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The Music of Delhi

Updated on August 20, 2011

The Music of Delhi

The music of India goes back to the 1st century A.D. in the form of Chanting of Hindu Texts from the sacred Vedas. Though, it is believed that the Raagas came much later into the Chants. First, there was only rhythmic chanting of the hymns from the Sacred texts. Then there was a melodic structure introduced to the texts. A melodic structure which was to be characterized by it's ascending and descending movements, improvisation patterns, the mood and it's personality. The chantings later developed as an art called 'Dhruvpad', popularly known as Dhrupad. Dhruvpad literally means that the text and music which is dedicated always in praise of the almighty. The most sacred text. Dhrupad is also said to be the perfect rendition of a text. The other form of hindustani music is what we call Khayal. Khayal is a persian word literally meaning, Imagingation. This brings us to the motive of this paper.

Khayal, the form of music which was invented by Hazrat Amir Khusrau Dehalvi(1253-1325 A.D.), a court poet in the Darbar, of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya of Delhi. The golden time of Hazrat Amir Khusrau's life was during which he was a disciple of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya. It was then, he invented various forms of Qawwali like Qaul, Qalbana, Naqsh-O-Gul. It is true that Hazrat Amir Khusrau didn't write anything on music, but in the third chapter of his book Nur Siphr, Hazrat Amir Khusrau says " Indian music, the fire that burns heart and soul, is superior to music of any other country. Foreigners, even after a stay of 30 or 40 years in India, cannot play a single tune correctly. Indian music charms not only men but beasts also. Deer have been hypnotized and hunted simply by music." ; Some of the most popular Raagas in Hindustani music were, in fact, created by Hazrat Amir Khusrau such as Sarparda, Saazgiri, Yaman, Zeelaf, Shahana and so on. The mystic style of Tarana was also created by Hazrat Amir Khusrau. Tarana in persian means 'a song'. Hazrat Amir Khusrau is also credited to the creation of numerous taalas, Chapaka, Farodast, Qawwali, and Pashto being a few of them.

Bonnie. C. Wade, a Professor of Music at the University of California, Berkeley says that Khayal's origins may have been attributed to Khusrau because there was a rapid fusion of the Perso-Arabic, Turki-Iranian, and Indic musical systems during his lifetime. Wade adds and says that the name Khayal was given to a particular mannerism and a particular song form in Khusrau's time. It wasn't a very popular form of music in Khusrau's time though. Most of the rulers and ministers were fond of listening to Dhrupad, which was then in the form of Chhanda, Prabhanda, Dhruv-Maata in that era. Thakur Jaidev Singh stated that in the fifteenth century Jaunpur, Khayal was ornate and romantic, and it was popular with musicians other than who performed in Hindu temples.

During the reign of the mughals, which is known as the Medieval Period in Indian history. According to Acharya Brihaspati, the muslim rulers were lovers of art and music, and had musicians attached to their courts; The Delhi sultanate was expended to the South, and in the Deccan, Muslim Courts were established; When the Delhi Sultanate was fragmented by Taimurs' invasion in 1398, the musicians fled to regional centres; independent rulers of Jaunpur, Gujrat and Gwalior became chief patrons of music; Sultan Hussain Sharqi of Jaunpur (1458-1477 A.D.) revived the lost tradition of Khayal. After Khusrau, Khayal was depopularized due to a large number of Dhrupad singers as court singers.

Early History of the Music of Delhi

Hindustani music has two classifications, according to geographical boundaries. These geographical boundaries brought in all the differences of traditions, religions, customs and the tastes in music. The two types of Hindustani Music are Hindustani and Carnatic, which had their respective core centres in Delhi and Tanjore. During the mid 14th century, the blending of Persian music with contemporary Indian music came to be known as ‘Indraprastha Matt’. Matt literally means ‘Style’. Under these systems, the Maqaam system Raagas were fused with the Indian system; there were some arrangements made to Raagas and their classification from Mela to Thaat. This new tradition of Indian music was called Qawwal Bachhon ki Parampara. Another version of this is available.

Hazrat Amir Khusrau had popularized the Qawwali during the times of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya. He picked up twelve students to render Qawwali and made Miyan Saamat Qawwal as the leader of the group. This group was then known as Qawwal Bachhe. The Qawwal Bachhe are adept at their singing in the style of Qawwali including the forms such as Naqsh, Gul, Baseet, Tarana, Rang, Qaul, Qalbana and so on. They are very good renderers of Khayal Gayaki too. But, in true terms, the Khayal tradition of Hazrat Amir Khusrau has been looked after the descendants living in Delhi, which creates a Gharana called the Dilli Gharana.This gharana has had quite a history, it has been a victim of ignorance, politics and tragedy.

Here’s the story of Dilli Gharana. Meer Bula Kalawant was one of the two court musicians of Baadshah Shams Iltumish.He was a contemporary to Hazrat Amir Khusrau. As stated by the representatives of the present Delhi Gharana, the descendants of this very family were the court singers of Maharaja Nahar Singh (1823–1858) of Ballabhgarh, now in Haryana. Raja Nahar Singh was the ruler of 101 villages in and around Ballabhgarh. Two of the court musicians of his times were Meer Allahbuqsh and Meer Umarbaqsh. Their descendants, all of the generations have carried forward the Khayal tradition of Hazrat Amir Khusrau.

