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Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan


Posted on RMIM by Ajay
Source: This tribute to Bade Ghulam Ali Khan saheb appeared in the Illustrated Weekly of India, shortly after his passing away

Smt Susheela Mishra's Artilcle on Ustaad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan

"Hari Om Tatsat..."


Susheela Misra

The man who lived, moved and had his being in music has merged into Nadabrahma! Whether it was a khayal with a courtly theme, a thumri with wistfully romantic word content or a bhajan with highly devotional words, Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan could always put his heart and soul into the song. Among his many contributions to Hindustani Music, the outstanding one is that he opened the eyes of contemporary musicians and music lovers to the prime importance of voice culture and voice modulation, and the supreme value of emotion in music.

We have quite a large number of musicians who can sing perfectly correctly and perhaps impress the listener's intellect; but few could touch the listener's heart as Bade Ghulam Ali Khan could. And no other classical vocalist has earned such countrywide adulation from musicians, music lovers and critics. The remarkable pliability of his voice, the unpredictable swara combinations, the incredible speed of his taans and the ease with which he could sway his audiences by his emotional renderings -- these are qualities which have been envied by many a rival.

By his varied and richly expressive style, he has silenced the detractors of classical music who argue that it cannot appeal because it is "dry and flat". For the rare perfection and popularity that he brought to the Punjab ang he has been rightly called "The King of Light Classical Music".

As I sit and recall the numerous Bade Ghulam Ali recitals that I attended, I find that there was not a single rasa he could not bring to life through his music. What passion cannot music raise and quell! When he would sing "Kali ghata ghir ayee sajani", the audience could almost hear the rumbling of thunder, see the flashes of lightning and share the agony of the separated one. He would put his heart and soul into the rendering of a highly devotional khayal like "Mahadev Maheshwar" or his favourite bhajan "Hari Om Tatsat". In his thumri, "Naina more taras rahe", Bade Ghulam Ali would portray the entire longing of the eyes to behold the beloved, while he could bring out all the playfuly romantic, half-exquisite complaint of the Gopi whom Krishna was teasing.

Among classical musicians, Bade Ghulam Ali was truly the king of emotions and thumris. He often used to say: "Many people have the idea that classical music has no powers of expression. This is because generally our musicians are more interested in technical virtuosity. But emotion is the very soul of our music. In fact our music has the power to express the subtlest nuances of feeling." Bade Ghulam Ali has proved this point by his own style, which is an excellent blend of impressive tehchnical mastery and appealing emotional expression. "From the heart of the singer to the hearts of listeners!" is true in the case of his music.

Born in Lahore in 1901 as the son of Khan Saheb Ali Bux, Ghulam Ali's musical gifts were evident at an incredibly early age. Reminiscing over his childhood, he said: "I do not know at what age I began to master the twelve notes. This much I can say: that, at the age of three or four when I started talking, I had some ideas of the twelve notes! I learnt sargams as a child learns his mother tongue."

Recognising the musical potentialities of the child, Ali Bux put him, at the age of seven, under the tutelage of Khan Saheb Kale Khan of Patiala for the next ten years. After the Khan Saheb's death, Ghulam Ali continued his training under his own father.

What fired him with a feeling of challenge was a small incident. When Kale Khan died, a certain musician made a caustic remark that music was dead with Kale Khan. This put young Ghulam Ali on his mettle. In his own words: "For the next five years, music became my sole passion. I practised hard, day and night, even at the cost of sleep. All my joys and sorrows were centred on music."

Ghulam Ali was gifted with all the attributes of a great musician: musical lineage, intelligence, sound training and high artistic sensibility. "To me the purity of the note is the supreme thing," he used to say. Ghulam Ali also had the privilege of receiving talim from Ashiq Ali (who belonged to the gharana of Tanras Khan), and from the late Baba Sindhi Khan. Some people detected shades of Ustad Wahid Khan's charming style in his khayal alap.

It is true that Bade Ghulam Ali belonged to a long and illustrious musical lineage. But it was his genius that chiselled off all the harsh crudities and angularites of the once dry Patiala Gharana and lent it such a rare polish and glow that today it has achieved countrywide popularity. Bade Ghulam Ali Khan has left behind not only hundreds of singers trying to emulate him but also thousands and thousands of music lovers who cherish his music. No other North Indian vocalist ever attracted such large audiences in the South as did Bade Ghulam Ali Khan.

Bade Ghulam Ali never tried to win the approbation of those classical purists who judge the excellence of a performance by the length of delineation of each raga. His aim was to appeal to the hearts of the millions who heard him. He would say: "What is the use of stretching each raga for hours ? There are bound to be repetitions."

A true artist, Bade Ghulam Ali was not interested in political and religious differences. He knew of only two categories of humanity: music lovers and the uninterested ones. "I know only one thing: Music! I am little interested in other things. I am just a humble devotee of God and Music."

At his abode, wherever he used to stay -- Bombay, Delhi, Calcutta or Hyderabad -- he was surrounded by his admirers all the time and the swarmandal was always with him. Every few minutes, he would break into song -- to illustrate a point he was making. A firm believer in the debt that classical music owes to folk airs, he could, with amazing dexterity, demonstrate the simple folk lilts like a real villager, and then suddenly sing out its fully polished classical counterpart in a scintillating manner. No wonder his admirers were always crowding around him throughout his waking hours.

During his last stay in Bombay (prior to his departure to Hyderabad and his last fatal attack), a young admirer from the South had a few hours' halt in Bombay, before taking a plane to Calcutta. It was 11 p.m. when he reached Bade Ghulam Ali Khan's place. Yet, with joy, the Ustad showed his hospitality, not by serving tea and sweets but by something more precious. "Bring my swarmandal!" he said to his son Munnawar. "Let me sing awhile for my guest." As the young admirer said: "Can you beat this great artiste's humility and his utter absorption in music ?"

Bade Ghulam Ali Khan was not only everyone's favourite but a musicians' musician. Leading artistes of the country have paid homage to this great musician. Begum Akhtar says in her tribute: "I have never seen such a rare combination of greatness and simplicity. When I first heard him, I felt that I was hearing real music for the first time. He was my honoured guest for several months in Calcutta. He used to sing all day long: in fact, music was his sole interest in life. In sorrow he would draw solace from music; in joy also he would burst into song. What a rare musician!"

Under his pen name, "Sabrang", he has left numerous lilting compositions -- khayals and thumris. "Sabrang" had only one passion in life : Music. Today the great singer has merged into Nadabrahma -- eternal bliss through music. His favourite bhajan ever was and will be: "Hari Om Tatsat".

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