[3] Study of Karnatak Music System

Ustad Amir Khan attentively heard and understood all the modes, styles and artists of North Indian Classical Music. But his curiosity was not restricted to it and he took enough interest in the music system of South [which is known as Karnataka Music System] and whenever he got opportunity to understand important elements of Karnataka Music, he took advantage of it. In an interview given to Mr. N. Rashid, main disciple of Ustad Amir Khan, Pt. Amarnath says about Amir Khan’s knowledge of Karnataka Music: “Telling about the bandish of raga-charukeshi, Amarnath said, Rashid! Khan Saheb has composed this bandish in Karnataka style. He had deep knowledge of the music of South.


A detailed description of the influence of Bhindi Bazar gayaki has already been given previously. Here it is to be noted that Bhindi Bazar gayaki establishes Amir Khan’s link with the music system of South, as the Ustads of Bhindi Bazar were particularly inspired by Karnataka Music regarding the sargam as a link between alap and tan. In both, the Amir Khani style and the Bhindi Bazar gayaki, khandmeru system is accepted as the basis to produce variety in sargam. And South is the main source of this khandmeru. Karnataka system was adopted not only as a form of permutation in swaras of sargam, but even in the discharge of sargam there was influence of refined elements like khatka etc, as the representative vocalist of Bhindi Bazar, Ustad Aman Ali Khan was very much influenced by hearing the gayaki of some artists of South. In fact, placing sargam as a part of khayal gayaki itself is a result of the influence of Karnataka Music. If previous history is searched it is found that before Aman Ali Khan, Ustad Abdul Karim Khan, the founder of Kirana Gharana, on hearing the music of South, adopted the method of presenting some swara phrases in the form of sargam at appropriate places during alap, which was new thing for prevalent North Indian Music.


Abdul Karim Khan adopted southern musical elements from Devdasi, Veena Dhannamal, who was a Veena player of South Indian Music. Ustad Amir Khan used to discuss about the two systems of Indian music with the eminent dancer, Ms. Bal Saraswati, who was the daughter of above mentioned Veena Dhannamal.


Keeping a liberal view, Ustad Abdul Karim Khan began trend of adopting fine technique of the South Indian Music system with discretion. Later musicians continued this trend and according to the statement of Ustad Amir Khan, he heard it, understood its importance and accepted it.


While studying tarana, Ustad Amir Khan kept in view tillana’, a mode of southern classical music, whose form is considered to be equivalent to tarana. Tillana is presented independently in singing and also in dance. Ustad Amir Khan discussed with the dancer, Ms. Bal Saraswati to elicit information about the origin and history of tillana. Bal Saraswati opined that whatever influence of Khusro and thereafter the music of North had on the music of South, tillana was the result of it. The information regarding above conversation is available in a recorded interview of Ustad Amir Khan at Bhopal.


During his music tours, Ustad Amir Khan’s vocal programs were held in South also and due to this the artists and audience of South had great respect for him. The famous Tabla player, Ismail Daddu Khan recollected about the tours of Ustad Amir Khan to South India in an interview given to the author on 22nd May, 1988: - “I had an opportunity to go to Madras [now Chennai] with Amir Khan Saheb in 1962. Luckily we had an opportunity to stay at the residence of the dancer, Bal Saraswati. There whatever opinion Bal Saraswati expressed, would always be remembered. She said- ‘I had believed that after Ustad Abdul Karim Khan Saheb, nobody else of North knew about the music of South India. But listening to your [Amir Khan’s] programs on Akashwani, I realized that still in North India, Ustad Amir Khan is such an authority who had influenced the music lovers of South so much that he would be remembered for long time to come.’”


