditary musicians began teaching students outside of their family. This is in conjunction with many other changes India was going through at the time, e.g., issues of caste, independence, world affairs, education, and religion alike.
PART II – Instruction
If the relationship with a teacher and student is sincere and following the tradition of Hindustani music, they share level of interaction that is not unlike—and in many cases resembles exactly—that of a father and son. Consequently, it is very rare for any student of Hindustani music to have multiple gurus, which is one thing that makes Dawood Khan Sahib so unique: he had five different gurus throughout his life.
His first guru, Ustad Khasim Khan, was a zamindar (landowner) in the city Dawwod Khan was from, Sholapur, and held weekly musical gatherings at his home. It was here that Dawood Khan developed an interest in studying tabla and at the age of 12 began tutelage under Khasim Khan. During this period Dawood Khan received intense training from his guru, eventually preparing him to accompany many other artists (vocalists and instrumentalists). A technique that has been lost with the new generation of tabla players was Khasim Khan’s innovation to manipulate the bayan (left-hand drum of the tabla) with his thumb. This is a technique (among many compositions) that Dawood Khan acquired during his initial training and utilized in many compositions.
It is important to note that Khasim Khan never thought of himself as a professional musician and was not a part of any family of musicians. He always considered himself an amateur who gained some notoriety by accompanying a few famous musicians. From the discussion above, we can see how ideas of music and the transfer of musical knowledge were changing. Initially, Dawood Khan’s training came from outside the hereditary culture bearers of this tradition, and the gatherings he attended were a product of a changing environment from the courts to middle-class homes and small concerts organized for a larger public. Although this is after the time of Palushkar and Bhatkande, it is an indirect reflection of those efforts: Hindustani music was becoming (or perhaps already was at this point) an enterprise that was taking place in multiple venues and was enjoyed, studied, and taught to many people. It was no longer an exclusive art form.
Dawood Khan’s next guru was Ustad Alladiya Khan (supposedly seventh generation musician, also known as Allaudin Khan), of Hyderabad. Alladiya Khan was son-in-law and disciple of Hussain Baksh (also from Hyderabad), who was in turn, son-in-law of the founder of the Faroukabad Gharana (Ustad Haaji Vilayat Ali, ca. 1840 C.E.). The Nizam kingdom of Hyderabad is an important aspect of why Hyderabad flourished as a tabla culture. It is well known that the Nizams loved music and especially tabla, as they would welcome any musician into their court. There is one story told in Aban Mistry’s book of a female pakawaj (cousin and predecessor to the tabla) player who resided in the harem of the Nizam’s kingdom of Hyderabad in the early twentieth and late nineteenth centuries. Unfortunately, the woman remains unnamed but is thought to have been the daughter of the famous pakawaj player Nana Panse. This story, as it is retold by Mistry, establishes Hyderabad and the courts of Nizam as major centers for tabla and pakawaj, to such an extent that there were even female masters of the instrument. (For a detailed description of the history and lineage of tabla in Hyderabad, see my previous post call “Tabla in Hyderabad.”)
As Ustad Shaik Dawood Khan gained more and more notoriety for his tabla playing in Sholapor (a small city in the neighboring state, Maharashtra), he began being called to Hyderabad radio. Consequently, in 1937, because of the frequency of his appearances on the then privately owned radio station (months after his arrival the radio station was taken over by the Nizam and was subjected to state rule), he shifted his residence to Hyderabad and became a disciple of Alladiya Khan. Now in Hyderabad, Dawood Khan continued to flourish in all aspects of tabla: learning, performing, and teaching—he was even teacher to one of the Nizam princes.
This is an interesting shift in the tabla player’s patronage that began to occur in Ustad Dawood Khan’s generation. Emphasis on patronage by princely courts was slowly eradicated because of the fall of Mughal courts beginning in 1857, forcing all musicians to find new sources of income. The reason why a Hindustani musical culture thrived in Hyderabad was not only because of the Nizam’s love for the music itself, but also because his was one of the only courts in India with that much political staying power. Ustad Dawood Khan then (among others), represented a new generation of tabla players that entered a musical world devoid of its previous patterns of patronage.