The Lineage of Music in Delhi

Qutubbaqsh, later known as Tanras Khan, a disciple of Miyan Achpal, was the court musician at the Darbaar of the last mughal emperor Bahadurshah Zafar. His father’s name was Qadirbaqsh and his grandfathers’ name was also Qutubbaqsh. Tanras Khan received his initial training from his father. After the death of Bahadurshah Zafar, Tanras Khan moved to Alwar and was appointed the court singer by Maharaja Shivdaan Singh. During that time, he was constantly being invited to different provinces for performances such as Joshpur, Jaipur, Gwalior and so on. He was also awarded by the King of Nepal. After returning from Nepal, he went to the Nizam of Hyderabad, Meer Mehboob Ali Khan and was appointed by him, his court musician at 750 rupees/month. He was awarded land by the Nizam of Hyderabad, which is now called ‘Mausiqui Manzil’ and it is the place where the descendants of Tanras Khan reside.

Sultan Iltumish is said to have conferred the titles of Sawant and Kalawant to Mir Hasan and Mir Bala respectively during his reign (1211-1236 A.D.). Ustad Iqbal Ahmed Khan, who is the present Khalifa of Delhi Gharana, says that Miyan Saamti was Peer Bhai of Hazrat Amir Khusrau. As Hazrat Amir Khusrau was only a composer and not a singer, he chose Miyan Saamti to vocalize his writings and compositions. Miyan Saamti was the grandson of Hasan Saawant, who left the court of Shamsuddin Iltumish as a court Dhrupad singer and started singing Qawwali, as he was drenched into Sufi philosophy.

Ustad Iqbal Ahmed Khan adds that the materal lineage of Ustad Mamman Khan goes back somehow to Miyan Saamnti, who was inclined to Sufi music and so practiced singing Qawwali. The Delhi Gharana later on came out as a branch of Qawwal Bachhon Ka Gharana, when they took up Khayal Gayaki as the main form in their style. This was done by Miyan Achapal. So, the first thing that needs to be cleared is that Miyan Tanras Khan alias Miyan Qutubbaqsh was a disciple of Miyan Achapal and he was not the founder of the Gharana. Even though, there was no term Gharana at that time. But, referring to the style/school of singing, it was actually founded by Miyan Achapal.

Mir Allahbuqsh (Ela) and Mir Umrabaqsh (Umra) were both descendants of Mir Bala Kalawant. They were famous court musicians of Maharaja Nahar Singh of Ballabhgarh. They were the descendants of Heera Khan and Kaala Khan and Ujaala Khan. Kaala Khan and Ujaala Khan were the ancestors of Miyan Achapal, they were Dhruvpad singers, not Khayaliyas. Mir Umrabaqsh’s disciple was Miyan Achpal. He was a court musician at Dilli Darbaar with his contemporary Chhange Khan of Agra. It is said that Miyan Achpal had an expressive voice and was an a true singer of Khayal, Tarana, Tirvat, Charuranga etc.

Miyan Achpal had two descendants, thought, none in his blood relation. These were Tanras Khan and Ghulam Hussain. Ghulam Hussain had a daughter and a son Nanhe Khan. The daughter of Ghulam Hussain was married to Saungi Khan. Mir Mohammad Khan, who had blood ties with Mir Allahbaqsh was a very fine vocalist in the court of Maharaja Loharu. Mir Mohammad Khan’s son, Abdul Ghani Khan (1825-1909 A.D.), more popularly known as Saungi Khan was a court musician of Ballabhgarh. He was an expert Sarangi player and a vocalist of high calibre.

Though, the daughter of Ghulam Hussain was married to Saungi Khan, there was a bittersweet relation between the two linked families. The members of the two families avoided meeting each other. The reason being that Ghulam Hussain’s family thought that Saungi Khan was not worthy of being respected enough to meet them, because he was a Sarangi player. He played Sarangi at Palaces in front of Nawabs, where the Tawaifs sung and performed.

Saungi Khan once visited Samepur, near Delhi. He was shown all the courtesies by all the other performers. But, he was refused the privilage of smoking Hookah with them. When he asked the people why he was refused to share the Hookah, he was told that he used to play Sarangi, which used to accompany the performances of Tawaifs at Kothas and Palaces, so having degraded himself, he couldn’t expect the Hookah. He told them all to ban singing also because the Tawaifs also used to sing while they danced. He left the village and swore on making the Sarangi a very popular instrument in Hindustani music and played Sarangi under vow rest of his life. The four sons of Saungi Khan were Sughra Khan, Kale Khan, Mamman Khan and Samman Khan. All four were adept at playing Sarangi. Mamman Khan, especially was an expert at playing Sarangi, the Sursagar and of course he was a Khayal vocalist also.

