Indore Gharana of Ustad Amir Khan

in the Tradition of Khayal Gayaki

Dr. Ibrahim Ali

The childhood and adolescence of Ustad Amir Khan passed in Indore. He received his training in music from his father, Shahmir Khan, at Indore. Hence, his name is associated with Indore.

Ustad Amir Khan did not like sectarian tendencies of Gharanaism and mutual recriminations. Although he accepted different styles of singing, yet he wanted to keep the whole Hindustani Music in one sphere. In this context, he expressed his views in an interview with Akashvani Indore thus: “In fact I want only one gharana in classical music, which should be termed as Hindustani Music, and it should have different departments. These are gharanas. If the main thing is kept in this form, then our mutual recriminations with respect to music will be reduced. Many separate styles were formed out of one style of a gharana, as in the case of languages. Many languages came out of one language, similarly styles and gharanas were formed in music. Now a days, I am singing in the name of Indore Gharana.”

A book, “Gharanedar Gayaki”, was published in 1961 by a famous music reviewer, Shri Vaman Hari Deshpande, in which he wrote a broad commentary on all prevalent gharanas of music. There, he has extensively written on Indore Gharana of Amir Khan. In this book he has evolved a principle to explain gharanas, on the basis of mutual ratio between swara and laya. According to this principle, Agra and Kirana gharanas are two opposite extreme points, because Agra gayaki is increasingly laya salient and Kirana gayaki is increasingly swara salient. The gayaki of Gwalior and Jaipur gharana is said to follow the golden mean, because in this, equal importance is given to swara and laya. In the area of swara salience, 1-Patiala, 2-Indore, and the point of climax has been assigned to Kirana.

According to this principle, Shri Deshpande draws a straight line to represent the position of all these gharanas as under: -

Blending of Swara and Laya [i]

Laya Salient Jaipur Swara Salient


Agra Gwalior Patiala Indore Kirana

In review of each gharana in this book, chapter eight [P. 90-94] is devoted to Indore gharana, titled as “Indore and Amir Khan”. Considering Patiala, Indore and Kirana, as swara salient gharanas, comparatively position of Indore gharana has been described as under: -

“Now, it is necessary to pay attention towards gayaki of Indore gharana of Ustad Amir Khan, in order to complete the line joining two ends of music-swara and laya. In this view, place of this gayaki lies between the swara salient gayaki of Abdul Karim Khan of Kirana, and Bade Gulam Ali Khan of Patiala or Panjab. Kirana gharana is fully bent towards intoxication of swara; therefore it is indifferent to layakari. But, it has to be accepted that in comparison to that, Indore gharana has paid sufficient attention to layakari. But this attention is less than that in gayaki of Bade Gulam Ali Khan of Patiala, this should also be understood. In Kirana gharana, tal was paid attention at the period of coming to sama, while Indore gayaki kept caution to layakari in between also. Not only this, he maintained it constant in compositions of Madhya laya. But, he did not maintain delight of layakari or its climax along with delight of swara, in his vilambit khayal. In comparison to that, Bade Gulam Ali Khan’s Patiala gayaki gave prominence to bol ang and bol tan sufficiently. In gayaki of Ustad Amir Khan, there is no bol ang or bol tan. In this view, place of this gayaki, shall lie between Patiala and Kirana, in the mentioned straight line.”[ii]

The above mentioned principle of Mr. V. H. Deshpande, and the review based on it, throws light on the position of gharanas from one angle only, i.e. the ratio between swara and laya, and balance between the two, is the basis of his evaluation. Besides this, to maintain a certain ratio between swara and laya, is not the aim of any artist or style, and the idea of an ideal ratio can be different for different persons. Nevertheless, this principle, though being one sided, keeps its importance among different dimensions of evaluation.

Actually, Ustad Amir Khan was an opponent of narrow mindedness of Gharanavad [Gharanaism]. According to his view, this narrow mindedness impedes receptivity of an artist to adopt virtues of others. He believed that all gharanas have their own virtues. In fact, expertise in different virtues is the reason for development of gharanas. Instead of any pride on the brand of gharana, he assumed achievements to be the basis of evaluation. He thought that instead of expressing pride on one’s family, one should make himself so able as to make his family proud of him.

If Ustad Amir Khan had desired, in initial stage of his progress, he could have associated his name with Kirana, Bhindi Bazar or any other recognized gharana, and he could have taken his rightful place among musicians. Looking to Influence of Abdul Wahid Khan and proximity to Kirana style, some persons have tried to place Ustad Amir Khan under Kirana gharana. For example, in special issue, ‘Gharana’, of Sangeet monthly, it is written – “In present age, among representatives of Kirana gharana, names of Gangubai Hangal, Ustad Rajab Ali Khan, Ustad Amir Khan, Roshanara Begum, Hirabai Barodekar, Bhimsen Joshi, Basavraj Rajguru can be mentioned.”[iii]

While mentioning different gharanas, Ms. Shanti Govardhan writes, “Nowadays, main representatives of this [Kirana] gharana are Hirabai Barodekar, Saraswatibai Rane, Gangubai Hangal, Rajab Ali Khan [Dewas], Ustad Amir Khan, Behre Bua, Roshanara Begum of Pakistan etc.”[iv]

When enquired about his gharana, Amir Khan mentioned Indore gharana. As conservative musicologists want to keep number of gharanas limited, and want to classify all the singers under them, it is not surprising that they want to place gayaki of Ustad Amir Khan in Kirana gharana, instead of giving recognition to any new gharana.

