Buddhadev Das Gupta

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Buddhadev Das Gupta

There are several schools of thoughts concerning the genesis of the Sarode. It is believed by some that the predecessor of the modern Sarode is the Afghan Rabab, an instrument that originated in the Middle East. The Rabab has a wooden fingerboard and strings of catgut. It was used mainly as an instrument to accompany military marching bands and was the official instrument of the military forces in Afghanistan many centuries ago. Another form of the rabab, the Senia-Rabab was already in use in India in the 16th century during the reign of Akbar, and the Akbar-Nama of the 16th century traveler Abul Fazl mentions several Rabab players in Akbar’s court.

The modern Sarode, however is believed to have evolved from hundreds of innovations on the instrument that the Rababiyas of Afghanistan brought with them after their migration to India about 300 years ago. We bring to you an illustrated lecture on the evolution of the Sarode and its playing styles by master sarodiya, Pandit Buddhadev Dasgupta.

“The Sarode is doubtless a descendant of the Afghan Rabab (or Kabuli Rabab). The instrumental music indigenous to Afghanistan has traditionally been played on the rabab. The Afghan Rabab was smaller than the modern day Sarode because it was portable. Since the Afghans of yore, played their music mostly while marching on horseback: into battles, in marriage processions, in funeral processions etc, the instrument had to be portable. A group of Rabab players would always be in the main body of processions.

The ancestry of the Afghan Rabab itself is linked to the Middle East and there were quite a number of instruments, more or less similar in design though not in shape and size, which were known by the names of Rubab, Ribek, Rubek and went as far as Spain. But the Afghan Rabab came to India in the hands of three Afghan soldier-musicians. The three horsemen, Ghulam Bandegi Khan Bangash, Najaf Ali (1705-1760) and Karimulla belonged to the same Bangash tribe. They migrated to India in search of better days, took up commission with the Nawabs and Rajas of India, not as musician, but as soldiers, So, the main line of Sarode players to which I also belong, in a roundabout way, started with Ghulam Bandegi Khan Bangash, who took up commission as a horseman under Raja Viswanath Singh of Rewa, currently in the state of Rajasthan in northwestern India.

Later, when it was found that these three soldiers were also musicians of some kind, they became court musicians. That is how they struck root in India and lived on in India from generation to generation. Over time, they naturalized into our stream and also came into contact with our music. At that time there was only of one kind of music – Tansen’s music in the form of Dhrupad and the Beena or the Tanseni Rabab. The Tanseni rabab was totally different from the Afghani variety. Its drum was twice as big as the Sarode, with an ebony wooden fingerboard, no metal strings, but catguts. You would have to place it on your shoulders and use a jawa, much in the same way as Sarode. But it is definitely not the forefather of Sarode. The differences in the shape of the instrument and the manner of holding it while playing, point out to this.

Given that every instrumentalist wants to follow the human voice, the Afghan rababiyas realized that their instrument did not oblige them in this department. Their competition was from the Beenkars from Tansen’s daughter’s line. The Beena had a long sustain of the notes and using this sustain, beenkars could produce long meends that emulated the human voice and the drupad style of music that they performed. Compared to that, the Afghani rabab had a very poor tonality and no sustain. This necessity of a better instrument, which would reproduce the human voice as far as practicable, was the mother of invention of the modern Sarode. The evolution was a long drawn out, difficult process.

Here is an idea of the sound produced by the Rabab of earlier times Early Rabab Sound

