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Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Ustad Iqbal Khan, khalifa of the Dilli gharana, dies at 66

Ustad Iqbal Ahmed was a regular at most concerts in the Capital, reeling “subhan allah” and “kya kehne” after a lighting speed taan or a great couplet. But he never made it to some of those festivals he attended.

Written by Suanshu Khurana | New Delhi |
Updated: December 18, 2020 3:49:48 am
Iqbal KhanUstad Iqbal Ahmed belonged to the Delhi Gharana of classical music. (Express photo by Vikram Sharma)

On December 13, a concert went live on Facebook from ‘Mausiqi Manzil’, a crumbling building in Suiwalan in Darya Ganj, which is home to Dilli gharana.

Ut Iqbal Ahmed Khan, the khalifa of the gharana, sat in his nightgown along with sitar player Ut Saeed Zafar Khan and touched the notes of Bhairavi, the raga of separation, as a haziri on the death anniversary of veteran sarangi and sursagar player Ut Mamman Khan. He sang ‘Main toh tore daaman laagi maharaj’, an Urdu Manqabat (devotional poetry) by Amir Khusrau.

In the middle of the concert, Khan welled up, and said, “Allah aap sabko salamat rakhe (May god bless you all).”

Khan died on Thursday morning after a massive cardiac arrest. He was 66.

“His demise is shocking… He was one of the most pleasant personalities in music, so full of life. As for the music, he was an erudite musician with vast knowledge from a very old gharana. He would sing five-six bandishs in the same raga just like that and you marvelled at how he knew so much,” said his friend and Mumbai-based santoor player Satish Vyas.

The history of the Dilli gharana can be traced back to the court of Iltutmish in the 13th century. His court house was home to Mir Hasan Sawant and Mir Kalawant. Sawant left the court and became a follower of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti and infused the kirtan style of singing with sufi qalam to create qawwali, and his gharana came to be known as ‘Qawwal Bachhe’.

Kalawant stayed a raj gayak, promoted dhrupad and dhamar, and his gharana became Dilli gharana. The current Dilli gharana infused two styles – sufiana and darbari (courtly) style of singing. It’s the gharana’s association with sufiana qalam and Hazrat Amir Khusrau that makes Dilli gharana one of its kind.

After the British conquered Delhi in the 19th century, many significant musicians from the gharana, such as Ut Tanras Khan and Ut Sardar Khan, moved to Pakistan, while Ut Chand Khan stayed back. An important musician from the Qawwal bachhe gharana, Ut Iqbal Ahmed was his grandson. Born in a musical home, he learned the art of gayaki from the many musicians in the family.

Mausiqi Manzil, back then, resonated with thumris and ghazals sung by Siddheshwari Devi and Begum Akhtar — disciples of Chand Khan – and were the toast of the evening soirees. Heavyweights like Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan and K L Saigal also frequented the house to have a jugalbandi with Ut Chand Khan. An initiation such as this led Ut Iqbal Ahmed Khan to learn and become a polished musician.

“But when he was coming up, the whole family gharana system was sort of breaking down and even becoming obsolete. Singers such as Pt Jasraj and Bhimsen ji, who learned from a gharana but were not originally from a family that had established the gharana, came so strongly. The family ustads couldn’t really hold on to their bastion. Now eclectic individual maestros, who were very good and catered to the need of the hour, were finding attention. The socio-cultural change was so strong that the victims of that were people like Iqbal Khan,” said Delhi-based sarod player and Ut Iqbal Ahmed’s friend Pt Biswajit Roy Chowdhury.

What was interesting about Ut Iqbal Ahmed was that you could find him at all the concerts in the Capital, reeling “subhan allah” and “kya kehne” after a lighting speed taan or a great couplet in a ghazal concert, encouraging the young and always bowing in front of the older.

But he never made it to some of those festivals he attended. “He didn’t fit the bill, he wouldn’t hobnob with the organisers,” reason Chowdhury.

“He was a very knowledgeable artiste who deserved much more. I think he passed away too early and didn’t get his due,” says Vyas.

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