Ustad Abdul Karim Khan

Ustad Abdul Karim Khan was one of the legendary singers of Hindustani classical music in India. He was the founder of the famous Kirana Gharana in the traditions of Hindustani classical music. Apart from his immense contribution to music, he represents the cultural unity and diversity of what we know today as India.

He was from Kiryana in UP from where he moved to Baroda in Gujarat. He spent some time as a court singer in the court of Maharaja Sayaji Rao where he fell in love with Tarabai Mane, a member of the royal family of Baroda. After marriage they moved from Baroda to Bombay where the couple lived with their two sons and three daughters. Abdul Karim Khan, however, moved further south to Maharashtra and Karnataka after their separation in 1923. 

The life of Abdul Karim khan is like an open book. He kept on moving from UP to Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka and other places, performing as well as enriching his style with anything worth that came his way. It is no surprise then that a maestro of Hindustani classical music like him did not hesitate in adopting the features of Carnatic music in his gayaki. He was very open as a teacher too. He also prepared a good number of disciples.

One may not be aware that some of the great singers of Kirana Gharana like Sureshbabu Mane, Hirabai Badodekar and Sarashwati Mane were his children from his wife Tarabai. Before the couple got separated, Sureshbabu Mane was named as Abdul Rahman, Hirabai was Champakali and Sarashwati was Sakina. After the separation Tarabai changed those names by what they are known today. Sureshbabu was the guru of another legendary singer, Dr Prabha Atre.

When Bharat Ratna Bhimsen Joshi ran away from home to learn classical music, his source of inspiration was Ustad Abdul Karim Khan. Bhimsen Joshi  learned under the wings of a legendary disciple of Ustad Abdul Karim Khan. His name was Pandit Sawai Gandharv.

Fortunately Abdul Karim khan was born in a period when the recording of music had just started in India, in 1902. More than 30 of his songs were recorded, many of which are still available for the listeners. I enjoy listening to some of his songs that I have. One of them, Jamuna ke teer, is a treat, especially when you listen the same song from his disciple, Sawai Gandharwa as well as from his grand disciple, Bharat Ratna Bhimsen Joshi. The basic structure of the song remains the same but you can also observe the individual differences.

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