There were three brothers in Tansen’s sons’ lineage, Basat Khan, Zaffar Khan and Pyar Khan. Zaffar Khan was a very adept instrumentalist of the Tanseni Rabab. The story goes that there was a music conference in the court of Raja of Banaras. Zaffar Khan was to have played his Tanseni Rabab. An instrumentalist of the Tansen’s daughter’s Gharana – Nirmal Shah, Beenkar preceded him at the function and regaled the audience with his Beena playing, with its unending meends. Being the height of the monsoon, Zaffar Khan realized his rabab would be damp and so he quickly excused himself from the Maharaja, promising to return with a new instrument. He went home, threw out the wooden fingerboard and installed a steel fingerboard, then took out the skin from the drum and replaced it with the Tabli (wooden drum covering) of a Surbahar or Sitar. He threw out the catguts and installed metal strings, steel and bronze. The result was a new instrument known as Sursringar. He then came to the Durbar and played this. Now, Zaffar Khan had three contemporaries – Ghulam Ali Khan, Niyamatulla Khan and Shafayat Ali Khan, from the three streams of Afghan Rababiyas. They were all learning from Zaffar Khan and when they saw the significant change that Zaffar Khan brought into his instrument, they too followed suit on their traditional Afghani rababs. They replaced the wooden fingerboard with a steel fingerboard and made it much larger. They did not replace the skin but replaced the catguts with steel and bronze strings. That improved the tonality and the sustain of the instrument. The forefather of the modern Sarode was thus born.

Music of the Afghan Rabab

The sample available is one of Rabab playing by a Rababiya who actually belonged to our times, recordings of Pathan rababiyas a hundred years back not being available. You can only hear the tonality of the instrument. Note, that by this time, Afghan Rababiyas had improved their repertoire and competence to the extent that they could play our Ragas, but the instrument and the playing technique remained much the same.

The necessity of multiple pluckings in Rabab arose from two facts:

As a result of the very limited sustain of the instrument, a note could not be prolonged after a single plucking.
The need to create various multiple plucking patterns

One very important point to note in the presented sample is that since you could not sustain a note for more than, say, half a second, if you wanted to give a semblance of sustaining a note, you would have to go on plucking it – as in, Da-Da-Da-Da or Dar-Dar-Dar-Dar or Diri-Diri-Diri. This Diri-Diri-Diri, which is a forte of Sarode playing, actually originated in this manner. Also, because the left hand had a very little to do – no meends, no gamaks, the rababiyas focused their creativity on the right hand in the form of multiple pluckings, cross pluckings etc.

In the sample of Raga Gurjari Todi presented here, the artiste attempts to play an Alap in classical style but does not have the two important tools for slow Alap: sustain and meend. Where prolonging a note is necessary, recourse is, therefore, taken to several single pluckings or multiple pluckings like Da-Da-Da, Dar-Dar-Da, Dara-Dara-Da, Dara-Dara, Dara-Dara-Da and so on. The Alap starts in a conventional style by establishing a Sa. Small phrases then appear in the area Da Ni Sa Re Ga – for example, Sa Re Ga Ni Sa Re Ga. A few multiple pluckings are also used on notes under focus such as Sa and Ga to elongate the sustain of these notes.

 Gurjari Todi Intro

This is followed by the introduction of the note, Kari (Tivra) Madhyam – Dha(komal) Ni Sa Re(komal) Ga(komal) Ma. Elaborations are done on the phrase Sa Re Ga Ma Re Ga Re Ma Ga. Multiple plucking using the pattern Dara-Dara-Da is used on the note Ma to sustain it. The movement is extended to touch the note Dha, Sa Re Ga Ma Dha(komal) and comes back to Sa.

 Gurjari Todi Ma

The movement then extends to touch the note Ni, as in, Sa Re Ga Ma Dha Ni. Da-based movements are noted with occasional halts on the note Ni. Multiple plucking is also applied on Ni and the movement returns to the note Sa.

 Gurjari Todi Ni

Finally, there are movements extending and touching the upper octave Sa. As usual, multiple plucking is applied on the note under focus, Top Sa. The movement extends further and touches the note Tar Re and Tar Ga of the upper octave. Some rhythmic patterns based on Da-Daar-Da are used in the movement on the notes in the upper octave. The movement is elaborated with variations covering the entire upper octave, Sa Re Ga Ma Dha Ni Sa and finally winds up and comes back to Sa.

 Gurjari Todi Upper Octave Sa

The gat portion starts with a composition based on a 10-beat cycle, similar to Jhaaptal. Interestingly, each note is played with a Dar-Da or Dar-Dar-Dar-Dar, rather than a simple Da. Occasionally, some of the notes are played with Diri-Diri as a variation.