Prabha Atre has not included gayaki of Ustad Amir Khan in Kirana gharana, due to quality of voice. She says: “Comparatively the gayaki of Kirana gharana is of Madhya [middle] and tar saptak [treble octave], whereas the gayaki of Ustad Amir Khan is that of kharaj [bass octave]. Mandra sthan [bass octave], more or less rough and uneven, but Khan Saheb made the gayaki of Kharaj green and soft in as much as that one does not wish to come out of it. Therefore his gayaki obtained three dimensional structure.”[v]

According to V. H. Deshpande’s book “Gharanedar Gayaki”, to recognize any style of music as a specific gharana, there are three criteria: -

[1] Continuation of a tradition of music for three generation, either by family inheritance or by the teacher and taught tradition.

[2] Clearly recognized musical elements, tendencies or regulations.

[3] Any influential singer and quality of his voice culture - an ideal of that gharana.

Ustad Amir Khan is known as The founder of Indore gharana. The fact is that, the singers who consider the style of singing and ideology of Ustad Amir Khan as their ideal; get a place in Indore gharana. Inheritance, ganda Bandhan or being residence of Indore etc, any such formality has no importance here. In the family of Ustad Amir Khan, nobody came forward to continue tradition in field of music. Some of his disciples and followers have been continuing his style. It must be accepted that the branches of the tree of Amir Khan’s gharana could not get sufficient opportunity to develop under his guidance, because of his death in early age. That is, as a guru [teacher], he could not contribute as much as is expected from a senior artist.

So far as question of the musical elements which give clear recognition to the style of singing, they can be seen in the performance of his disciples and followers. Available records, cassettes etc of Ustad Amir Khan, also offer a grant testimony to this. It has already been mentioned that being influenced by the musical elements of Ustad Abdul Wahid Khan, Ustad Rajab Ali Khan and Aman Ali Khan, Ustad Amir Khan created his own style of singing. Undoubtedly this style proved to be so effective that many great singers were drawn towards it. It became such a distinct style that it could not be placed in any already prevalent gharana.

The specialities which give clear identity to style of singing of Ustad Amir Khan can be classified in following points, which are recognized as the style of Indore gharana: -

[1] Detailed badhat [improvisation], [2] emphasis on mandra [bass] and Madhya saptak [middle octave], [3] application of jhumra tal in ati-vilambit [ultra slow] laya, [4] Swara Combinations motivated by merukhand system, [5] complex sargam and tan structure giving full opportunity to imagination, [6] to accept voice of Ustad Amir Khan as ideal in voice culture and application of notes, [7] application of nishad on Tanpura like Kirana gharana, [8] Khayal like rubaidar taranas of middle laya.

In order to confer the status of a gharana, third criteria is assumed to be the quality of voice culture of an influential singer. In context with quality of voice culture of Ustad Amir Khan, a quotation of Dr. Prabha Atre has been cited above, and this topic has already been discussed previously.

In a book titled ‘Living Idioms in Hindustani Music’, written by senior most disciple of Ustad Amir Khan, Pandit Amarnath, mention has been made [P. 55] about Indore gharana, its style and its follower artists. Similarly, in an article written by Ms. Bindu Chawala and published in Hindustan Times, dated 30-10-1988, titled as ‘The journey of the Gharanas’, along with other gharanas, there is an introduction of Indore gharana also. It must be noted that this article is based on research in Indian Music Education System, conducted in direction of Pandit Amarnath for I. C. S. S. R. In the above two references regarding Indore gharana, Pandit Amarnath, Shrikant Bakare, Singh Brothers, Purvi Mukharjee and Goswami Gokulotsavji Maharaj, have been recognized as the followers of this gharana. It must be mentioned that in addition to the singers, who come under the tradition of disciples by gandabandi, those singers who do not fall under the tradition of disciples, but are the followers of the style of Ustad Amir Khan, have also been recognized. For example, Goswami Gokulotsavji Maharaj, a resident of Indore, comes in this category.

Ustad Amir Khan himself did not become follower of any particular gharana, but due to his work and contribution, he became a legend, worth to be followed by the coming generation. Therefore his distinct gharana developed. According to Acharya Brahaspati, “Amir Khan himself was a gharana, he came and has gone.”[vi]

[i] Gharanedar Gayaki, P. No. 95, ‘Sambhavniya Aakshep’, Author: V. H. Deshpande.

[ii] Gharanedar Gayaki, P. No. 90, ‘Indore and Amir Khan’, Author: V. H. Deshpande.

[iii] Sangeet, Jan./Feb. 1982, Gharana Visheshank, P. No. 49, Different Gharanas of Singing and their specialties. Writer: Miss Alka Ashtekar, Vandana Chaube.

[iv] Sangeet Shastra Darpan, Part: 2, P. No. 82, Different Gharanas of Singing, Author: Shanti Govardhan.

[v] Swarmaye, P. No. 29, Amir Khan Saheb, Author: Prabha Atre

[vi] Sangeet, March 1974, P. No. 10, ‘Two homages: one correspondence and one letter’, Writer: Acharya Brahaspati.


Dr. Ibrahim Ali

Ph. D.

Asst. Prof. Music

Govt. Kalidas Girls College, Ujjain

Supervisor & Research Guide for doctoral thesis

For Vikram University, Ujjain

And Online Teacher of Indian Classical Music

Email: &

Mobile: 94250-93621

Ph.No. 0734-2551949

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Ujjain [M.P.] 456006