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Down the memory lane- A journey into the repertoire of the Living Legend - Ustad Aslam Hussain Khan Saheb 'Khushrang'

Born on 14th April 1940, Ustad Aslam Khan is one of the top and most senior musicians, indeed is a living legend as he happens to be the descendant of the illustrious musicians Shaadi Khan and Murad Khan (Father – Son duo) of the Hapur Gharana (Meerut U.P.), the court musicians of the Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar.

Ustad Aslam  Khan Saheb  has completed 50  illustrious years  being the representative of  four Schools (Gharana’s) of  Hindustani Classical Music that have existed over a span of over  500 years namely, the prestigious Hapur Gharana,Khurja Gharana, Atrauli- Jaipur Gharana, Agra Gharana and  Delhi Tanras Khan Gharana, each institution contributing to a galaxy of stalwarts like the Haji Ustad Altaf Hussain Khan, Gayan Samrat Ustad Azmat Hussain Khan, Sangeet Samrat Ustad Allahdiya Khan, Gayan Acharya Ustad Vilayat Hussain Khan, Aaftab-e-Mausiqui Ustad Fayyaz Khan and Ustad Tanras Khan  and many more. With his inborn genius Ustad Aslam Khan has created a blend of each Gharana, so as to amalgamate their diverse specialties into his individual style, which bestows tremendous artistry and an appeal enthralling his audiences worldwide.

Young Aslam was a child prodigy who gave his first stage performance at the age of twelve years. He had his initial training under his maternal uncle Haji Ustad Altaf Hussain Khan of Khurja Gharana and has had the privilege to learn from his brother-in-law in relation Gayan Samrat Ustad Azmat Hussain Khan from Atrauli Jaipur Gharana, who not only became his guru but also his mentor, as he came under his wings in 1950 making Bombay his abode for his musical journey. As the years passed young Aslam could not ask any better in life than to have come across a  golden opportunity of learning music under the great Ustad Vilayat Hussain Khan of Agra Gharana and Ustad Khadim Hussain Khan, who added immensely to his musical repertoire.

Ustad Aslam Khan’s repertoire includes Khyal, Thumri, Dadra, Tarana and Ghazals, Bhajans. That represents an elaborate repertoire of Badhath in the "Vilambit" laya khyal(slow tempo ) that is accompanied by scintillating Tanas in the “Drut" laya (fast tempo) renditions that are embellished by a spectacular variation of Layakari and Bol-bants (interwoven permutations between the Laya (tempo) and the Composition. He has composed several classical compositions and Ragas under the pen name "Khushrang" as he believes in experimenting with the traditional ragas imbibing the art of composition following the footsteps of his mentor Ustad Azmat Hussain Khan.

Aslam Khan Saheb happens to be an expert on the music of Hazrat Amir Khusro, the reverend saint, musician and a poet,  was one of the most creative poets who ever lived in India, being Turk by origin accepted India as his motherland serving it with his poetry, music genres and compositions in some most exotic ragas that he created after  amalgamating the Indo - Persian music genres, both the styles. Ustad  Aslam khan is one of the few musicians who renders some of the rarest Persian Ragas and Authentic Compositions that Amir Khusro created.

Known amongst the very few  ‘Chautarpha Gayaks’ of today, a  term used for someone who can render all 4 genres of  music Khyal, thumri, Bhajan and Ghazal with equal proficiency, Ustad Aslam Khan Saheb’s semi classical renditions (Thumri,Dadra) bestows an aesthetic flair embellished with subtle nuances that are rarely heard. While his Gazals and Bhajans renditions are the purest in its form with minimum instrumentation, which has carved an enviable niche audience. He is an excellent composer and has enthralled his Ghazal connoisseurs with over one thousand self- composed Ghazals, as his innovative mind always seeks to explore new avenues.

Ustad Aslam khan shared about how he learnt some of the rarest ragas of Jaipur Atrauli tradition in a lecture demonstration recently, disclosing an interesting trivia on Gayan Samrat ‘Allah Diya Khan  Saheb’ saying, “During his last 10 years Ustad Allah Diya Khan, who was in his late 80s then, taught some of the Rare Ragas and Bandishes (compositions) that he created and taught them to his disciple Azmat Hussain Khan ,who was his nephew and stayed with him during those days. In-turn Azmat Hussain imparted all that knowledge to young Aslam Khan who was just 16 at that time by enriching the knowledge of his young disciple with the rarest and most authentic ragas and compositions of the Jaipur Atrauli tradition, that incidentally some of the most senior musicians of Jaipur Atrauli tradition of today don’t possess!