The gat is interspersed with improvisations like taans in Hindustani Classical music. Most of these improvisations are executed at a tempo of twice the basic beat, using the simple plucking pattern Da and ending on the first note of the cycle. The improvisations cover different portions of the octave and some of them end with an expression being repeated thrice, before coming back to the first beat of the cycle, sounding very similar to a tihai in Hindustani Classical Music.

 Gurjari Todi Gat Taan

The next composition is played at a slightly faster pace based on a 16-beat cycle. The improvisations are also Da-based, executed at two times the basic beat – some of them giving the impression that the Rabab player has actually taken taleem from a Sarodiya. This is followed by a chapter of Diri-based improvisations at two times the basic beat. The principal plucking pattern used is Dar-Diri-Diri, Dar-Diri-Diri. The improvisations focus on various sections of the octave.

 Gurjari Todi Gat 16 – Beat

It is to be noted that sometimes variations are introduced into the gat by interspersing it with plucking of Chikari strings at different points over the cycle of beats. There are also improvisations based on plucking patterns analogous to Jhaala in Hindustani music. The basic plucking pattern used for this is (we denote a stroke on the Chikari strings by a Chi) Chi-Dara-Da, Chi-Dara-Da. This basic pattern is elaborated with different kinds of variations – Chi-Dara, Chi-Dara-Dara, Chi-Daar-Da, Chi-Daar-Da. There are also Diri-based improvisations using the plucking pattern Dara-Diri, Dara-Diri on the main string and a number of Sapat Taans also.

Gurjari Todi Gat Chikari

Another kind of improvisation employs plucking patterns using the Chikari and the main strings. The principal pattern is followed here is Diri-Chi, Diri-Chi, Diri, Dara-Da, Dara-Da, Dara. Diri-Diri can also be played on the Chikari strings. There are also improvisations at one and half times the basic beat. Some of these are Diri-based and some are based on Dara-Da, Dara-Da. Sometimes, single or multiple Chikaris are implanted between Da and Ra, while using the pattern Dara-Da, Dara-Da. The presentation of the raga ends with a fast pace 16-beat composition improvised with various Da and Diri-based plucking patterns. Interesting Toda based variations and occasional offbeat playing of the gat is to be noted here. There are varieties of Taans, most of which are played in current styles of Sarode playing.

Gurjari Todi Gat Chikari&main String

So much then for the Afghan Rabab

Early Sarode Recordings

The earliest Sarode players that we can hear through three minutes recordings are Chhunnu Khan, Kaukab Khan and Shakhawat Hussain Khan from the early twentieth century. Chhunnu Khan of Rampur actually spent most of his time under a banyan tree not far from the Rampur Nawab’s court. He never went to court. His fee for a performance was 2 Annas (about 12 .5 paisa or USD 0.003 today) with which to buy a chillum of “ganja” (cannabis). Once or twice he was invited to the Nawab’s court. His reply was always “Let the Nawab come here”. You will find that the sound of his music is practically only a slightly improved Rabab. Some resonance and some sustain has appeared but the basic tonality is not very far from the Afghan Rabab.

We have two samples. Let’s start with Raga Bageshwari .

Chhunnu Khan Bageshri Part 1

However, the last section of the performance has an idiom suggesting it was an accompaniment to dancing girls or tawaifs. But you will find this type of playing is present in quite a few of the Sarode players of that generation. Try to gauge the speed of the Diri-Diri, the work of the right hand in the latter part of the performance.

11 – Chhunnu Khan Bageshri Part 2  . And, here is Malkauns   Chhunnu Khan Malkauns

The next Ustad within our reach is Ustad Kaukab Khan (1852-1919), brother of the great Sarodiya Keramatulla Khan (1851-1933). Kaukab Khan played the Sarode and the Banjo, which is a small derivative of Sarode. (It is said that he once went on a tour to Paris, where his Sarode broke. He quickly saved the situation by modifying a banjo. He also made recordings later on this “Indian Banjo”). But if you hear Kaukab Khan, you will have the impression that he and Chunnu Khan had the same Taalim. Here are his renderings of Zilha Kafi Kaukab Khan Zilha Kafi and Bhairavi.