Dawood Khan’s son, Shabir Nisar, suggests that this was also the generation that represented the pinnacle of tabla performance ending in the 1970’s. The musicians of this generation inherited from their courtly forbearers the capacity for long periods of intense practice, and they now shared their dazzling virtuosity with the general public. Their ability to communicate at such a high artistic level undoubtedly led critics and audiences to regard them as the very summit of this tradition. Ustad Shaik Dawood Khan was part of this new generation of tabla virtuosos and contributed greatly to the evolution of the instrument in many ways.
Ustad Dawood Khan had three other teachers, the first two were the sons of Ustad Alladiya Khan: Ustad Mohammed Khan, Ustad Chote Khan, and Ustad Mahbood Khan. His last teacher (Ustad Mahbood Khan) was first a close friend of Dawood Khan’s whom together they would share compositions with. He only became a disciple of his when his friend’s father wanted there to be some concrete evidence that Dawood Khan learned from him. Shabir Nisar, Dawood Khan’s son, said that his father learned 57 rare gats (a type of composition) from Ustad Mahbood Khan.
Shabir Nisar told me that his father, Ustad Shaik Dawood Khan, would complete two to three chillas a year. A chilla is a period of forty days during which a musician practices ten to twelve hours a day, doing nothing else. It is a complete immersion in one’s art, which musicians today are encouraged to do at least once. In his fifties, the Ustad continued his commitment to practicing ten hours a night, and not sleeping until 4 a.m.. By the age of 40, his teeth were gone because he refused to get enough sleep due to his drive to practice. In his 60’s, even though his health was declining, he would practice up to three to four hours a day. The Ustad would always practice in front of a mirror, but only so he could see his hands. He was very particular of both his hands and sitting position and constantly maintained to himself and his students that their hands could not be allowed above a certain height. Ustad Dawood Khan always said that any real tabla player should not have calluses, and he would allow anybody to inspect his hands upon making this statement.
Teaching and transmission were of the utmost important issues to Ustad Dawood Khan. Among his many senior disciples are his son, Shabir Nisar, Nandkumar Bhatlouande, Kiran Deshpande, Betrabet Prabhakar Rao, and Abhiman Kaushal. I would like to conclude with a quote that opens up the website of the recently inaugurated “Dawood Khan Academy of Music of Hyderabad” to illustrate how important teaching was to the Ustad:
“The value of an accomplished tabla player lies in his ability to manage with and support younger and upcoming musicians.”
I have wanted to revise and post some excerpts from my master’s research in Hyderabad recently, so here is a part of my research that explores the history of three distinct paramparas of tabla transmission in Hyderabad.
There are three distinct paramparas (musical lineages that have more than three generations of transmission) that have roots in Hyderabad because of the Nizam’s love for the instrument. The first stems from Niyamat Khan’s son, Musahib Khan, who left the courts of Indore for the court of the Nizam in Hyderabad around 1920 (the exact date is unknown). Although he did not stay for long, three of his disciples (the first two of which were his own sons) Ustad Bahadar Khan, Ustad Karmu Khan, and Ustad Maulla Baksh, stayed in Hyderabad and under the Nizam’s patronage for their entire career. Aban Mistry suggests that “after circa 1926 A.D., . . . the new Maharaja [of Indore] was fond of music but severely lacked his father’s extraordinary flair for music . . . So during his reign, many artists left Indore and went away. As per popular belief, most of Indore’s artistes settled down south in the courts of Hyderabad” (Mistry 1999:286). Consequently, Musahib Khan’s parampara in Hyderabad represents the Indore connections to Hyderabad.
The second parampara emerges from Ustad Munir Khan, who learned from the son of Ustad Haaji Vilayat Ali (the founder of the Faroukabad gharana), Hussain Ali Khan. Although he was not born in Hyderabad, he settled there early in his life because his father, Karim Baksh, who was not a tabla player, found work and moved to the budding metropolis. As a result, Ustad Munir Khan lived and taught in Hyderabad most of his life but eventually settled in Bombay. Some of his most famous students who did not live in Hyderabad, Ustad Amir Hussain Khan of Bombay and Ustad Jan Thirakwa Khan, continued to visit and learn from him while leaving their mark and traces in the Hyderabad tabla community to the present day.
