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Ustad Faiyaz Khan

The various gharanas in Hindustani music constitute a rich heritage of artistic traditions, which has been transmitted to us orally through generations of great musicians. The Gwalior, Agra, Kirana, Delhi, Jaipur, Atrauli, Patiala and other gharanas have produced some of our greatest maestros such as Haddu-Hassu Khans, Tanras Khan, Ghagge Khuda Bux, Rahmat Khan, Alia-Fattu, Umrao Khan, Ghulam Abbas Khan, Nathan Khan, and so many others. Ustad Faiyaz Khan popularly called "Aftab-e-Mousiqui", was "the ultimate flowering of the genius of the Agra or Rangila Gharana." He summed up in himself the finest traditions of his gharana and was its greatest exponent in recent times. He belonged passionately to his age, "and yet, he belonged to an infinitely more glorious past of our music and its traditions".

Faiyaz Khan's musical lineage goes back to Tansen himself. His family is traced back to Alakhdas, Malukdas and then to Haji Sujan Khan (son of Alakhdas who became a Muslim.) Genius, musical ancestary, and training combined to give us this wonderful artist-one of the most reputed and respected exponents of Hindustani classical music in recent tirnes. He had the exceptional good fortune of receiving his talim in Dhrupad singing from his grand father, Ghulam Abbas Khan; and in Dhamar from his grand uncle, Ustad Kallan Khan, both of whom were leading musicians of the rangila gharana in the second half of the last century. Kallan Khan was the younger brother of Ghulam Abbas Khan and, therefore, the grand-uncle of Faiyaz Khan Sahib. Ghulam Abbas Khan was his maternal grandfather, and Rangeela Ramzan Khan his paternal great grandfather. Faiyaz Khan's uncle, Fida Hussain was a court musician in Tonk (Rajputana). Faiyaz was born at Sikandra near Agra in 1880 and he died in Baroda on 5th November 1950. As his father Safdar Hussain died very early, his grandfather adopted him and brought him up as his own son. Ghulam Abbas Khan, the son of the great Ghagge Khuda Bux and an intimate friend of Bairam Khan, not only imparted to the boy the authentic taleem of his gharana, but also took the promising young Faiyaz on a "pilgrimage of music", visiting all the important centres o f music, listening to great contemporary musicians, and bringing him practical experience in concert singing. By the time he was 18, Faiyaz Khan had become such a "polished" artist that he began to give recitals in places like Bombay, Calcutta and Gwalior. Once at Bombay, 24 year-old Faiyaz got a chance to hear the great Miyanjan Khan, a pupil of the great Fateh Ali Khan of Patiala. Immediately after him, Faiyaz was asked to sing. At first he copied Miyanjan Khan's Multani in the latter's style and then he demonstrated in his own style-both in such a masterly way that Miyanjan Khan embraced the young singer and exclaimed in genuine appreciation: "Tum hi ustad ho" (you are a true descendant of the masters of the art.) It was an age of gentlemen-musicians.

In addition to all the valuable training and experience given to him by his loving grandfather-(Nana)-cum-Ustad, there was Faiyaz's own native genius "an eternally intangible factor" that shapes the destinies of great men. Ghulam Abbas Khan, who is said to have lived to the incredible old age of 120, saw his favourite grandson mature into a maestro with a grand future ahead of him.

Once when certain mischief mongers tried to arrange a competition between the great Bhaskar Buwa Bhakle and the young Faiyaz Khan, the former is reported to have been so impressed with Faiyaz's performance that he refused to stand up as a rival, and to the utter disappointment of the men behind the mischief, embraced him "as a brother."

In 1908, a grand competition was arranged in Mysore between Ustad Faiyaz Khan and Ustad Hafiz Khan of the Mysore Durbar. Both sang for hours and sang so splendidly that it became difficult to decide who should get the first prize Nevertheless, the Maharaja who felt enraptured by Faiyaz Khan's music conferred on him the title of `Aftab-o-Mausiqui' meaning "the sun of music." Soon after this, the Lahore All India Music Conference gave him the. title of `Sangeet Chudamani. "At another famous All India music conference organised by Pdt. Bhatkhandeji, Faiyaz Khan was selected as the top most khayal-singer of the day. It was no wonder then that Pdt Bhatkhandeji chose him as the guru of his favourite pupil, Sri Krishna Narayan Ratanjankar and took him to Kashmir, from where his fame spread fan and wide.

At an All India Music Conference held in Baroda, which was attended by more than 400 singers, Faiyaz Khan captivated the audience so deeply that they showed their appreciation by handing over to him a purse of 33,000 rupees.