After this, we come to three Sarode players of Bengal who were senior to my Guru, Radhika Mohan Moitra. One was Banikanth Mukherjee, disciple of Ustad Mohd. Amir Khan. The second one was the Rajkumar of Andul (West Bengal) – his musical antecedents are not known. In fact, his entire playing on an instrument, said to be the Sarode, is wrapped up in mystery – the raga, the pattern etc. The third was Timir Baran – very well known and respected. Here are the 3 clips: Banikanth (Tabla accompaniment by Anath Nath Bose) Banikanth, Rajkumar of Andul Rajkumar Of Andul and Timir Baran Timir Baran Bhairavi.

Music of the Sarode Gharanas

What has been presented up till now, has been largely primitive styles, just emerged from the Afghan Rabab state. All played the same repertoire. Diri-Diri was its forte. The right hand was much more powerful because the left hand had nothing to do because of the wooden fingerboard and catguts for strings. So, out of this difficulty, human creativity found out its own road to emergence – in the form of multiple pluckings and various plucking patterns, which are the Afghan Rabab’s gift to Sarode. In Sarode, most of the old repertoire consists of what is known as Toda.

What is the difference between a Toda and a Taan? A taan, in Sarode parlance, is an expression consisting of 1 single note in 1 single stroke, Da. When you put in some multiple pluckings like Diri as in Da-Diri-Da-Ra, Diri-Diri-Dar-Dar-Da, Diri-Dar-Dar-Da, Diri-Dar-Diri-Dar-Dar-Dar-Da, whatever takes shape under these conditions is called a Toda. So, here is a very simple Taan Taans try to remember the sequence of notes and see how many todas emerge out of it.Todas

The Sarode has its forte in this particular style of playing. The modern Sarode has almost forgotten its parent style and tries to emulate the tans of the Sitar, which is impossible. Every instrument has its own strong point and its Taans and its repertoire on that strong point. Try, as you might, you cannot make your Sitar sound like the Sarode or vice versa. Todas have been played on the Sitar by quite a few of our great Sitariyas. They played them with great expertise, but they did not eventually sound like the Toda played on the Sarode. This naturally is because of the intrinsic difference between the two instruments.

The descendants of the three Afghan soldiers eventually branched out into Three different gharanas. We will start with the music of Ustad Sakhawat Hussain Khan (1875-1955), who descended from Najaf Ali (see chart). Unfortunately, the recordings of quite a few Sarode players contemporary to Sakhawat Hussain, belonging to the three streams, are not available at all. Some of them did not want to record for the fear that other people would steal their repertoire. Hafiz Ali Khan was one. He never recorded a commercial disc. Later on, in the AIR archive, when he played there, they recorded him, possibly on the sly. In any case, they are not his full-scale recordings. Ustad Sakhawat Hussain Khan will give you the impression that with him, the tonality, the playing idiom has really come into its own. Sakhawat Hussain Khan’s son Mohammad Umar Khan, was one of the experts of this Academy for quite sometime. Unfortunately we do not have his recordings. Ustad Umar Khan had two sons, Shahed and Irfan, both Sarode players. Listen now to Ustad Sakhawat Hussain Khan’s – Pahadi Sakhawat Hussain – Pahadi, Tilak Kamod Sakhawat Hussain – Tilak Kamod and Gara Sakhawat Hussain – Gara. Though the recording quality is poor, notice the fast, articulate playing.

Of the other well-known and respected Sarode players who were contemporaries of Sakhawat Hussain Khan or senior to him – no recordings are available. Barring just a few. Fida Hussain (1855-1927) was a cousin and contemporary of Sakhawat’s father, Shafayat Ali Khan. His Sarode was very much a type by itself. Fida Hussain, known for his virtuosity and clarity of his fast tans (often referred to as the Terror of Rampur) excelled in gamaks. Up till now, the music being played was mainly diri-diri and fast jhaala – in fact, the gat starts from a pretty high speed – there was no vilambit gat in the true sense of the term. Fida Hussain was the first to have started medium tempo gats.

