Seni Baba Allauddin Gharana of Maihar and Rampur
A gharana is a lineage or tradition
The following story was taken from a conversation with Maestro Ali Akbar Khan about his father, Acharya Baba Allauddin Khansahib, and his struggle to become a learned musician—which led to the creation of the Seni Baba Allauddin Gharana of Maihar and Rampur:
“First of all, my father was learning since he was eight years old, after he ran away from home to learn music. He went to Calcutta and learned from many, many teachers. For the first seven years he studied singing from Nulo Gopal. Then from Swami Vivekananda’s brother, Habudutta, he spent two years learning violin. My father then began his training in Western classical music with Lobo Prabhu, who was an orchestra leader at that time in Calcutta. With him he studied many different instruments, such as clarinet and flute, and he furthered his violin studies; with his wife he studied piano.
“At last, he found his way to Ustad Ahmed Ali Khan, who was a sarodist that lived in Rampur. After three years of studying sarod with him, his teacher said, ‘I have already taught you everything I know,’ but my father wanted to learn more. His teacher recommended to him that he learn from Mohammed Wazir Khan. At that time in Rampur, there were over one hundred good musicians to study with, but Ahmed Ali Khan told my father, ‘Next to Mian Tansen there is no other musician who compares with Mohammed Wazir Khan,’ who was the court musician of the Rampur king; ‘Go there and learn from him,’ he said.
“So, for many years, my father went to Mohammed Wazir Khan’s house to learn, but unfortunately the watchman never even allowed him to go inside the gate. After a couple of years of this he gave up all hope of learning. He had only one rupee in his pocket. Every two or three days he would go to the mosque and would eat something with the poor people. So, he saved that one rupee, and finally used it to buy poison because he decided to end his life. But before he took the poison he went to the mosque for prayer.
“The Maulana at the mosque knew my father, because he used to go to pray every day, and he saw him sitting there looking very sad. He came and asked him, ‘What happened to you? Why do you look so sad?’ My father told him everything about his life and said, ‘I bought this poison, and I want to kill myself.’ The Maulana said to my father, ‘Before you kill yourself, I will write a letter to the king, then you have to stop the king’s carriage when he goes out for his evening ride from the palace and give it to him.’ The priest then wrote down everything about my father: that he was from Bengal, and how he left home when he was eight to learn music. How before, when he was in Calcutta, he had learned singing and many instruments—such as clarinet, violin, sarod, shenai, drums like tabla and pakhawaj, and many other instruments. Finally, he told the king that my father would kill himself if he couldn’t learn from the king’s teacher, Mohammed Wazir Khan. So, my father took the letter in his pocket, along with the poison, and waited by the palace gate. He went every day for two or three months, but nothing happened.
“One evening the king was going out, and the gate was opened. He was going with his family to see a drama that Mohammed Wazir Khan had written. When the carriage came out, my father stood in front of it to stop it. The king’s guards came up to him, and he handed the priest’s letter and the poison to the guards to give to the king. The king had his secretary read the letter, and he saw the poison; at once he told a guard to bring the boy to his carriage. My father told him his story and the king decided to cancel his plans to see the drama. He sent his family on without him, then he brought my father into the palace. The king asked him, ‘Where are your instruments?’ My father told him they were all in the small house where he stayed, so a car was sent to bring them to the palace. The king asked him, ‘How did you learn?’ Well, my father learned 360 vocal exercises from Nulo Gopal, so first he sang for him. Then he played the clarinet, violin and sarod. The king was happy with him and said, ‘Yes, you have learned systematically and very nicely. Alright! I will recommend you to my teacher.’
“At once he sent a man to bring Mohammed Wazir Khan to the palace. The king told his teacher, ‘I have already taken an audition from the boy. He has learned properly and is very talented, so I request you to make him a disciple right now.’ Mohammed Wazir Khan agreed, and on the spot the king ordered for a tray to be brought with gold and clothes and everything that was necessary in those days to have a proper ceremony with a teacher. Mohammed Wazir Khan followed the king’s orders and made my father his disciple to please the king, then went home and after some time forgot all about him.
“After this, my father went to his teacher’s home every day at six o’clock in the morning and would stay until ten o’clock. In the evening he would go back again for two more hours. By this time, he was allowed to enter the courtyard, but he was never asked to come into his teacher’s room for a lesson. Meanwhile, when Mohammed Wazir Khan’s relatives heard that my father had become a disciple, they all showed him their respect and offered to teach him themselves. There were dozens of relatives living in Rampur, as well as other musicians. He learned from all of the various family members and also took a job playing violin with the Rampur band. He earned twelve to fifteen rupees a month so that he could have a small house and a little money to give to the people teaching him. He would also cook, clean and do small jobs for them in order to learn music.
“For a few years things went on this way: my father would go to his teacher’s house to get a lesson, wait, and then go back home without being asked in. One day, Mohammed Wazir Khan received a telegram from my father’s second eldest brother. From it, he learned all about my father’s family life and everything he had given up to study music and be in Rampur. My father had been forced to marry my mother when he was quite young, during a trip home to see his parents, but he left her and ran away on his wedding night. Now she had tried to kill herself because her family wanted her to marry another man. All of this was described in the telegram.
“After Mohammed Wazir Khan read this, he realized what the boy had gone through in his life and how devoted he really was. He immediately called his sons and asked them if the Bengali boy still came to the house. They told him that he had come each and every day for many years. He said, ‘Then why didn’t you take care and teach him?’ They said, ‘Because you never told us to.’ So, he told his sons to get my father and bring him to the house. When my father arrived, he asked him about his family: father, mother, brothers and so on. My father told him his story. Then Mohammed Wazir Khan asked him if he was married, and he became shy and put his head down. At once, Mohammed Wazir Khan embraced him and said, ‘My son, forgive me. You have given yourself to God. From today you will become my fourth son.’ Then he called his sons into the room and said, ‘Here is your fourth brother; treat him like your own brother.’
“After that, he would teach my father as much as he could. While he was teaching, he would never allow anyone to come into the room, not even his sons. This continued for 33 years. Mohammed Wazir Khan also told his sons to teach him everything they had learned. In this way, my father was busy learning music twelve or more hours a day.
“Eventually, all of Mohammed Wazir Khan’s sons and his grandsons passed away. Only my father remained as the bearer of Mian Tansen’s Gharana. Because my father had been accepted as a son by his teacher, and all of the living sons and grandsons had died, he took on the duty of the lineage. He added to it his own creations, as well as everything he had learned and researched, and he developed his own Baba Allauddin Gharana, of which I am now the Khalifa. It is my duty to teach and look after all of my father’s disciples and students, as well as my own. A Khalifa is similar to a king, who takes care of and guards his lands, people and history. The Khalifa has to have learned the music in the correct way and be accepted by the knowledgeable musicians. Two things are necessary to become a Khalifa: complete knowledge of the music and to be the eldest son. Now, the direct blood line continues again with me, my sister [Annapurna Devi], and my children, if they can learn the music in the correct way.”