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The Maker Of Modern Melody – Abdul Karim Khan

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The Maker Of Modern Melody – Abdul Karim Khan

Bharat Jyoti, October 3, 1948

The original article as it appeared in 1948.

The original article as it appeared in 1948.

THE CLOSING YEARS of the 19th century marked renaissance in the field of Indian Music. Time was when singers of fame left their homes in Northern India and migrated into Western India, to settle down in Maharashtra. They were most prominent exponents of various ‘Gharana’ (school) of Indian Music. These singers had thus brought with them the tradition handed down to them by their illustrious forefathers.

Khan Saheb Abdul Karim Khan, whose death anniversary falls on the 27th October, was one of these bright luminaries in the musical firmament. He hailed from Kairana, a town in the far-off Kurukshetra. The Kairana school of music has had a great tradition behind it. His was the school of vocalists as well as instrumentalists. It is of interest to know that Abdul Karim Khan too was an accomplished instrumentalist.

Rarely do we come across a songster gifted with so sweet a voice as that of the Khan Saheb. In this respect, he was next only to the late Khan Saheb Rahmat Khan. Karim Khan’s voice was remarkable for its supreme clarity, flexibility and sonority. How divinely did he pour forth his rapturous melodies.

Pathos and devotion characterised his melody. So he generally sang those Ragas which depicted these sentiments. His style was ornate and variegated like the rainbow. There was the serenity of the Manasa Lake in the ‘Asthais’ and the warbling of the cuckoo in his ‘Antaras’. With an instinctive keenness of conception and savvy of execution, the Khan Saheb could treat a Raga according to its mood. That was why, in his interpretation of Ragas like the Megha-Malhar, the resounding ‘Gamaks’ which he put forth were reminiscent of a roll of thunder while his swift ‘Taans’ reminded us of streaks of lightning.

An Exponent of ‘Khayal’

'He combined the scientific, aesthetic and emotional qualities of art and fused them into one by the power of his genius.'

‘He combined the scientific, aesthetic and emotional qualities of art and fused them into one by the power of his genius.’

THE KHAN SAHEB was a Khayal singer. The peculiarities of his style where quite evident. After a few preliminary ‘Alaps’ he started his ‘Vilambit Khayal’ in all serenity. The subtlety of his notes and harmonies beggared description. They touched the innermost recesses of human heart. He would slowly unfold a Raga, with due regard to its scientific form, embellish it by spontaneous cadences and inimitable modulation. The wizard would thus hold his audience spellbound for hours together and end his ‘Vilambit’ with fountain like ‘tans’. While his ‘Vilambit Khayal’ were well-known for their raciness.

Not all classical singers sing ‘Thumries’. But ‘Thumri’ was the Khan Saheb’s fort. He had specialised in it by virtue of his flexible and melodious voice. His ‘Bhajans’ too had a unique devotional fervour abou them. Listeners listened to his Jogias and Bhairavis with bedewed eyes and heavy sighs. When, for instance, the great musicians wedded together his divine notes and poured his full heart in such devotional strains as:

“Gopala mori karuna kyon nahin awe” – one felt as if the cowherd – God would soon come down on this mortal world and unable his yearning supplicant to reach the consummation that he so devoutly wished all along!

Jewel Among Musicians

The Khan Saheb’s talent was as receptive as it was creative. He was not satisfied with the knowledge which he inherited from his ancestors. He had therefore traveled widely in pursuit of knowledge. During his tours in Southern India Abdul Karim Khan came in contact with many notable South Indian musicians. And it was during such a tour that the late Maharaja of Mysore happened to hear his divine melody, and the Maharaja extended his gracious patronage to “The Jewel Among Musicians”. Abdul Karim Khan was under the state patronage to the end of his life. His renderings of South Indian Ragas (Saveri, Abhogi, Anand-Bhairavi and Kharaharapriya) commanded great administration. There was novelty in his Marathi stage songs also.

Distinguished Disciples

A myriad of young disciples had already mustered around him. With his keen insight into the potentialities of those budding singers, he initiated them into the mysteries of music. Sawai Gandharva, Roshanara Begam, the late Dasharathbuwa Mule, Hirabai Barodekar and Suresh Babu are some of his outstanding pupils. The high tradition of the Kairana School is still being mentioned by the disciples of his disciples also. Gangubai Hangal, Bhimsen Joshi and Yashvantrai Purohit are the latest and outstanding exponents of the school. Among other exponents may be mentioned Kapileshwari Buwa, Vishwanath Buwa, Amir Khan of Indore, Baswantji, Saraswati Rane, Shyam Sardesai, Seeta Moolky, B.V. Jadhav and Firoz Dastur.

It was in his lifetime that a fierce controversy had raged as to what constructed the fundamentals of music and whether it should be looked upon as an art or a science. For his part, Abdul Karim Khan had no intention to bother himself with such hair-splitting dogmatism. But those were the days when rivalries among different “Gharanas” of music were rampant. Needless to say that he was maligned and reduced by some of his adversaries.

Expression Of Emotion

A consummate artiste as he was, Abdul Karim Khan knew that music like every other art, is evolutionary and that it has its origin in the great past. To him music was not merely a means of livelihood. To him it was the expression of emotion, of pathos and devotion. He interpreted the Khayal system of Indian Music in his way and popularised it. He combined the scientific, aesthetic and emotional qualities of art and fused them into one by the power of his genius. And there lies his greatness.

His dreamy life ended eleven years ago, when he was in his sixties. But the great artist has left behind him indelible impressions on the minds of his listeners. A score of his gramophone records testify to the greatness of his art. One should just listen to his Shudh-Kalyans. Bilawals and Lalits. His sweet music shall soothe many a pensive soul.





  1. Thanx a lot, for such a great news about a great Singer, I belong to Kairana.
    I love Ustad Abdul Karim Khan.

  2. Thanx a lot, for such a great news about a great Singer, I belong to Kairana.

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