Though Ustad Faiyaz Khan had settled down in Baroda as a court musician, he was always travelling because no music conference was deemed incomplete without his performance. Thanks to All India Radio, thousands of his admirers all over the country used to be thrilled by his rich velvety voice whenever he broadcast from Bombay, Delhi, Calcutta or Lucknow. To the last, he remained the President of the All India Society for Contemporary Music.

As one of the privileged few in whose home, the Aftab-e-Mausiqui gave several informal all-night music soirees, I feel at a loss for words when I try to describe the spellbinding effect of his voice, a rich, masculine, sonorous, trembling with emotion, a voice capable of a thousand nuances and shades moods and fancies, turns and twists, a voice that touched the very chords of the listeners' hearts. His voice was at its grandest in the mandra (lower) notes. Its range was not wide, in fact, it was quite limited in the taar saptak (higher octave), but in these 2 or 2 1/2 octaves he used to bring out "a living picture of the raga pulsating with life and personality."

Steeped in the Dhrupad Dhamar alap traditions of his gharana, he was the only musician who could hold even a lay audience in a spell while he sang his full-blooded alap in its purest traditional form. His music was a fine blending of intelligence, imagination and emotion. With what effortless charm and creative energy, the Ustad used to evoke the ethos of the raga, build up the theme of the bandish, and touch the emotions of the listeners.

There was intense mutual admiration between the Aftab-e-Mausiqui and Thirakwa, the tabla-wizard. One can have an idea of his musical versatility, when one remembers how he could render anything, from a Dhrupad to a Ghazal with equal ease and mastery, and how he was always in his element whether in a crowded conference hall, in a grand old darbar, or in a friend's informal drawing room. Each raga was `a living personality' for him. Often he used to say; " One must play with a Raga with a lover's passion. One must learn to love it to pay court to it, like a cavalier, and then alone can a musician tell the story of joy and grief; of laughter and tears. Music must please and move."

He was aware of the appeal, of simplicity and spontaneity and never resorted to any display of vocal acrobatics. It was his genuine passion for ragas that enabled Faiyaz Khan to visualise each raga as a sentient being through which he could unravel for us a vast range of emotions. Those who have their favourites among Ragas like Darbari, Jaijaiwanti, Des, Anandi, Nat Behag, Todi,Ramkali,Jaunpuri, Jogiya,Bhairavi, Pilu, Kafi, Barwa, Bageshwari, Sohini, etc, will always remember how he could evoke varied emotions and how amazingly he could travel from the colourful and the romantic to the sombre and the pathetic, then from the realms of fancy, conceit to youthful gusto. "By turns, they felt the glowing mind disturbed, delighted raised, refined - - - rapt, inspired."

There was a grandeur in his sweeping alaps, dignity and vigour in his boltans, and joy in his bolbant. The Aftab-e-Mausiqui has enriched the Agra school of music as no one else has done. His style, though essentially of the rangila gharana, was a superb blend of the characteristics of that plus traces of the Gwalior style, enlivened by his own creative inspiration. Though his music had its roots in time-honoured tradition he was no conservative. "Of course", he said once, "one must realise that our present-day music has fallen from the heights of its past glory. Yet I am an inveterate optimist and believe that some good will come out of the present revival."

Ustad Faiyaz Khan's music had certain distinguishing traits. Blessed with a powerful voice capable of many minute modulations, he could easily sway his audiences whether he sang dignified Dhrupads, playful Horis or Dhamars, artistic Khayals, or tuneful Dadras. The dignity of his khayal-singing was reminiscent of the grand style of musicians like Haddu Khan and Hassu Khan. His renderings of Thumri and Dadra are said to have been like those of the great Moizzuddin. As a discerning music critic has said : "He converted even Ghazals into very presentable things... From alap to Thumri, his genius occupied a range which mediocre talents cannot even survey." His deep knowledge of, and long practice in, each raga, can be gauged when one hears how during his stay in Kashmir with Pdt. Bhatkhandeji, he sang Rag Yaman for hours daily, for one full month. His style of alap, bant barhat and Tankartab was remarkable. He has composed many songs under the pseudonym "Prem Piya" and contributed many old songs to Bhatkhande's "Kramik Pustakmala." Though fully aware of the limitations of the textbook teaching in music schools and colleges, he was sensible enough to admit:

"I recommend textbooks for beginners only. But a textbook cannot produce a musician. Music institutions should concentrate more on Gayaki or style. How can the music of Tansen be turned into a textbook? Music in this country was handed down orally from generation to generation with the help of memory and tradition and has flourished up to this time." The Ustad's opinion on broadcasting was characteristically humorous: "I like it immensely, except for the red light which is the signal for a forced landing. I enjoy being on the air."