A musician who carries a humble demeanor, Ustad Aslam khan happens to be an honest guru who takes not a minute to impart his traditional music to his disciples and true connoisseurs. The maestro quotes “Music runs in my blood and I look forward to carry forward this tradition in the next generation by imparting knowledge to those who deserve it.” Ustad Aslam khan is a man of the purest ray, who is dedicated to serve music being a staunch preserver of the nearly extinct "Guru Shishya Parampara".

Ustad Aslam khan is a great historian and an encyclopedia in himself, who draws interesting insights on the Historical Evolution of Gharanas especially the Dhrupad and Khayal Gayaki Styles, some of the most rare and Jod ragas (Combination ragas) like Dev Kauns, Manjari Bihag, Sawani Nat and Kaunsi Kanhara and kamodi Malhar and Malhar types, that has come to him as part of his Taleem (disciplined study) under his guru Ustad Azmat Hussain Khan.

Talking about the devotional genres in Amir Khusro’s era (1253–1325 CE) and even 100 years before him, khansaheb says “The Muslim Mosques (Khankhas) at that time used to have a spiritual gathering called the Mehfil – e-Sama where the Sufi singers used to sing the genres ‘Naat' and Hamd’ praising their peers (spiritual mentors) accompanied by the Daffli and Daff instruments. This tradition still continues after 800 years at the Garib Nawaz Khwaja Moinuddin Shisti’s Darga popularly known as Ajmer Shariff, where there is still the Sama khana, where the spiritual gathering takes place. There were two brothers Miyan Dargahi and Miyan Nigahi who also continued this tradition. Miyan Dargahi came to Delhi and became the Disciple of the Sufi Saint Qutubuddin Bakhtayar Kaki and carried forward the tradition.”

Taking about Hazrat Amir Khusro  a great composer, scholar and  poet associated with the evolution of Khayal (meaning imagination), Ustad Aslam Khan says, “I have learnt all this history in a tradition that has come to me Seena–baseena  i.e in heart to heart conversation with my ancestors in the Guru Shishya Parampara Tradition (Mentor-Disciple Tradition of Hindustani classical music). The evolution of ‘Khayal’ can be dated back to 700 years by Hazrat Amir Khusro. Music at that time was more in the Devotional form called ‘Dhrupad’ an ancient Indian classical genre that was prevalent in the Hindu temples. Khusro incorporated Persian, Arabic and Turkish elements into Indian Classical Music of the then era and is considered the originator of the Khayal, Qawwali, Mankabat and and Tarana styles of music.

“Khyal was based on a repertoire of Bandishes (short compositions) based on traditional Indian ragas (modes) that Amir Khusro amalgamated with the Persian music and were sung in different local linguistics like Awadhi, Hindvi (that he created by combining Awadhi with Urdu) and Persian language. Being in the court of Allaudin Khilji Amir Khusro introduced Khayal for the first time in his court, it being a musical genre that had less boundations in terms of structure and aesthetic appeal. Moreover the Dhrupad was sung in the Hindu temples, while Khayal was brought out of the temples to sing the praises of the kings and the lords, which was beauty personified. The Khayal Gayaki started spreading in the courts over the time, where its form changed from Devotional to Shringar Rasa (romantic mood)” adds khan Saheb.

Ustad Aslam Khan tells us the legend behind Amir Khusro making his first disciplines and the miracle behind it saying, “Hazrat Amir Khusro’s Peer (Spiritual Mentor) Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia (who possessed healing powers) was once sitting in  his courtyard (Angan) and saw an old man with his son (12-15 years old). He asked Khusro to teach them his music. When Khusro approached them, he found that the boy was deaf and the father was blind. He went back to his peers and told about it to him. Hazat Nizamuddin Alulia said you must have got mistaken, go back and try to communicate with them again. To Khusro’s surprise, when he spoke to the boy this time the boy could listen and so could the blind father see. Khusro made this father son- duo his first disciplines who were non- other than Hasan Samant and Hasan Sami from where the Student Disciple tradition of Khayal originated. Amir Khusro taught the father son duo the first Tarana “Tadare Dani Deem Tom Tana Derena” and “Man Kunto Maula” which is in Persian language in Raag Eman, which is now called Yaman and till now is sung as a Khyal and also as a Qawwali that was first introduced to his disciples called Qawwal Bacche which became a Gharana later.”

There is so much to explore and one can spend hours together sitting with  my guru Ustad Aslam Hussain Khan Saheb together sitting and listening to the legends of Amir Khusrao,  to showcase his music, artistry, Persian ragas and legends behind him or if one gets a chance to listen  to his renditions of some of the most rare and Jodh ragas (complex  ragas) of Jaipur Atrauli tradition  or be it  listening to over 1000 Gazals that he has composed along with numerous exquisite thumris, bhajans ….as the list goes on, we at least need a series of write-ups to showcase this maestros musical genius and accomplishments!

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