Meaning “household or family”, a gharana in shastria sangeet refers to a musical style that has developed over a certain period in various regional centers, generally around the unique style of a key musical master.

A gharana is identified by various characteristics such as its approach to or stress on melody and rhythm, the cultivation of voice, its emphasis on certain aspects of performance such as alaap (the starting development of a raag, generally without percussion), taans (melodic phrases sung rapidly), sargam (the rapid singing of the notes of the raag), etc.

As an example, the founding of the Jaipur-Atrauli gharana is attributed to Ustad Alladiya Khan (1855–1946) who was born in Atrauli and was employed in the court of the Maharajah of Jaipur. Evolved from dhrupad gayan,  a noble and grand (some would  say austere) style of performance famous in the 14th to 19th century, the gharana gained popularity and stature due to exponents such as Kesarbai Kerkar,  Mogubai Kurdikar (mother of Kishori Amonkar) and Mallikarjun Mansur.

Some features attributed to the Jaipur-Atrauli gharana are the use of vakra (crooked or inter-weaving) complex taans and the use of traditional bandishes that emphasize raag notes more than the lyrics. The gharana is also responsible for compound raags such as Bihagda, Lalita-Gauri and Nat-Kamod.

Other important gharanas in the vocal tradition are:

Gwalior (Late Pt. D.V. Paluskar belonged to this gharana as does Pt. UlhasKashalkar), Agra (Late Ud. Faiyaz Khan and Pt. Vijay Kichlu), Kirana (Late Pt. Bhimsen Joshi and Dr. Prabha Atre), Patiala (Late Ud.Bade Ghulamali Khan and Pt. Ajoy Chakrabarty), Rampur-Sahaswan (Late Ud. Nissar Hussein Khan and Ud.Rashid Khan) and Dilli (Late Ud.Chand Khan and Ud. Iqbal Ahmed Khan)

The gharana tradition also extends to tabla – Farukhabad (Ud.Sabir Khan and Pt.Anindo Chatterjee), Lucknow (Pt. Swapan Chaudhury and Pt. Subhen Chatterjee), Benaras (Pt. Kishan Maharaj, Pt. Mahapurush Mishra and Pt. AshisSengupta), Punjab (Ud.AllaRakha and Ud.Zakir Hussain) and Dilli (Ud.Nathu Khan and Ud.Latif Ahmed Khan).


Agra Gharana (adapted from various sources)

Tracing its roots to the legendary Miyan Tansen, Agra gharana in its current form is reputedly founded by Ud. Sajjan Khan and Ud.Ghagghe Khudabuksh, and is widely associated with its modern day maestro Ud. Faiyaz Khan (1886 – 1950).

The gayaki of the Agra Gharana is a blend of Dhrupad-Dhamar and khayal gayaki of Gwalior and Atrauli gharanas.

In training, both the khayal and dhrupad components run hand in hand and are not taught in an isolated fashion. A key feature in presentation is the projection of voice which is more forceful and voluminous than generally encountered in khayal gayaki.

Most performances commence with the nom – tom alaap, a tradition unique to the Agra gharana. Different facets of a raga are displayed with the help of bandish or cheeze (compositions) while the raga is liberated using vistaar(elaboration). The use of bandish or cheeze for performing a raga is ubiquitous in all Hindustani classical music gharanas but they occupy a special position in the teaching methodology of the Agra Gharana.

The gharana adopts a kind of voice production which relies on a flatter version of the vowel sound “a”`, which makes its music agreeable to rhythmic variations and is best suited for a deep masculine voice. Emphasis is laid on bold, full-throated and robust voice production, and singing in the lower register (mandrasaptak) is favoured.

Keeping in tune with its dhrupadic origins, the singers use broad and powerful ornamentations (gamaks), glides (meends), and resonant articulations of notes. As with the Gwalior gharana, Agra singers accentuate the importance of the bandish and its methodical exposition.

Singers following Faiyaz Khan`s style resort to the dhrupadic nom tom alaap before singing the bandish. The singers of this gharana are also great masters over laya-kari or the rhythmic component. In fact, laya-kari is the lasting foundation on which the singers build the edifice of the bandish. In the hands of the best exponents, the dialogue between the singer and the tabla player often turns into a dramatic event. Their tihais are eagerly awaited, as are their nifty ways of arriving at the sam, by building up anticipation within the listener.

Some raags favoured by the Agra gharana include Miyanki Todi, Jaunpuri, Darbari Kannada, Jaijaivanti. Megh Malhaar, Miyanki Malhaar and Kedar.