The third parampara in Hyderabad includes Ustad Shaik Dawood Khan but stems from the son-in-law (Ustad Hussain Baksh) of the founder of Faroukabad gharana. It is important to note here that both the son and the son-in-law of Ustad Haaji Vilayat Khan are represented as two distinct paramparas of tabla in Hyderabad (they continue to be quite divided today). Ustad Hussain Baksh was loved by the Nizam so much so that it was said that he “would place himself next to his [the Nizam’s] royal seat and play the whole night through, while the Nizam languishing in the soothing effect of his Vaadan would doze off intermittently” (Mistry 297). Ustad Alladiya Khan, the son-in-law and senior disciple of Ustad Hussain Baksh, also earned his seat as a member of Nizam’s court musicians as well as his two sons, Ustad Mohammed Khan and Ustad Chote Khan.
Ustad Karamatullah was one of the greatest players of the Farukhabad gharana in recorded history. I searched for a biography of his online, but came up with none except for a small snipet of his father, Ustad Masit Khan, who was known as an early popularizer of the Faroukhabad gharana in West Bengal:
“The late Ustad Masit Khan, was the unparallel tabla maestro of his time and practically performed with all the top musicians, such as Ustad Fayyaz Khan Sahab, Ustad Hafiz Ali Khan, Ustad Enayat Hussain Khan, and Ustad Wazir Khan, to name a few.
Ustad Masit Khan was primarily responsible for popularizing the style of “Farukkabad Gharana” in West Bengal through his disciples, like the late Pandit Jnan Prakash Ghosh, the late Rai Chand Boral, the late Montu Bannerjee, the late Kanai Dutta, and his son, the late Ustad Karamatullah Khan, who himself has given a new dimension of accompaniment, with Vocal, Instrument and Dance, and of course in Solo style of playing for which the musicians and the music lovers of the country will remember him for ever and ever. He was also given an award by the Sangeet Natak Academy.” (http://worldmusiccentral.org/artists/artist_page.php?id=1885)
This recording on youtube is in teental (16 beats). After Khan Saheb’s opening composition, he plays a chellan with a folk-like lilt to it that I have heard my guruji, Abhiman Kaushal, render before. It has a swing to it that is almost in between chatusra (4’s) and tisra (3’s). It is a treat to hear it here! Ustadiji follows it with a rela in tisra jati (3’s). Another unique rela follows, using dhera dhera. And Khan Saheb concludes here with yet another rare composition!
A beautiful rendering of the Farukhabad peshkar by Amod Dandage. I absolutely love the the aesthetic of Amod Ji’s peshkar, and this peshkar embodies some if Faroukhbad’s essential character. The word peshkar comes from the Hindi/Urdu verb, peshkar karna, which means ‘to present.’
Amod Dandage (Farukhabad Gharana) playing here Peshkar in Teentaal. Amod Dandage is a disciple of Us. Mamhulal Sangaokar, Pt. Omkar Gulwadi & he has been training under the able guidance of Pt. Arvind Mulgaonkar for the last 15 years.
“Peshkar has a number of interesting characteristics. It often uses interesting counter-rhythms (layakari) and has a fully developed process of theme and variation. If the process of theme and variation follows the rules of kaida then it is called kaida-peshkar. Often substitution processes are used which, although logical, violate basic rules of kaida. In such cases it is simply referred to as peshkar.” -David Courtney (from http://chandrakantha.com/tablasite/articles/cyclic2.htm)
To add to Courtney’s description, there are a number of different approaches to peshkar stemming from one’s gharana. For example, Faroukhabad’s peshkar always expands from a set pattern of bols (tabla sounds) that is distinct from say, the Panjab gharana. All gharanas too, have their own aesthetic approach to expansions and variation. Furthermore, within this aesthetic there are individual nuances and additions that give peshkar its amazing depth and scope.
Within the Benares gharana however, the popular composition known as ‘Benares peshkar’ is treated more like a kaida.