While people used to admire his flawless diction in Urdu, Hindi, etc, they used to be amazed at his graceful and fine pronunciation of Braj-Bhasha in which a large number of Khayals, Dhamars, etc, are couched. This was because Faiyaz Khan spent his early years in the Braj-Bhasha areas like Mathura, Agra, Atrauli, etc. His father-in-law, Mahboob Khan of Atrauli, was none other than the reputed composer Daras Piya whose khayals in ragas like. Jog, Anandi, etc, are still so popular. Another relation--Suras Piya- was a wellknown composer who lived a recluse's life in Mathura.

The song Man Mohan Brij ko Rasiya (in Paraj) which Faiyaz Khan has made famous, is a sample of Saras Piya's compositions. Faiyaz Khan himself composed many songs under the penname Prem Piya.

In his youthful "halcyon days" Faiyaz Khan sat in the company of great artists like Moizzuddin, Bhaiya Ganapatrao and Malkajan. That was how he had imbibed the romantic Thumri style and could render Dadras and Ghazals so imaginatively. Many a time I have witnessed Faiyaz Khan rendering the Bhairavi Thumri "Babul Mora" and drawing tears out of the listeners' eyes. Faiyaz Khan used to say that Malkajan's Bhairavi-Thumris were peerless. And Malka even in her obscure later years never missed the Ustad's concerts in Calcutta. Unlike some highbrow musicians, Faiyaz Khan never looked down on light classical types of songs. He used to say:- "It is not a child's play to sing a Thumri or a Ghazal. The essence is the bol-but one has to be very imaginative and original." Even into a simple Dadra he could pour a lot of genuine emotion.

In spite of his short stature, Ustad Faiyaz Khan had a dignified personality. It is said that in his younger days he used to look so courtly in his gold embroidered black achkan, black cap, and imposing moustache, that once he was mistaken for the ruler himself in a certain darbar. Though he had no school education he had an innate sense of culture which enabled him to appreciate the good things of life. A thorough gentleman, he was generous, tender hearted and full of warmth with a capacity for lasting friendships. Modest and unassuming, courteous and polite, he combined greatness with childlike simplicity. The Ustad never hurt others' feelings, could never tolerate slander or gossip. People from all walks of life were drawn to him by his suavity, natural culture, humility and kind heartedness. As an artist he was surrounded by admirers wherever he went.

It was in small and exclusive, informal private soirees that the true qualities of the man and his music were fully revealed. No amateur's music was too insignificant for this great Ustad. He had a word of encouragement for every young aspirant in the art. Even in his late sixtes, he carried with him the exotic atmosphere of the Moghul court.

Among the well-known pupils that the Ustad left behind may be mentioned Ustad Khadim Hussain Khan (the Central Akademy Award Winner of 1978), Latafat Hussain (now teaching in the ITC Research Akademy Calcutta), the late Dr. S. N. Ratanjankar, Pt. Dilip Chandra Vedi, Ata Hussain Khan, and the youngest of them all- Sharafat Hussain Khan. In the words of his great admirer late Dr S. K. Chaubey:

"He was the last of the race of giants. The like of him will not be born again. He was a gift-a national asset. As time widens the gulf between the noble dead and the hopeful living, he stands out as a beacon-light, a bulwark of genius and tradition, whose inspiration will not be wasted even on the most cynical among us. "

A widower for years, Faiyaz Khan left behind no child when he died in 1950, but he was mourned by thousands of admirers all over the country. The passing of Faiyaz Khan Saheb marked the end of a great era in music. Though, he was 70, his music had retained a youthful vigour, and a variety that age could not wither. He was a maestro and a phenomenon in the world of Hindustani music, and "his art symbolised the grand evolution of Hindustani music from the ancient Dhrupad - Dhamar to the more modern Khayal - Thumri." His music was characterised by dignity, grandeur and rich emotion.

It is indeed a pity that gramophone records do him no justice. Even his long tapes and LP Discs hardly give gilmpses into his grand world of music. But those of us who have been lucky to hear him in person will never cease mourning: "Daiya Kahan gaye we log" (Where have those great ones gone"?)

Posted on RMIC by Rajan Parrikar as part of Great Masters Series.
From: "Great Masters of Hindustani Music" by Smt. Susheela Misra.



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