Mamman Khan was a father of five : Chand Khan (1901-1980), Chakor Begum, Jahaan Khan, Usman Khan and Nisha Begum. Chand Khan and Usman Khan carried forward the tradition of vocalism in the family and Jahaan Khan took up playing the violin. Ustad Chand Khan was a well known vocalist in the court of Patiala for 24 years (1913-37). In his young age, he used to accompany his father Mamman Khan as a supporting artist. Usman Khan, also a fine vocalist, performed jugalbandi with his elder brother Chand Khan. Chand Khan regularly performed at various court provinces in the pre-independence era. He performed at the courts of Jind, Ajmer Sharif, Jaipur, Dhaulpur, Gwalior, Baroda, Surat, Jodhpur, Jammu, Alwar, Mysore, Hyderabad, Indore, Rampur, Jalandhar, Lahore and hundreds others.

Ustad Chand Khan later, in 1937, took on the job of Supervisor at AIR at the Delhi station. There’s a history behind Ustad Chand Khan and the Delhi AIR station. Ustad Chand Khan didn’t have a son, but he did have three daughters who were married to Hilal Ahmed, Zaffar Ahmed and Zahoor Ahmed Khan. Not having a son of his own, Ustad Chand Khan adopted the son of his daughter as his own, Ustad Iqbal Ahmed Khan. Zahoor Ahmed Khan was a fine violinist. Hilal Ahmed and Nasir Ahmed used to perform jugalbandis in vocal form.

Nasir Ahmed Khan was probably the most talented vocalist that Delhi has ever had. He received his training mainly under his father Usman Khan and also under Ramzan Khan. Nasir Ahmed Khan was known for his purital recitals of Raagas with ancient Gharanedar compositions with lightening fast taans. Ustad Nasir Ahmed Khan was so adept at different types of taans, he was given the title of Taan Samraat by Sangeet Sadan, Calcutta in 1962. He, alongwith only a countable few musicians knew how to render so many numbers of taans, without compromising the purity of a Raaga. In 1980, he was conferred the title of Sangeet Samraat at Prachin Club, Chandigarh.

Sadarang & Adarang

It is important to mention that Miyan Adarang & Miyan Sadarang, who are wholly responsible for the present state and style of Khayal music, belonged to the Qawwal Bachhe tradition. They were intelligent enough to modify the Dhruvpad Gayaki and mix it with Khayal, then called Dhruvpad ang Khayal Gayaki. They wrote the Bandishes which were mainly in the praise of the Emperor, Mohammad Shah ‘Rangeele’, who was the predecessor of Bahadur Shah ‘Zafar’. The Khayal before Adarang and Sadarang was not sung in the courts, because the court singers were Dhruvpad singers.

The myth about Gwalior Gharana

The myth about Gwalior being the oldest Khayal Gharana : Miyan Haddu, Miyan Hassu and Miyan Natthu Khan’s maternal grandfather was Miyan Mohammad Khan, who was actaually a forebearer of Qawwal Bachhe tradition. So, the Khayal input into the largely Dhruvpad gharana of Gwalior also came through Delhi.

The future of Delhi Gharana

Iqbal Ahmed Khan, the adopted son of Ustad Chand Khan has been the head of the Delhi Gharana since 1980. He is presently carrying forward the tradition of Hazrat Amir Khusrau. Ustad Iqbal Ahmed Khan Sahab is positive when it comes to he future of Delhi Gharana. He feels that Delhi has been left behind amongst other states, in context to the classical music traditions and it has merely countable exponents at the present stage.He says that there are many people who are learning from him at this time, so the future might be good.

P.S. - The Delhi Gharana

It is evident that this is a genuine Gharana as the text, compositions and true instances, which have been carried forward through generations are with the present Khalifa of the Gharana, who is Ustad Iqbal Ahmed Khan. Of course, there are no written proofs of the generation tracing back to Hazrat Amir Khusrau but all the facts are in the favor of the argument that, it is in fact, the tradition of Hazrat Amir Khusrau, that is being carried forward by Delhi Gharana. The most prominent feature of the representation of Khusrau’s music being in the form of Khayal. Qawwal Bachhe don’t particularly recite Khayal, although their improvisations are strictly based on Raagas and Raaginis. But still, Qawwali is a form of light classical music, it has contents of Khayal.

Ustad Iqbal Ahmed Khan

Guestbook Comments

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    • kovid7 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      Thanks sukkran :)

    • sukkran trichy profile image

      sukkran trichy 

      7 years ago from Trichy/Tamil Nadu

      very interesting info on indian classical music. thanks for a great informative lens.

    • vkumar05 profile image


      7 years ago

      Very informative Lens. Thanks for sharing.

    • kovid7 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago

      @julescorriere: Thanks. I did my research. I was also greatly helped by Ustad Iqbal Ahmed Khan himself, in various ideas and historical facts and stories.

    • julescorriere profile image

      Jules Corriere 

      8 years ago from Jonesborough TN

      Wow! This is so informative. I also like the myth/lineage links you provide to follow family names. Nice work!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Great post thanks for this!


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