Origin of Agra Gharana
The Agra gharana, derived from the Nauhar Bani, is a renowned lineage of Hindustani classical vocal music. The origins of Nauhar Bani can be traced back to approximately 1300 AD, during the reign of Emperor Allauddin Khilji of Delhi.
Nayak Gopal stands as the earliest documented musician associated with this rich tradition. During that era, the prevailing style in the Gharana was "Dhrupad-Dhamar." Ghagghe Khudabuksh (1790–1880 AD) played a pivotal role by introducing the "Khayal" style from the Gwalior Gharana into the Agra gharana. Khudabaksh had acquired this style from Natthan Paribaksh of Gwalior.
History of Agra Gharana
The Agra gharana, renowned for its distinctive style of Hindustani classical vocal music, carries a rich history that is shrouded in mystery. Exploring its origins takes us back to the reign of Emperor Allauddin Khilji of Delhi, around 1307 AD. During this time, the celebrated Amir Khusro accompanied the emperor on a victorious campaign against King Ramachandra of Devagiri. It is believed that Amir Khusro's purpose in joining the campaign was to meet Nayak Gopal, an esteemed musician from Devagiri. Following the restoration of the defeated king to his throne, Nayak Gopal was persuaded to accompany Amir Khusro and Emperor Allauddin Khilji to Delhi, where he laid the foundation of a distinct music system known as the Nauhar Bani.
Within the lineage of the gharana, one of Nayak Gopal's descendants emerged as a prominent figure at Akbar's court in Agra. Sujan Das, known as 'Nauhar,' possessed extraordinary musical prowess, often considered on par with the legendary Tansen. Akbar held Sujan Das in high regard, prompting him to convert to Islam and undertake the Haj pilgrimage. From that point forward, he was known as Haji Sujan Khan, a name revered by all musicians associated with the Agra Gharana. During this period, the prevalent styles of music included alap, dhrupad, dhamar, and the rudiments of khayalgayaki in the form of Khusravi Mausiqi, the precursor of khayal.
The era of Aurangzeb's reign brought significant challenges to the musicians associated with the Agra Gharana. Haji Sujan Khan's great-great-grandson, Dayam Khan 'Nauhar,' also known as Saras Rang, served in the Mughal court. However, Aurangzeb's ban on music forced talented musicians, including those who had migrated to Delhi for royal patronage, to return to their hometowns and establish their own musical traditions. Saras Rang returned to Agra, where he continued to nurture his musical pursuits.
From the reign of Akbar to the period of Aurangzeb, the musical tradition passed down through Nayak Gopal, Haji Sujan Khan, and their descendants was known as Nauhar Bani. The term 'bani' signifies a tradition or system of music, while 'gharana' refers to a house of music. Indeed, 'gharana' is an extension of the word 'ghar,' meaning house. Consequently, the various houses of music established by different musicians in their respective locations came to be known as gharanas, distinguished by the names of the towns or villages that served as their prefixes. Thus, Nauhar Bani became primarily associated with the Agra Gharana, with Saras Rang serving as its originator.
A significant influence on the Agra Gharana emanated from the Atrauli Gharana of Gobarhari Bani, with Mehboob Khan 'Daras Piya' serving as its most prominent musician. Natthan Khan, the maestro of the Agra Gharana in the 19th century, married Jasiya Begum, the sister of Daras Piya. Faiyaz Khan, too, entered into matrimonial ties with Daras Piya's daughter. Ata Hussain Khan, the son of Daras Piya, initially trained by his father, eventually became a disciple of Faiyaz Khan and spent many years under his guidance. Moreover, musicians and teachers of the Agra Gharana, such as Khadim Hussain Khan, Latafat Hussain Khan, and Sharafat Hussain Khan, were born into the Atrauli khandan but received instruction from ustads of both the Agra and Atrauli Gharanas. Consequently, they showcased a beautiful amalgamation of the two styles, and the tradition aptly became known as the Agra-Atrauli Gharana.
Features of Agra Gharana
As a khayal gharana, the Agra gharana took shape during the course of the 19th century, through the grand-disciples and descendants of Shyamrang. Of all the known khayal styles, it is the Agra singers who proudly parade their dhrupadic roots and influences most in their renditions. There are some rather outstanding features of Agra gharana gayaki most of which are typical to 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 (mandra) is favoured. Keeping in tune with its dhrupadic origins, the singers use broad and powerful ornamentations (gamaks), extensive glides (meends), and resonant articulations of notes. As with the Gwalior gharana, the 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 a dramatic event. Their tihais are eagerly awaited, as are their nifty ways of arriving at the same, by building up anticipation within the listener
Musicians of Agra Gharana
The Agra Gharana, renowned for its unique blend of dhrupad and khayal gayakis, boasts a lineage of exceptional musicians whose voices have stirred the hearts of listeners for generations. Ghagge Khudabaksh (1790–1880), the creator of the harmonious amalgamation of dhrupad and khayal, possessed a melodious voice that evoked deep emotions in the listeners. However, his performances were rarely witnessed at joyous occasions like weddings, as his renditions had the power to bring tears to the eyes, which was considered taboo in such settings. Sher Khan (1802–1882), the first musician from the family trained by Ghaggeji upon his return from Gwalior, was an exceptional artist. Invited to perform across the country, Sher Khan played a pivotal role in bringing the gharana to Bombay in 1840, where it flourished and became the primary seat of the gharana in the following century.
