The concept of gharana emerged in the 16th century, when the descendants of Tansen, that musical luminary from Emperor Akbar's court, decided to call themselves Seniyas - meaning of the Seni gharana. Indeed, the Seni gharana was the precursor to all future gharanas - whether vocal or instrumental. After the death of Tansen, the Seniyas represented by his sons and daughter formed 3 branches - the Seni gharana, specialising in Dhrupad, the Seni Beenkar gharana and the Seni Rababiya gharana. The Seniyas jealously guarded their patrimonial legacy and refused to impart training to any outsiders on the 3 traditional instruments - the been, the rabab and the sursringar. The Seni gharana thrived under the patronage of successive Moghul emperors and solo instrumental music remained within the confines of this gharana - until the advent of the sitar.
The Sitar was invented about the same time that the Khayal idiom surfaced at the royal court of the last Moghul emperor, Muhammad Shah Rangile - in the last part of the 18th century. Its inventor was Khusrau Khan, who was the younger brother of Niyamat Khan (Sadarang) of the Seni Beenkar gharana - Rangile's chief court musician and the originator of the khayal. The sitar has since undergone many adaptations.
During the formative period of sitar music, techniques were borrowed from the been and dhrupad and gat-toda emerged as the first instrumental music style as opposed to vocal music. From this evolved the Masitkhani baaz, which introduced percussion as an accompaniment and finally culminated in the Firozekhani baaz and Razakhani baaz. All of these represent the instrumental styles for the sitar and sarode today.
Music historians recognise three main sitar gharanas that came into prominence in the first half of the 20th century- the Jaipur Sitar gharana, the Imdadkhani or Etawah gharana and the Maihar gharana.
The development of a new solo music based on ideas from dhrupad was the work of four generations between Khusrau Khan and Dulha Khan. Masit Khan who was responsioble for the Masitkhani baaz was Khusrau Khan's grandson. Dulha Khan was Masit Khan's nephew. This sitar style, the gat-toda of Masit Khan and his followers, came to be known as Delhi-baaz and this later evolved into the Senia Sitar gharana of Jaipur.
The dhrupad influenced Senia Sitar players started from Rahimsen, living in Jhajjhar, Rajasthan and a descendant of Tansen and also son-in-law of Dulha Khan. In the highly competitive atmosphere in the royal courts of the early 19th century, Rahimsen's efforts at infusing the sitar with elements of been, dhrupad and khayal brought him the balance of popularity and respectability that he sought. His son Amrtsen was one of the greatest figures in the 19th century history of the sitar. Rahimsen and Amrtsen and their relatives in Rajasthan and Gwalior were the leading exponents of the Masitkhani baaz throughout the second half of the 19th century. The purity of the music they played was such that it was said that each note and phrase in a raga became a separate entity and could be expressed uniquely for each particular raga. Their music was also noted for its originality and their gats are said to have had a special quality about them. Amrtsen finally settled in Jaipur and this resulted in the name by which we know the gharana today - the Jaipur Senia Sitar gharana. Barkatullah Khan, a Senia trained sitar player was the source of
Mushtaq Ali Khan
Mushtaq Ali Khan's relationship to the Senia line. Mushtaq Ali, though hailing from Banaras, became one of the foremost exponents of this gharana in the 20th century. His disciple, Debu Choudhury carries on this tradition today. The late Bimal Mukherjee, who was a disciple of Ustad Abid Hussain Khan, beenkar, also belonged to this gharana.
While the Imdadkhani gharana of sitar and surbahar is known after Ustad Imdad Khan, its origin can be traced back to his father, Sahebdad Khan of Etawah, and is, therefore, sometimes known as the Etawah gharana. However, it was Sahebdad's son, Imdad Khan, who came to be known for his innovative sitar and surbahar style, which led to the gharana being named after him. Imdad Khan was a court musician at Indore and his two sons,
Inayat Khan and Wahid Khan, followed in his footsteps. Inayat Khan's sons,
Vilayat Khan and Imrat Khan, further polished the vocal style of sitar playing. Imrat, in particular, received training on the surbahar from his paternal uncle, Ustad Wahid Khan. The family's playing style has been strongly influenced by vocal music, leading to the development and perfection of the khayal gayaki ang on the sitar.
Abdul Halim Jafar Khan
Though not considered a mainstream gharana today, mention must be made of the Indore gharana of the late nineteenth century. Its most outstanding instrumentalist was Bande Ali Khan. Though a beenkar, his disciples took up the sitar. The tradition continues to be upheld today by
Abdul Halim Jafar Khan, a disciple of Bande Ali Khan's disciple, Babu Khan.
Allauddin Khan the creator of the Seni-Maihar gharana, known chiefly as a sarodiya, was extremely proficient on other instruments as well, like the been, the rabab, sursringar the violin etc. The instrumental style which he pioneered, based on his talim from seni masters has been passed on to sitariyas, flautists and violinists alike. The legendary teacher now lives through the music of his great disciples, of whom, the two master sitarists,
Author - ITC SRA
Ravi Shankar and Nikhil Banerjee, torch bearers of this Maihar sitar baaz, are the most famous.