Ustad Amir Khan had a South Indian friend, Mr. K.J. Natrajan By profession he was general manager in State Bank at Madras. He had good knowledge of both [North and South] systems of music and was associated with Times of India as a reviewer of music. Although he had knowledge of South Indian culture and music particularly, yet after hearing Ustad Amir Khan for the first time, how much he was influenced and what was his feeling, he has expressed in following words: -

“When I first heard him, I told myself, what a gross fool you are! This is music, this is music!  An out side force kicked me and told me of my total ignorance. - - -

Here was music of infinite contemplation, of introspection, and other worldliness. - - - - -

Amir Khan has been one of the most central influences in my musical thinking. He has given shades to meaning [that] never existed. A musical experience can not be easily verbetised, as a mystical experience can not. There was about Amir, both wistfulness and mysticism and it was this that placed him as tall he was, taller than the others.”[1]


Ustad Amir Khan presented many ragas of Karnataka system and also composed bandishes in them. He also gave new names to some of these ragas.


A recollection narrated by Mr. K.J. Natrajan of a music concert held at Bombay is worth mentioning: -

“Once Khan Saheb was to perform at Bombay. I [K.J. Natrajan] reached there some what late. Wishing me from the stage itself, he started singing. As soon as I heard initial swaras, I was surprised. He was singing raga-manohari, a Karnataka Raga. Very brilliantly he had dressed it up with Hindustani [North Indian] swaras. During interval he embraced me and said: ‘I have adopted this raga to dedicate to the famous dancer Bal Saraswati and to you.’ I was over joyed and asked ‘what name have you given to it?’ He said, priya kalyan. After interval, he again presented a Karnataka raga. Addressing the audience, he said: ‘Its Karnataka name is malayamarutam. I have named it jansammohini.’”[2]


While giving the name of priyakalyan to the raga-manohari, the raga sung by Ustad Amir Khan contains komal rishabh and nishad, while madhyam is tivra and gandhar and dhaivat are shuddha. The first tetra chord [purvang] of this raga, even from madhya shadja [keynote] to dhaivat, has sufficient similarity with puryakalyan. In other words, the kalyan ang is included in this raga in the pattern of puryakalyan. Probably on this account it was named as priyakalyan. Ustad Amir Khan himself composed the bandish of vilambit khayal, applying the Persian rubayee of Sarmad sarmad ghame-ishque...’.


The form in which Ustad Amir Khan sang raga malaya marutam in the name of jansammohini for northern system, the swaras applied by him are shuddha rishabh, shuddha gandhar, pancham, shuddha dhaivat and komal nishad. The madhyam swara is omitted [varjit]. The ascending form of this raga is very much similar to that of kalavati. In the avaroha, rishabh is sufficiently strong; therefore the impact of this raga becomes different from that of raga kalavati. In this raga, the refrain of the bandish composed by Ustad Amir Khan is kaun jatan soun piya ko manaun. Other North Indian musicians subsequently performed this raga in the same name; such as Sitar player Pt. Ravishankar, vocalist Mrs. Lakshmi Shankar and Goswami Gokulotsavji Maharaj etc.


The raga-charukeshi sung by Ustad Amir Khan is also a raga of southern system. Although it is quite prevalent in North India now a days, yet in those days it was placed in the category of non prevalent ragas. The swaras applied in this raga are shadj, shuddha rishabh, shuddha gandhar, shuddha madhyam, pancham, komal dhaivat and komal nishad. The bandish of madhya laya trital in charukeshi sung by him was also his self composed; its refrain is laj rakho tum mori gusaiya. Ustad Amir Khan was well acquainted with Vallabh Sampradaya sect and had very close contact with them. That is why the above mentioned bandish of charukeshi of Ustad Amir Khan was dedicated to son of Vallabhacharya, famous by the name of Gusaiji. One recording of a mehfil in which Ustad Amir Khan has sung this bandish, is available. The same recording is available in the cassette issued by HMV No.S.T.C.-04B-7371, side a.


Out of 72 melas [type of scale] in the theoretical system of South Indian music, one is vachaspati; wherein madhyam swara is tivra [sharp] and nishad is komal [flat].


