Agra Gharana – Singers of Indian Classical Music

Agra Gharana – Singers of Indian Classical Music

Alakhdas and Mulukdas were the first musician of Agra gharana of Indian classical music but a definite shape and form was given by Haji Sujan Khan, a junior contemporary of Mia Tansen. Later Gaghe Khuda bux, Ghulam Abbas Khan and Kallan khan took the gharana forward. Khuda Bux had learnt Khayals from Nathan Pirbux of Gwalior and so both Agra and Gwalior gayakis of Indian classical music have several features in common particularly in voice production. In the next generation came Faiyyaz Khan, Tassaduq Hussain, Nathan Khan followed by Vilayat Hussain Khan. Of them all, Faiyyaz khan was the brightest jewel in the crown of the Agra gharana singers of Indian Classical music. The author had the rare and good fortune, in his formative years, of receiving guidance from the Ustad then a Court singing musician of Baroda Durbar, and also from Ustad Abid Hussain Binkar (Jaipur gharana) of Baroda Durbar.

Like Gwalior, Agra gharana singing of Indian classical music has thrown up many great singers with whom the author had personal intimacy. To name but a few, Khadim Hussain, Atta Hussain, Latafat Hussain, Asad All (Delhi) and that bright and luminous singer Sharafat Hussain whom fate snatched away from us rather prematurely. The great maestro, teacher and singer Pt. S. N. Ratanjankar of Lucknow Maurice/Bhatkhande College fame was a pupil of Faiyyaz Khan and a product of the Agra gharana.

The basic features of Agra gharana of Indian classical music singers may be summed up as under:

  • Preface of Alap/Nom Tom in Dhrupad singing style followed by Dhamar
  • Dhrupad music based Vilambit Khayals
  • Exquisite Drut Khayal music  with brilliant bolkari, exploi­ting to the full rhythmic effects
  • Excellent use of bol tans
  • Bold and powerful voice and tanas with heavy and clear beats often resembling the sound of cannon firing, thunder and lightning.

These in brief are the main features of the parent gharanas of Indian classical music singers. There are many other illustrious gharanas of vocal classical music  and it is well highly impossible to exhaust them in one discussion. We all have the highest respect and regard for them. Our failure to make references to many living vocal stalwarts who have kept up the traditions of these gharanas of classical music is not intended and is deeply regretted. Nor has it been possible to touch upon the Instrumental gharanas of Indian Classical music. Perhaps some authors may wish to pen articles on these subjects.

While it is not possible to touch upon the features of so many vocal and instrumental gharanas of classical music, it is possible to lay down some factors responsible for formation of gharanas‑

  1. Gharanas of Vocal classical music originally family based, now are in the hands of disciples and performers outside any particular gharana stream.
  2. Some master musician was the originator of a gharana.
  3. The development and sophistication in music have given rise to some gharanas even outside the control of the earlier families and groups of disciples. A gharana is a stream running through four to five generations or even more besides branching out amongst disciples.
  4. Several gharanas emerged at certain places as a result of intense culture of music by master musicians and unbounded royal patronage. Thus gharanas have been named more often after some places than after the original creators. Illustrative of this are Delhi, Agra, Gwalior, Jaipur, Benaras, Lucknow, Kirana, Rampur, Bettiah, Bhindi Bazar and so on.
  5. Until fifty years ago, a musician belonging to an established gharana or its pupil enjoyed a higher status and standing amongst music lovers than other practitioners and there were good reasons for such recognition into which we need not go here.
  6. In development of gharanas of classical music, cross fertilization and assimilation of different cultures and musical strains have played a great part. This has enriched the Indian Classical music gharanas and kept them free to absorb new ideas and forms.