Lab of mischief is cradle of music

Kairana, chosen by the BJP for a transformation into a discordant dateline, has a mellifluous past.

By Pheroze L. Vincent
  • Published 16.06.16
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June 15: Kairana, chosen by the BJP for a transformation into a discordant dateline, has a mellifluous past.

Kairana is the birthplace of Kirana Gharana, one of the most emotional schools in Hindustani classical music, whose practitioners include legendary singers such as Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, Begum Akhtar, Gangubai Hangal, Mohammed Rafi and Roshan Ara Begum.

The town in western Uttar Pradesh's Shamli district is in the news for BJP parliamentarian Hukum Singh's discredited claim of a Hindu exodus because of extortion by criminals from the minority community.

Kairana was home to many families of musicians from the Mughal court, who migrated from Delhi after the empire fell in 1857. The Kirana Gharana was founded by Ustad Abdul Karim Khan and Ustad Abdul Wahid Khan in the late 19th century. Its three disciplines are rudraveena, sarangi and vocals.

The Kirana school is known for its individual swaras or notes and emotional pukars. Ustad Wahid Khan evolved the classical Hindustani music by extending recitals of a raga from approximately 20 minutes to up to an hour. It is also influenced by Carnatic music, which Ustad Karim Khan picked up in the Mysore Durbar.

The life of Ustad Karim Khan has a parallel with that of many named in Hukum's list. Although the MP claimed they were driven out, it has been established that many left in search of greener pastures, not recently but between 10 and 15 years ago.

Ustad Karim Khan, too, had left Kairana. "Ustad Karim Khan sahib (born in 1872) moved out of Kairana when he was 10 to the court of Jaipur and then to Baroda. He finally settled down in Miraj in present-day Maharashtra," explained Bhimsen Joshi's Pune-based son and Kirana exponent Shrinivas Joshi.

Kairana's legacy lives on in the south. Kirana is the principal school of Hindustani classical music practised in Karnataka and Maharashtra. Ustad Karim Khan's daughter Hirabai Barodekar was a prominent Kirana vocalist who trained under Wahid Khan and his grandson Nishikant Barodekar is a tabla expert, now based in Anantapur, Andhra Pradesh.

"A Hindustani vocalist is truly a devotee of all Gods. Most of the descendants of the family are Muslim but some, like the Barodekars, are also Hindu. Even among the Muslims in the family, many of our cultural practices are Hindu. We use mehendi and turmeric paste on couples that are about be married. We also wear sacred threads on our wrists. Our gotra is that of Kosle Brahmins," said Ustad Mashkoor Ali Khan, also born in Kairana and now a teacher at the ITC Sangeet Research Academy in Calcutta.

The urge to "wander" appears to have been sprinkled in the soil of Kairana.

Ustad Mashkoor Khan was born in Kairana in 1956 but migrated when he was aged four to Delhi, where his father Shakoor Ali Khan was a sarangi maestro at All India Radio.

"We Kirana Gharana families have historically been wanderers. The men spent their days in the courts of princely states and returned to peaceful Kairana for a few months every year. Nowadays, we have all moved to bigger cities and the ancestral homes are looked after by distant relatives, whom we visit whenever we get the time, which is rare," Ustad Mashkoor Khan said.

He added: "The centres of the great Kirana Gharana music have always been outside Kairana. But until the 1980s, there were the highly respected mehfils (soirees) hosted by Pandit Chandra Bhan, the then MLA, in the city. Later, we occasionally performed at weddings in Shamli but I haven't performed there lately."

Culture critic Ziya Us Salam said classical music had suffered twin blows in 1857 and 1947. "In 1857, they lost Mughal patronage and in 1947, the landed gentry moved to Pakistan, mainly to Karachi. The ghazal tradition still exists in Rampur - home to the Rampur Gharana. But without patronage, Hindustani classical music could not survive in western Uttar Pradesh." (Ustad Wahid Khan had died in Lahore)

"Ragini or folk music is the popular music of western Uttar Pradesh and Haryana," explained Delhi-based Kirana vocalist Amjad Ali Khan.

Amjad, aged 40, has relatives in Kairana and often visits the town and takes classes there. "Today, with music reality show contests, everyone wants their child to be a singer. The interest is strong in both Hindu and Muslim households."

He added: "Every other Muslim family in Kairana will tell you how Hindus made them stay back during the Partition. The troubles now are mere politicking before the Assembly polls (scheduled for early next year)."