Ustad Amir Khan composed a raga on the basis of this vachaspati mela. In the aroha and Avaroha of the swaras of vachaspati, rishabh and dhaivat were omitted. Its class became audhav-audhav type. He did not give any name to this raga. That is why it is known as self composed and untitled raga of Ustad Amir Khan. The swaras of ascending and descending in this raga are as follows: -

Aroha [ascending] – s g m p n S

Avaroha [descending] – S n p m g s


In opinion of Ustad Amir Khan, this raga can be placed in the category of the ragas of kalyan that in North Indian music system. The refrain of the bandish sung by him in this raga set in madhya laya trital is ‘Par karo gun nahi mome’. This raga is available in Enreko LP No.241-0001 side 1, which is probably the last available recording of his life.


Basically the raga of southern system, hansadhvani was among the most favorite ragas of Ustad Amir Khan. The audience and persons having knowledge of music liked to hear this raga from Ustad Amir Khan. There is no exaggeration to say that the credit goes to Ustad Amir Khan to make popular  raga-hansadhvani in the Hindustani vocal style from Karnataka music, which was less prevalent in North India.


Ustad Amir Khan used to sing two bandishes in raga-hansadhvani, which were composed by Ustad Aman Ali Khan. The wordings of the composition set in ektal madhya laya are jay mat vilamb tajde and the drut bandish is ‘Lagi lagan pati sati san’ set in trital. In the context of this bandish having link with Karnataka music, Pt. Ravishankar writes in his book ‘Raga Anuraga’ –

Translated from original Bangla – “Like Abdul Karim Khan, he [Aman Ali Khan of Bhindi Bazar Wala] two was very much influenced by Karnataka Music of the South. He composed many beautiful bandishes and also presented sargam in Karnataka style. His most popular bandish is in raga-hansadhvani, ‘Lagi lagan pati sati san’; identical to the prevalent composition of the South, ‘Vatapi ganpatim bhaje’”[3]


Ustad Amir Khan composed a rubayeedar tarana based on the notations of above mentioned drut khayal [Lagi lagan], composed by Ustad Aman Ali Khan. In LP No.EASD-1357 side 1, it has been presented after vilambit khayal as substitute of drut khayal. The nature of hansadhvani of the South is enough exciting. Ustad Amir Khan too presented it in increased laya in comparison to other ragas. He didn’t apply his favorite jhumra tal of ativilambit laya for vilambit khayal of hansadhvani.


Ustad Amir Khan also performed raga-abhogi of Karnataka music. Although this raga had already been adopted in Kirana Gharana and Ustad Amir Khan sang the bandish of Kirana Gharana ‘Charan ghar aaye’ in madhya laya jhaptal. After this bandish, he used to sing drut khayal, the wordings of which are ‘Laaj rakhlijyo mori’. It is his self composition. One remarkable specialty in raga-abhogi sung by Ustad Amir Khan is found that some swara phrases have been presented with gamak of Karnataka style in the bass octave and middle octave in midst of raga improvisation; by which it appears that he wanted to make us feel that the raga is of Karnataka system. The similar application was made by Pt. Bhimsen Joshi while singing the same bandish; who himself was influenced by the gayaki of Ustad Amir Khan. The above mentioned application of gamak by Amir Khan Saheb is available in HMV LP No.ECLP2765, side 2, raga-abhogi [charan ghar aaye]. HMV obtained this recording from central archive of Akashwani. Separately the drut bandish of same raga ‘laaj rakhlijyo mori’ is preserved with the archive of Akashwani Indore. He had also composed a tarana in this raga.

[1] ‘Nal’-P.143, ‘Abhijat Surrang’, Author: Vasant Potdar.

[2] ‘Nal’-P.142, ‘Abhijat Surrang’, Author: Vasant Potdar.

[3] ‘Raga Anuraga’-P.63-69, Author: Pt. Ravi Shankar.