LEC DEM MELA 2019

Friday, 4 October 2019

Vilayat Khan memorial festival in Shimla


Vilayat Khan with son Shujaat Khan
File Photo : Avinash Pasricha
(News & Notes)
Every now and then a musician of such outstanding ability and influence is born, that his music is a force to contend with for decades. Such a musician was maestro Vilayat Khan, who was born on 28 August 1924 (some say it was 1928, and the Ustad never bothered to contradict this). Though he died in 2004, his musical legacy lives on, amongst a generation that never heard him live. For many, he is the “Yug Purush” of instrumental music. The bar he set, as a yardstick for sitar playing, has still not been touched; his records are avidly dissected even today.
Born into a musical family, the famous Etawah gharana, Vilayat Khan was a fifth-generation musician and like his forbears—father Inayat Khan and grandfather Imdad Khan—was universally acknowledged as one of the finest sitarists of his generation. Ustad Imdad Khan’s stature as a musician was such that the gharana came to be called the Imdadkhani gharana. (See Sruti 238).
Vilayat Khan’s family can be said to be true tantkaars or instrumentalists though today, he
Shujaat Khan at the Festival
is famous for popularising and expanding the “gayaki ang” in his sitar craft. All instruments do follow the voice, but the genre followed was dhrupad. Vilayat Khan was the first popular musician to emulate khayal and thumri gayaki on his instrument; a trend that almost all north Indian musicians follow today.
Immensely creative, Vilayat Khan created new ragas, but more important were his unmatched interpretations of some of the most common ragas like Sankara, Yaman and Marwa. The delicacy of his playing and his total mastery over his instrument have won him a unique place in Hindustani music. His technical innovations have resulted in what is now known as the “Vilayat Khan” style of sitar.
Sadly, during his lifetime, he refused to record with All India Radio. So all the music he played in his peak—in the 1950s to 1960s period—is available only through private label recordings.
Vilayat Khan had a special connection with Shimla, where he stayed from around 1965 to 1971, and it was heartening to attend the first Ustad Vilayat Khan Memorial Festival in his honour in Shimla, at the iconic over 100-year old Gaiety Theatre.
Shimla, as the summer capital of British India, was a sophisticated lively town. Apart from the British, the princes, aristocrats and other wealthy folk spent time  during the summer in Shimla. Houses were rented if the visitors did not have their own estate. The Maharajas of  Travancore and Gwalior were frequent visitors and used to hire houses for the season. Even the Maharaja of Mysore visited a few seasons.
Gaiety Theatre
Classical music was not really the norm, but naturally, there were a few musical soirees. Bade Ghulam Ali Khan’s father, Ali Baksh Khan lived in Shimla for a number of years. As such, Vilayat Khan’s interest in the place was not surprising. There was an old-world charm to Shimla; the air was pleasant and salubrious, it was a peaceful haven from his jet setting concert schedule. His friendship with musician Prince Raja Padamjit Singh was a solace; he looked on him as a father figure and enjoyed their almost daily musical interchanges. The schools for his children were excellent and to entice him to stay, the government of Himachal Pradesh presented him with one of the erstwhile Raja of Jubbal’s palaces called  Parimahal at a token rental of one rupee per annum.
Remembering his sojourn in Shimla, a two-day commemorative festival was held in his name, organised by the Department of  Language, Art and Culture. The opening concert was by his elder son Shujaat Khan, who appropriately played raga Yaman Kalyan, a favourite of his father. The next day, Namita Devidayal’s book titled The Sixth String of Ustad Vilayat Khan was released, followed by a discussion on the time Vilayat Khan spent in Shimla.
The festival concluded with a sitar concert presented by Shakir Khan—the Ustad’s grand-nephew and great-grandson of Wahid Khan. Shakir Khan played  Rageswari, and ended with a nostalgic Piloo—a raga Vilayat Khan had immortalised. This is probably the first memorial festival held in memory of maestro Vilayat Khan by a government; one hopes it will not be the last.
SHAILAJA KHANNA
(Scholar who writes on music and dance)

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