The passing of a maestro: Ustad Vilayat Khan (1927-2004)

The greatest of musicians, an epoch-maker and a visionary, Ustad Vilayat Khan passes away on the night of Saturday, March 13, 2004. He was 76 and breathed his last at Jaslok Hospital, Mumbai. His body was flown to Kolkata for the last rites.

Ustad Vilayat Khan has been widely acclaimed as the architect of the modern Sitar. For over six decades, Khansahib mesmerized his audience with his magnificent gayaki-ang Sitar baaz, creating what is universally accepted as the Vilayatkhani baaz.

Born in Gouripur (now in Bangladesh), he was the son of the legendary Sitar maestro Ustad Inayat Khan. Vilayat's ancestors belonged to the famous Etawah gharana also known as the Imdadkhani gharana, named after his famous grandfather. The loss of his father and guru at an early age only spurred young Vilayat on in his dedicated pursuit of musical excellence. He continued his taalim from his maternal grandfather, Ustad Bande Hussain Khan (a well-known vocalist) and his paternal uncle, Ustad Wahid Khan. All through, he was meticulously guided and monitored by his mother, Bashiran Begum. The training combined with his stubborn perseverance in riyaaz and his indomitable obsession to become the torchbearer of his great family tradition shaped him into one of the finest Sitar maestros on the contemporary scene. In fact, even as a young man, he rose to the status of a musical celebrity of international fame.

A creative genius like Vilayat was not content with mere presentation of his parent baaz. He remodelled the Sitar in many ways like removing the second gourd, changing the strings and tuning system. His technical contribution, exquisitely attuned to the various gradations of Raga delineation, elucidative in practical exposition, has become a reference point for the art of perfect Sitar playing.

Vilayat’s music represents technical wizardry coloured by his romantic temperament and a high aesthetic sensibility. He took taans to speeds previously unimaginable and did so with immaculate precision and clarity and at the same time, uncompromising on the raagdari. His vocal taalim enriched his deep understanding and translation of the subtlest nuances of the human voice on his instrument. To enhance the gayaki ang of playing, he often burst into singing the bandish, be it khayal, thumri or a bhatiali dhun, following it up with a precise reproduction on his Sitar.

For his magnificent solos, his immemorial duets, Ustad Vilayat Khan will live on in the hearts of millions for time immemorial, as the Shahenshah of Sitar.

Moments with the maestro - Ustad Vilayat Khan

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