The great legacy: Where it all began

Ravi Shankar performs in Delhi with his daughter Anoushka in March 2009
Date:1 March 2009, PHOTO:
Sarod maestro Ali Akbar Khan. 1988. PHOTO:

To be able to appreciate Indian classical music, it is important to understand its history and tradition as well as its stylistic elements.

Indian classical music

It is melody based as opposed to Western classical music which is harmony based, according to Encyclopedia Britannica and the Oxford Enclyclopedia of the Music of India. Modern-day Indian classical music has two distinct forms: Carnatic Music and Hindustani Music. Both are based on ‘raga’ which is accompanied by a rhythmic cycle ‘tala’.

With elements of Persian Sufi music, Hindustani music is also part of the Bhakti tradition with music of Dalpatram, Mirabai, Brahmanand Swami and Premanand Swami, thus being a-religious in nature.

Maihar Gharana

Based in Maihar, Madhya Pradesh, India, Maihar Gharana was formed by Allauddin Khan with a distinct style and a strong guru-shishya tradition. Great artists of the Maihar Gharana include Ali Akbar Khan, Ravi Shankar, Nikhil Banerjee, Annapurna Devi, and Ali Akbar Khan’s sons Aashish Khan, Dhyanesh Khan, Pranesh Khan, Rajesh Ali khan, Alam Khan, Manik Khan and Shiraz Ali Khan.

Maihar Gharana’s individual style is centered on Dhrupad with a characteristic short rhythmic interlude. Music of the Maihar Gharana is spiritual, thoughtful and uplifting.

Ustad Ali Akbar Khan

Sarod maestro Ali Akbar Khan learned to play the Sarod from his father Allauddin Khan. Discovered and called ‘the greatest musician in the world’ by violinist Yehudi Menuhin, Khan became the first to perform Indian classical music in America and the first to release an album of Indian classical music on an American label.

Later he settled in California where he was the Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Music at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

He popularized Hindustani classical music in the West both through performing at various concerts and also through teaching it at the Ali Akbar College of Music he founded in 1967 in San Rafael, California, with a branch in Basel, Switzerland.

Khan had won much accolades including the Padma Vibhushan, many times Grammy Award, the MacArthur Fellowship and the National Endowment for the Arts‘ National Heritage Fellowship.

Pandit Ravi Shankar

Both Ali Akbar Khan with his Sarod and Ravi Shankar with his Sitar were considered the best exponents of Hindustani classical music.

Shankar’s music had widespread influence in India and many parts of the world, like Ali Akbar Khan, both of whom were disciples of Allauddin Khan. Allauddin Khan was Shankar’s life guru and Khan’s open-mindedness and acceptance of all cultures  influenced his music permanently.

Shankar was exposed to European and American cultures while traveling and performing with his brother Uday Shankar. Later, he became the spiritual guru to the Beatles’ George Harrison, leading to the huge popularity of Indian classical music internationally.

Together, Khan and Shankar brought recognition of Indian classical music to America. But both also realized that the soul’s rooting in the music was missing, making it important for them to preserve the music and the tradition. Thus, the Ali Akbar Khan College of music became home to the tradition of respect and devotion to the music. Khan also established a library and archive of Indian classical music.

Pandit Roop Verma, a guru bhai of Ali Akbar Khan and Ravi Shankar, was also a world-renowned Sitarist, whose art matured under Allauddin Khan. Verma later developed his own characteristic style of a deep, pure and spiritual expression.

Like Khan and Shankar, Verma also was an innovator, creating new fusion forms derived from Indian classical music and other cultural traditions and instruments. Verma was both a composer and a teacher, and also conducted healing music and meditation seminars.

Verma was an active practitioner and teacher of Nada Yoga, a tradition of meditation which he studied for over 30 years, and emphasized the importance of balance between the body, mind and spirit through his music.

Alam Khan, Ali Akbar Khan’s son, and Arjun Verma, Roop Verma’s son together are now working on preserving this great tradition and keeping Indian classical music alive in the world.



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