Jaipur Atrauli Gharana: By John Campana(May 2014)

In spite of never being recorded, Alladiya Khan’s (Barekhansahib, 1855-1946) fame endures – it is as pristine today as it was at the height of his performance. A gharana usually derives its name from the town in which the khandaan was originally located.  To speak the words Jaipur or Jaipur-Atrauli gharana, is tantamount to saying the Alladiya Khan gharana, so great was his musical and stylistic influence on the subsequent members. It wasn’t long before he came to be known as “Gaan Samraat“, Emperor of song.
Barekhansahib was also known to some, as “Avghad Das” – Devotee of the Difficult.

The Jaipur-Atrauli style is fraught with subtleties & complications which go beyond a normal lay listener’s understanding: “This style does not reveal its secret and does not give complete aesthetic satisfaction to one who has not had enough training and listening experience.”  It is a style more geared toward musicians.

What made Alladiya’s music different and sought after, was mostly the curvilinear and spiral aspect of his taans that distinguished his music from the more straight taans that were heard in the mehfils and bhaitaks of Mumbai at that time.

Alladiya never denied that he stood on the shoulders of giants – his pedigree runs all the way to Swami Haridas, guru of Miyan Tansen.  Alladiya learned many bandish and cheeze(n)(compositions) from his father who was a treasure trove of musical compositions. He also learnt Dhrupad for some years, thereby acquiring attention and discipline of swara production.  He blended the complexities of both dhrupad and khayal into his music.

Barekhansahib’s taans resembled a twisted, DNA like shape of a necklace with perfect pearls as the notes (lair). In his taans, one pearl (swara) would always outshine the rest to create a resonance that would last long after the performance.  His music defied anticipation, such was the depth of his knowledge, sensibility and execution.  As a consequence of losing his voice for two years, he had to readapt his former sweetness of voice and emphasis on alaapi by concentrating on taan production which could still retain the beauty and depth of his former gayaki (singing).

There are many more aspects of his music that could be analyzed, but that would exceed the scope of these introductory remarks. Suffice it to say that the gayaki of the following musicians will serve well to provide a glimmer of the music of Alladiya Khan Saheb and the Jaipur-Atrauli Gharana:

Haider Khan (Khansaheb’s brother. No recordings available); Bhaskarbuwa Bakhle (a 78 rpm recording does exist- Jaunpuri, Bhairav); Kesarbai Kerkar; Mogubai Kurdikar;  Mallikarjun Mansur (disciple of Alladiya’s son Burji Khan); Laxmibai Jhadav (learned from his brother Haider Khan); NivruttibuwaSarnaik; Gulubhai Jasdanwala; Vamanrao Sadolikar; Ratnakar Pai; Padmavati Shaligram; Gajananrao Joshi; B Haldankar; Dhondutai Kulkarni (only disciple of Kesarbai Kerkar); Kishori Amonkar, daughter of Mogubai, who is presently one the most senior members of this gharana. Kishoritai taught Manik Bhide, mother of Ashwini Bhide, who also learnt from Pt. Ratnakar Pai.

Younger Members of the gharana include Arati Ankalikar, Padma Talwalkar, Shruti Sadolikar, V R Kadnekar and Vinayakrao Kulkarni.

Jod Raags: This gharana has a particular penchant for combined and unusual raags like Basanti Kedar, Jait Kalyan, Kafi Kanada, Raisa Kanada, NayakiKanada, BasantiKanada, Savani Nat, Savani Kalyan, Bhoop Nat, Nat Kamod, Bihari, Khat, Khokar, Sampoorna Malkauns, Ek niched kiBihagra, Husseini Todi and many others. These raags are performed as practically homogeneous raags, and never, as others do, take the scale of one raga in ascent and that of another in the descent.

Ashwini Bhide is a most talented exponent of this lineage. She has infused a novel sweetness in her gayaki which modern audiences find irresistible. Her music is full of emotion, but at the same time fiercely faithful to traditional raag design, a chief attribute of the Jaipur-Atraulikhayalgayaki


Kirana Gharana: By John Campana (April 2014)

The words Kirana Gharana, automatically conjure up the main representatives of this musical tradition, and the musical traits, which characterize it. A gharana is usually associated with the provenance of the founders and/or the principal consanguine exponent(s). It is also simultaneously the seat (house, school, musical tradition) and its aesthetic expression, which can be imparted by various khalifas of the gharana or one particular charismatic exponent.

In the case of Kirana, a small town in Rajasthan, there are two shining stars: Abdul Wahid Khan who settled in Lahore, and his cousin Abdul Karim Khan who moved to Maharashtra, where the Gharana took root and flourished. The children of Abdul Karim Khan learned mostly from their uncle Abdul Wahid Khan: Hirabai Barodekar, Sureshbabu Mane, Saraswati Rane, who were luminaries in their own right. The great ustad Amir Khan of Indore, though not a direct disciple of Abdul Wahid Khan, was deeply influenced by the slow, systematic, note-by-note development of a raag (badhat), a main characteristic of Kirana’s style.