Another lineage was Karimullah, Rahimullah, Haqdadullah Khan, his son Niyamatullah, his son, Keramatullah, whose brother was Kaukab Khan. Keramatullah’s son was Ishtiaq Ahmed Khan, a born musician. When he grew up, he came to Kolkata, where his father had once ruled as one of the greatest sarodiyas. Some of his father’s disciples in Kolkata were Dhirendranath Bose and Kalidas Pal who played the esraj. Having lost his father when he was a young boy, Ishtiaq had not been able to benefit from much direct taalim. However, Kalidas Pal agreed to take him on as a student. Through his excellent musicianship, Ishtiaq Ahmed developed a style all of his own. Here are 2 clips, Malkauns jod and jhala Ishtiaque Ahmed – Malkauns Jod – Jhala and a Malkauns gat Ishtiaque Ahmed Khan – Malkauns Gat. Ishtiaq Ahmed’s son Mukhtar Ahmed is the last of his lineage.

Ustad Hafiz Ali Khan belonged to the 3rd Pathani bloodline, starting with Ghulam Bandegi Khan Bangash, whose grandson was Ghulam Ali Khan. Ghulam Ali had 3 sons – Hussain Ali, Murad Ali and Nannhe Khan, father of Hafiz Ali and grandfather of Amjad Ali Khan. Murad Ali, the best sarodiya of the 3 was childless. He left his home in Gwalior and went to Shahjahanpur where some members of Sakhawat Hussain Khan’s lineage lived. Murad Ali adopted a very talented orphan, Abdullah Khan and moved on to Darbhanga, becoming the state musician there and lived there till his death. Abdullah Khan’s son was Mohammad Amir Khan who later taught Timir Baran, then my guru, Radhika Mohan Moitra, Banikanth and many others.

Hafiz Ali Khan mostly learnt from Murad Ali and later went to Ganeshilal of Banaras and took extensive talim from this Dhrupadiya. Thus you will find a lot of Dhrupad strains in Hafiz Ali’s alaap. He later moved to Rampur and continued his training under senia Wazir Khan. When he was recorded eventually, towards the end of his musical career, he only played drut gats – never vilambits. Here is a short excerpt from his Yaman Hafiz Ali Sanjh Tarini.

Ustad Hafiz Ali Khan’s first son was Mubarak Ali Khan who was a highly promising Sarodiya but faded out later. His second son, Rehmat Ali Khan was in Bhopal and fairly well-known. The younger son Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, is one of the greatest Sarode players that India has produced. Listen to an excerpt from his rendition of Malkauns . His two sons are Amaan Ali Khan and Ayaan Ali Khan, who have recently added their ancestral title “Bangash” to their names.

Other than descendants of the three Afghani Rababiyas, there were also other Sarode lineages in existence. The lineage of Abid Ali Khan and Mudru Khan are two such. Mudru Khan’s son was Chunnu Khan , whose music featured earlier. Abid Ali’s son was Ahmed Ali Khan (1856/57-1919), who possibly trained from Ghulam Ali Khan, his contemporary. He was also the first guru of Baba Allaudin Khan, who was the first individual of non-Pathan descent to establish a gharana.

Allaudin Khan, the runaway boy from East Bengal, who left his home at the age of 9 or 10, in search of musical fulfillment, started the 4th stream of Sarode gharanas. He went though unlimited distress and poverty but never swayed from his objective. Being fluent in many instruments, like the sitar, clarinet, violin, dhol etc, he landed up at the court of Maharaja Jagat Kishor in Muktagacha, in Mymensing district, now in Bangladesh. When asked what he could play, he said he could play all kinds of instruments. Impressed, the Raja invited him to stay. Shortly afterwards, Ahmed Ali Khan was invited to play at the Raja’s durbar. All the music that Allaudin Khan had learnt so far was washed away when he heard Ahmed Ali and he wanted to learn from the Ustad. It took the Raja’s intervention to persuade a reluctant Ahmed Ali to take on Allaudin Khan as a disciple. Allaudin was taken to Rampur, where he was not taught any music but used as a domestic help instead. One night, suddenly the Ustad woke up to the sound of his music being played on the Sarode. The culprit, poor Allaudin owned up to having learnt by mere listening. The irate Ustad, on the verge of throwing his student out, was finally persuaded by his mother to properly teach the young disciple. It was also thanks to his Ustad’s mother that Allaudin Khan was later advised to move on to Wazir Khan of Rampur, a Beenkar, in order to improve himself. In this endeavour too, he met with initial resistance from the Ustad but was assisted in his goal from the Nawab of Rampur.

