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Saturday, December 31, 2016

The wizard of strings


Remembering Ustad Hafiz Ali Khan, the sarod legend whose thirst for purity in music transported the audience to a spiritual experience.Arguably, the finest sarod player of the last century, worthy descendant of the family that moulded the sarod to its present form, Ustad Hafiz Ali Khan died 43 years ago in December. Awarded the Sangeet Natak Akademi fellowship, the Padma Bhushan, a doctorate by the Khairagarh University he was a legend. However, he guarded his music zealously and recorded very little for All India Radio or cut many commercial records so there are very few people alive today who would have heard him play.

There is a telling incident of how he managed to avoid being recorded by a recording company while at the Gwalior court. When the Maharaja told him he should record, he said the possible misuse of the recording later would bring disrepute even to His Highness, as he was Hafiz Ali Khan “of Gwalior”, and the Maharaja seeing the truth did not insist. A lone recording of his with the Sangeet Natak Akademi recorded in the late 1950s is missing from the Akademi archives. He taught sparingly too, so there are very few people today who play in his style. Today, he is largely forgotten. But those who have heard him cannot forget the impact of his music after hearing him in the 1950s. As Naina Devi, the doyen of thumri once said: “The first stroke of his ‘jawa’ created such an impact; the sound was unmistakeable.”

He played sparingly, succinctly, and every note had a meaning. He did not prolong or over embellish his music, and his style of playing was intensely powerful – the sparing use of his chikari in his alap, the adherence to the “chaar taan” in alap, the sudden expertly executed crisply played “lar lappet”, the flow of different jhalas, his wonderful traditional Senia gats and intricate layakari – all produced an amazing, unparalleled, unforgettable musical experience. He used to tune his chikaari to a nikhad instead of sa in some ragas which sounded very dramatic.

The Ustad belonged to the princely state of Gwalior; his father Ustad Nanhe Khan was the court musician there. The family were originally from Afghanistan, and his grandfather Ustad Ghulam Ali Khan had amended the rabab to its present form, the sarod. Ustad Hafiz Ali Khan learnt initially from his father, then his uncle Ustad Murad Ali Khan – the family were known as the Senia Shahjahanpur sarodiyas. His thirst for pure music took him to Vrindavan, where dhrupad in the old style was sung. He learnt Dhrupad from Pandit Chukkhelal and Pandit Ganeshilal, who were from the family of Swami Haridas.

After this he went to learn from the descendant of the daughter’s line of Mian Tansen, Ustad Wazir Khan of Rampur, a learned and knowledgeable musician who impressed upon him with the importance of raga purity and maintaining the pure musical tradition of the Seniyas. Ustad Hafiz Ali Khan had already imbibed the Senia rababiya tradition of Tansen from his son’s line, through his grandfather’s Gurus Ustad Pyar Khan and Ustad Jafar Khan descendants of Mian Bilas Khan, Mian Tansen’s son.

As such, Ustad Hafiz Ali Khan’s concerts were redolent of perfect sarod baaj combined with authentic ragadaari, executed in Dhrupad style. He had pakhawaj accompaniment with his jor ang, his jhalas were unparalleled; learnt as they were from a beenkar tradition. His gats were the typical Senia elaborate compositions, with hidden twists in the laya. His sarod playing style was virile, crisp and concise, not cloying.

The aim in playing was not to entertain but transport the audience to a spiritual experience. Each stroke had a purity and inherent correctness about it; its application was solely its appropriateness within the raga, not merely its aural appeal. Ustad Inayet Khan had said his recital was full of sweetness “itni mithaas thi unme”. He carried the weight of both true raga knowledge and also the authentic sarod baaj and aware of this responsibility, he was very careful that it never fell into wrong hands and hence recorded sparingly, taught very judiciously to disciples who could possibly misuse his knowledge.

Ustad Hafiz Ali Khan believed music was a means of reaching God, it was not for entertainment. As such, its integrity had to be protected. According to his youngest son Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, “He taught me that music was not just to please the ear and to enjoy, but a form of prayer and glorification of one’s Maker. It was for this reason that he felt so strongly that pure music must never be defiled because to him it was like saying a prayer.

He said that one must try to create magnificent music because anything less than one’s best was not good enough to offer at the feet of one’s Lord. He very firmly believed that one’s music can get ‘taseer’(ability to touch one) only if one creates it as an offering to God – if it is for oneself or other people or merely to earn money – one might become a very competent performer but one would never achieve ‘taseer’ – that indescribable quality which has impact on the listener’s very soul.” Ustad Hafiz Ali Khan also played beautiful lyrical thumris something he had an instinctive feel for, that was honed by his interaction and learning from perhaps the greatest harmonium player and thumri specialist Bhaiya sahib Ganpat Rao of Gwalior.

He was so “riyaazi’, that once, after he had finished his concert, ending at a dizzying speed, (as he himself put it in an interview with Pandit D. T. Joshi, “dhuaadhaar bajaya”) a tabla player Darshan Singh provoked him to play again. Taking up the challenge he again resumed that punishing “drut laya”. However, Darshan Singh could not sustain the pace and within 30 minutes, collapsed with a heart attack on the stage. Ustad Sahib never forgot the terrible tragedy and berated himself for having been provoked, and said he could not eat anything for four days as he was so upset. The incident is described at length in the last interview the Ustad gave in 1972 to Lalita Khanna.

Undoubtedly, he was perfectionist in every respect. Ustad Amjad Ali Khan says “One small mistake of bol – a ‘da’ instead of a ‘ra” and he would scold me and insist on endless repetition of the phrase until I got it perfectly as he wanted it. He was a rigorous taskmaster – unsparing in his desire to make me master what he taught.” A large hearted musician he appreciated talent wherever he heard it, openly praising his contemporaries and juniors. Apparently once at a Delhi concert in the early 1950s of Ustad Vilayat Khan, the wire broke. A critic sneered that he must have broken it on purpose to give himself a rest! Ustad Hafiz Ali Khan turned round and said, “taar tabhi tootti hai jab uski zindagi khatm hoti hai” (a wire breaks only when its life is done).


Source and credit :-http://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/music/The-wizard-of-strings/article16960435.ece
Forwarded By :- Shri. Jainender Nigam, PB NewsDesk prasarbharati.newsdeskgmail.com

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