Kirana, easily the most popular of the Hindustani music gharanas, is known mainly for its tunefulness, wayward romanticism, its predilection for alaapi, badhat, and purity of swar. This was Abdul Karim Khan’s domain. While Abdul Wahid Khan favoured the actual erection of the edifice of the raag, Abdul Karim Khan was the genius who sumptuously adorned it. Another important trait of Kirana is a stylistic device I would term faceting. In the same way a diamond is cut to become multi-faceted to reveal its inner depth, light and beauty, a raag is probed, discovered in its becoming, multifaceted and revelatory.

An enchanting musical phrase, which is unveiled during the raag’s unfolding, is rendered in various permutations until the last drop of ras is savoured. A cursory example of this could be the phrase N R G in Yaman, which could be also rendered as N—GRG, N—G R, NG R N, R G R—N R G R N R S.

The name Roshanara Begum (also belonging to the direct bloodline) must be mentioned in this context, because of the clearest use she makes of this technique. Albeit the disciple of Abdul Karim Khan, she best fuses the elements of both swar and badhat in her music.

We are fortunate that the music of all the major exponents of the Kirana musical tradition is still available today in various formats of digital and acoustic recordings. There are at least six LPs by Abdul Karim Khan and two by Abdul Wahid Khan. One can theorize ad infinitum about raag and gharana treatment of a particular raag, but the final authority is still and only the recorded music. Some of the raags popularized by Kirana are: Shudh Kalyan, MaruBihag, Malkauns, Abhogi, Puriya, Marwa, Puriya/Purva Kalyan and Darbari Kanada, to name a few.

Kirana in Maharashtra:

The following is a list of disciples not related by blood to the Kirana family: Saraswatibai (wife of Ud. Abdul Karim Khan), Niyaz Ahmed &Fayyaz Ahmed Khan (sons of the great sarangiya Ud.Shakhur Khan and gurus of Begum Parveen Sultana), Kapileshwaribuwa, who was named khalifa by Ud. Abdul Karim Khan himself, Beherebuwa, Sawai Gandharva (guru of Pt. Bhimsen Joshi), Smt. Gangubai Hangal and her daughter Krishna, Shrikant Deshpande (grandson of Sawai Ghandharva), et alia.

And of course, Pandit Bhimsen Joshi and Dr. Prabha Atre.

We are indeed fortunate tonight to be able to hear the living continuity of this great gharana in the music of Dr. Prabha Atre, who is not only the senior most representative of the Kirana Gharana, but also among the very few authentic Kirana Gharana exponents remaining in India today. The aforesaid is her music pedigree, her tradition, what she has dedicated at least 60 years of her life to.  Dr. Atre is certainly not new to Toronto, which she visited on a number of occasions in the 70s and 80s; far too long ago in my opinion.


Patiala Gharana*

Ud.Ali Baksh and Ud.Fateh Ali Khan, the famous duo “Allu-Fattu” are usually considered to be the founders of the Patiala style. However, it was Ud. Kalle Khan, a sarangi player in the Patiala court, who gave initial training to Ud. Ali Baksh and his friendUd.Fateh Ali Khan, and should be considered the founder of this gharana.


Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan (1901 – 1968) is arguably the most influential modern day exponent of the Patiala gharana.  His singing epitomizes the style of the gharana, for he left such an indelible stamp on it that, even today, the Patiala gharana is largely identified with him.

The style was influenced to a large extent by the qualities of Khansahib’s voice. He seemed to sing effortlessly, with sweetness and clearly enunciated notes, whatever the tempo. There was a leisurely element in the manner in which he articulated vowels and consonants, giving unhurried attentiveness to each sound.  Because of these capabilities, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan was able to produce a variety of complex taans in fast tempo.

Although he never sang tappas, his style was influenced by them, and this is evident when one listens to his chhotakhayals and thumris. Thus the Patiala gharana is characterized by the use of greater rhythm play and layakari (rhythmic development).

Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan showed a penchant for pentatonic raags such as Malkauns, Bhupali, Gunkali, as these allowed the use of ornaments and execution of intricate taans. Khanshaib’s thumris too are memorable for their emotional content, as well as for their taans.

Other notable vocalists of this gharana are Khansaheb’s brother Ud. Barkat Ali Khan (1907–1963), his son Ud. Munawwar Ali Khan (1932–1989), Pt. Prasun Banerjee (1926-1997), Vidushi Meera Banerjee (1930-2012), Begum Parveen Sultana and Pt. Ajoy Charabarty.

1 *Mostly excerpted from “Shruti: A listener’s guide to Hindustani Music” by Sandeep Bagchee, Rupa & Co, New Delhi.