Thus started another chapter in Baba Allaudin’s life. A great sea change occurred in his playing after he started his taalim from Ustad Wazir Khan. His taalim frm Wazir Khan totally changed his style of playing, particularly the vilambit portions and the alaap. Till then the Sarode had a deep, elliptical drum. He remodelled his Sarode, making the drum round and shallower such that the meend and tonality improved manifold. Thus started the 4th gharana of Sarode – which is today the biggest gharana, with the largest number of followers. We have samples in his styles, pre and post Ustad Wazir Khan and on both kinds of Sarode. Here is an excerpt from when Baba Allaudin was 45 or 50 years old, before he took Wazir Khan’s taalim – Raga Lalit  Allaudin Khan – Lalit. The accompanist on tabla here is Ali Akbar Khan. He packed everything a Sarode could play into his performance, gamaks, diri-diris, ekharas, and I regard him as the omnibus Sarode player of this country. His taiyari was superb. The next sample is a soulful Zilha – and even here, he has not forgotten that it is a Sarode he is playing and that its forte is toda. Allaudin Khan – Zilha

And here is a small glimpse of his playing after his transformation by the taleem of Wazir Khan sahab – Raga Charju ke Malhar, Alap Allaudin Khan – Charju Ke Malhar – Alap and Raga Charju ke Malhar, Gat 28 – Allaudin Khan – Charju Ke Malhar Gat. Baba Allaudin taught a considerable number of students in his lifetime. Of his two children, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan (1922-2009) went on to become a world-renowned sarodiya. His numerous disciples in the U.S. and in India include his sons Dhyanesh Khan (deceased), Aashish Khan and the youngest, Alam Khan. Students of sarod outside his family included Bahadur Khan, Timir Baran and Sharan Rani, the first woman sarodiya.

Buddhadev Dasgupta belongs to the Seni Shajahanpur gharana. His first guru was Radhika Mohan Moitra who was a disciple of Mohammad Amir Khan, grandson of Murad Ali, descended from Ghulam Bandegi Khan Bangash. Amir Khan did not have any sons. Thus, in effect, his music transferred from the Pathan bloodlines to the Bengali gentry. Moitra also studied under Dabir Khan (1905-72), the last recognized descendant of Tansen and a grandson of Wazir Khan. Here are two sections (Alap and Drut gat) from Radhika Mohan Moitra’s recital of Raga Bageshri – Radhika Mohan Moitra Bageshri Alap and Radhika Mohan Moitra Bageshri Drut Gat.

Buddhadev Dasgupta has groomed over a dozen performers who are well known in India and abroad, some prominent names being Debashish Bhattacharya, Prattyush Banerjee, Anirban Dasgupta (son) and Joydip Ghosh. Here are three sections from Buddhadev Dasgupta’s Raga Gaud Malhar – Alap Bdg – Gaud Malhar Alap, Jod Jhala Bdg Gaud Malhar- Jod Jhalaand Gat Bdg Gaud Malhar- Gat.

Genealogical Map of Principal Afgan Rababiyas

(Genealogical Map: courtesy Dr Adrian McNeil’s book Inventing the Sarod: A Cultural History, Seagull Books, 2004 and Dilip Kumar Mukhopadhyay’s book Bharatiya Sangeetey Gharanar Itihas, Calcutta: A. Mukherjee and Co., 1977)