History of Agra Gharana is one of an old system of family tradition. Gharana itself is rooted in family tradition. When a characteristic mode of music is preserved and groomed in a particular family, becoming a tradition, it is termed Gharana. In the various contemporary gharanas, the Agra gharana enjoys a position of repute. That the Agra Gharana possibly absorbed attractive features from other Gharanas, yet its own inherent characteristics are present even today, is obvious. It may be noted here that this gharana pertains to vocal music only, and has no counterpart in instrumental music, and that it has had a distinct style in Dhrupad
, Dhamar and Khayal
. As far as the musical forms are concerned, Dhrupad, Dhamar, and Khayal have always been a part of Agra gayaki.
History of Agra gharana can be better understood by taking a look at the principal singers and their lives. One of the most prominent and first among the singers of the Agra gharana is Haji Sujan Khan or Sujandas Nauhar.
Gharana of Haji Sujan Khan
It is corroborated by the contemporary singers of this gharana that this gharana was started by Haji Sujan Khan. According to literary evidences, he was a Rajput who converted to Islam and was a singer in Emperor Akbar`s court. Legend has it that he lit lamps by singing dipaka raaga
, and Akbar
in high appreciation, honoured him with the title, Dipak Jyot. Sujan Khan was also a composer. Many dhrupads, with his name Sujan occurring at the end, are found and sung even today. According to some, Sujan Khan and Tansen were contemporaries. In fact, Tansen
is believed to have liked his singing so much that he got his daughter married to Vilayat Khan.
Another famous singer from this gharana was Tasadduk Husain Khan who was well versed in the theory. The late Vilayat Hussain Khan, when speaking about the history of the Agra Gharana, acknowledged that Sujan Khan was the root of this gharana family.
In the list of Haji Sujan Khan`s predecessors, one Niranjandas is mentioned. Niranjandas was possibly someone between Ramdasji alias Nayak Dhondu, and Sujandas Nauhar. Sujan Khan had four sons namely, Alakadasa, Malakdas, Khalakdas, and Lavangdas. The genealogy from Malakdas down to the present is traceable.
Shyamarang and Sarasrang
They were the sons of Malakdas, both of them Dhrupad Singers. They were excellent in their art and Natthan Khan and Pirbakhsh of Gwalior learnt many dhrupad-dhamar from them. It is believed that on this basis of dhrupad-dhamar, Natthan Khan and Pirbakhsh created their own khayals which were pure of form and had classical weightage. Patronized by Virbhadrasinh, the king of Kashi, Shyamarang and Sarasrang lived at Agra. Many cijas composed by Sarasrang are sung even today. Agra
Gharana specialized in dhrupad nearly till the death of Natthan Khan (d. 1901). Janghu Khan, Susu Khan, Gulab Khan, the sons of Shyamarang learned dhrupad and were accomplished singers of it.
The youngest of the sons of Shyamarang was Ghagghe Khudabaksh. Due to some inherent fault in his voice he was unable to learn the music of the family. He was determined to master some other style of singing if not dhrupad, and impressed by his craving to learn Natthan-Pirbaksh undertook to coach him. He went on to become a singer of great merit and was held in much reverence by the other well known singers of the time. It was Ghagghe Khudabaksh who ushered in the practice of khayals into the staunch Dhrupad-Dhamar Gharana.
Natthan Khan was another of the great masters of the Agra tradition. He was quick in absorbing many attractive features from sources other than his gharana. He, for instance learnt dhrupads from Ghasit Khan of Fatehpur Sikri
. He was patronized by Nawab Kalian of Jaipur
, hence came into contact with Mubarak Ali Khan, Imratsen Sitariya, Khairat Ali Khan, Bade Rajabali Khan, Mohamad Ali Khan, and others of the Jaipur court. It was as a result of all this that he introduced the layakan technique of dhrupad in his khayals, making them more attractive. Use of tanas and bola-tanas set to vilambita laya, coguna and athaguna lava of the same bola-tanas and employing kuad-ki-firat, made his khayal unique.
Vilayat Husain Khan
Vilaiyat Hussain Khan was Natthan Khan`s son, and he went on to become an awe-inspiring singer. From the age of 20, he carved out a name for himself among the singers of the day. He was at Mysore
and Jaipur courts, but made Mumbai
his home, training a large number of disciples there. Vilayat Khan is known to have learnt from 42 different ustads, the number of raagas or cijas learnt from each varying from 5 to 50. The sphere and reputation of Agra Gharana gained much from him. He was awarded the titles Sangitacarya (Mysore Court) and Sangita Ratnakara (Allahabad Sangit Parishad).
He was very fond of writing sayaris, and composing bandisas. He has written quite a few ghazals using pseudonym "Shafaq". He has composed bandisas in maluha kedar, natbihaga, joga, bahaduri Todi, kukubh-bilavala, etc. in Braja Bhasa, using the pseudonym "PranPiya". Quite a few uncommon raagas sung by him have been recorded by All India Radio. He died in 1962, when he was a music adviser in All India Radio, Delhi.
Faiyaz Khan has been truly acclaimed the most eminent singer of the Agra Gharana, a towering personality of Hindustani classical music, of all times. On his father`s side Faiyaz Khan was associated with "Rangila Gharana". The founder of this gharana, Miyan Ramjan Khan "Rangile" was a disciple of dhrupad singer Imambakhsh of Jodhpur
. From an early age, Faiyaz Khan had exposure to many musicians and a varied concert experience. By the time he was 20, Faiyaz Khan became a prolific singer. His first honour came as a medal from Krishnaraj Wadiyar in 1906. From 1907 to 1910 he was at Kolkata
and there he learnt thumri and dadra from Ganapatrao Bhaiya. He was not averse to learning from other gharanas. So he learnt many cijas from Mehbub Khan (his father-in-law) and Kale Khan, and thumri expert Moujuddin Khan. Thus, he could command khayal, dhrupad, dhamar, thumri
, dadra and ghazal
with equal ease, but he was at his best in khayals. Almost all the singers of the time used a very high pitch, ignoring the natural range of one`s voice. Faiyaz Khan used his natural voice belonging to the lower octave. He could project his voice, giving it volume and weight. This made his vilambit and non-thom alaap serene and majestic.
Faiz Mohmad khan of Baroda court was responsible for Faiyaz Khan`s coming to Baroda in 1912. He lived there till his death on November 9, 1950. Using the pseudonym "Prem Piya" he composed many cijas, which bring out the true form of a raaga
, help in developing it and have a subtle meaning too.
Thus the aforementioned discussion traces the development of the Agra Gharana right from the time of its initial conception. The gharana has been kept alive by the people trained by the great masters and their followers. The present form of Agra Khayal owes much to the principal singers of the gharana. Each of them had individual style and talent with which they enriched the gharana art.