Ghulam Abbas Khan (1825–1934), the elder son of Ghagge Khudabaksh, possessed remarkable breath control, ensuring that his performances were marked by tremendous stamina. Kallan Khan (1835–1925) closely resembled his father Ghaggeji's style of singing, with a particular focus on the melodious aspect of the musical style. He became a worthy successor to his father, enthralling audiences in the Jaipur darbar. Natthan Khan (1840–1901), the son of Sher Khan, received rigorous training from his cousin Ghulam Abbas Khan and emerged as one of the greatest performers of his time. His fame spread far and wide, and he was the first Hindustani classical musician to be appointed as the asthaanagavaiya (resident musician) in the distant Mysore, a stronghold of Carnatic music.
Breaking the gender norms of the time, Zohrabai Agrewali (1868–1913) became one of the first women to master the Agra gayaki, which had traditionally been the exclusive domain of male musicians. Trained by two greats of the gharana, Sher Khan and Kallan Khan, Zohrabai was among the earliest women musicians to record her music, paving the way for future generations. Bhaskarbuwa Bakhale (1869–1922), a disciple of Natthan Khan, was one of the few Hindu musicians in the nineteenth century who equaled, and in some cases surpassed, the top Muslim ustads of his time. He earned the title 'Deva Gandharva,' signifying his exceptional musicianship. Mohammed Khan (1870–1922), the eldest son and disciple of Natthan Khan, possessed an encyclopedic knowledge of rare and intricate ragas. Even musicians senior to him acknowledged that a raga unknown to Mohammed Khan was not worth knowing.
Abdullah Khan 'Manhar Piya' (1873–1920), the second son and disciple of Natthan Khan, carried forward his guru's singing style with great precision. Tasadduq Hussain Khan (1876–1946), the son of Kallan Khan, excelled not only as a musician but also as a composer, historian, and custodian of the gharana's ragas and compositions. Vilayat Hussain Khan 'Pran Piya' (1892–1962), the fourth son of Natthan Khan, emerged as a distinguished musician, revered teacher, and prolific composer. Ata Hussain Khan (1898–1980), the son and disciple of Atrauli's Daras Piya, enriched his musical prowess under the guidance of his brother-in-law Faiyaz Khan, providing vocal support and sharing a deep musical bond for nearly 25 years.
One of the greatest contributions in this field has been made by Ustad Faiyaz Khan who altered the course of the tradition in dynamic and profound ways. The more finicky connoisseurs, however, place him in the 'Rangile' tradition. The differences between the Agra gayaki and its close cousin, Rangile, would be a musicologist's obsession, rather than a listener's. In fact, for the most part, Faiyaz Khan's name has come to be associated with the pulsating colour, the forceful energy and the rugged dignity of the Agra tradition. His husky and sonorous voice, which he used with great effect in his masterly nom tom alaaps in the dhrupadic style, made him one of the finest exponents of the gharana gayaki, especially its accentuation on maintaining the emotional ambience and the tonal transparency of the raaga. A highly versatile singer, besides dhrupad-dhammar and khayals, he also sang thumris and dadras with great feeling.
Faiyaz Khan's disciples, the late Latafat Khan and Sharafat Hussain Khan, closely follow their master's style. Interestingly enough, the great playback singer Kundan Lal Saigal, learnt under Faiyaz Khan for a while. The gruff nasality so typical of Saigal, often reminds one of Faiyaz Khan's distinctive diction.
Srikrishna (Annasaheb) Ratanjankar (1900–1974), a prominent disciple of the renowned musicologist Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande, was sent by Bhatkhande himself to Faiyaz Khan for rigorous musical training. Ratanjankar became one of the most distinguished disciples of Faiyaz Khan outside the khandan. Dilip Chandra Vedi (1901–1992), having learned directly under two gharana greats, Bhaskarbuwa Bakhale and Faiyaz Khan, carved a niche for himself as a distinguished musician, upholding the rich musical traditions of the Agra Gharana.
Some of the outstanding singers associated with this gharana are Swami Vallabhdas, Dipali Nag, Dilip Chandra Vedi, Yunus Hussain Khan, Jagannathbua Purohit, K.G. Ginde and Shauqat Khan. Dinakar Kaikini, Shrikrishna Haldankar and Lalith Rao are some known contemporary representatives of the Agra gayaki.