Swarsamrat Ali Akbar Khan Sahab – The Musician of musicians

Ustad Ali Akbar Khan

In last few days, due to an unfortunate incident, few words or concepts have been the talk of the town in India. One such is the word – ‘Nepotism’. Well, there is no doubt it exists in almost every field of fine arts. But we must always try to look at the other side of it before commenting on such a delicate topic.

Time – 1938, Place –Bombay, sixteen years old Shibu Dutta was residing at a Hindu Hotel. He had to do play somewhere for living. He decided to visit the Radio station there. Shibu Dutta’s first recording was broadcasted from Bombay. A staff artist accompanied Shibu Dutta on tabla. Today the music world worships this staff radio artist of tabla. We worship him as Ustad Alla Rakha  Khan.

Radio was one of the few modes of entertainment at that  time.  Their performance was broadcasted. Almost 1200 kms away, Maharaja Brijnath Singh of Maihar, listened to that program and informed Baba Allauddin, that this Shibu Dutta, could be his son Ali Akbar, who ran away from Maihar a few days back.   

Not only once, but Ali Akbar Khan Sahab had to run away from his Guru and father – Ustad Allauddin Khan Sahab – twice.

Now, why did he run away? He stated that reason clearly in his interviews. It was really difficult to cope up with the kind of Talim which was prescribed for him. Baba Allauddin, The legendary Guru of numerous eminent musicians, was also known for his very strict teaching style.  According to Ustad Ali Akbar Khan Sahab, he had to wake up at 5 in the morning and was supposed to start his Riyaz right then, till 11 at night with a minimum recess period.

Baba Allauddin  Khan’s life was not less than any fable. He carried the ocean of music within him through his years and years of talim and sadhna.

Probably he wanted to pass on that legacy to his disciples including  Pt Ravi Shankar, Pt Nikhil Banerjee, Pt Pannalal Ghosh, Pt Rabin Ghosh, and most certainly to his heir, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, and Annapurna Devi. Baba nourished them all with his infinite musical wisdom. But he was uncompromisingly strict about the disciplines of his Talim.

Ali Akbar Khan Sahab had to carry forward that legacy. But the pressure of Riyaz was always there. That too with constant monitoring by Baba.  At times it must have been suffocating. But Swar-samrat, himself had acknowledged that much needed, strict schooling later.

The seed of Talim which was sowed at his very early age, started blooming when Ali Akbar was only thirteen. The tapestry of raag sangeet, which was knitted by his father, coloured the mind of innumerable listeners all across the world. The lullaby of his music take us to a journey to transcendence.

  Through a research I got a chance to dig into the archive of Amrita Bazar Patrika. There, I came across a  press release of All Bengal Music Conference. Published at Amrita Bazar Patrika, On 2nd January, 1940,– wherein the artist line up you would find the name of ‘Prof Allauddin with Ali Akbar’. He accompanied Baba so many times, from a very young age.

From the shadow of a legendary father and  Guru – the maestro emerged. Ustad Ali Akbar Khan Sahab, the musician musicians, the sage, made his journey to eternity on this day, eleven years back. His music works as an elixir to many of us, his philosophy shown us marga – the path.

 “it is a path for realization and salvation.”

….to be continued

 Courtesy: Atanu Chakrabarty, Kolkata Music Mapping, Amrita Bazar Patrika.

Remembering Sri Hemanta Mukhopadhyay on his Birth Centenary


2009 onwards, an Indian movie character named Farhan Qureshi almost shook the ground of Indian society. A rebel, who finally stood by his own decision of pursuing his own passion, photography over studying engineering. It was a flame that turned into a huge fire in the next one decade. It is really difficult to choose a freelancing career over a stable job. Many of us are doing it today. Some of us are still hesitating.

 I wonder how difficult it must have been in early ’40s. How difficult it must have been to quit the studies of engineering and to go for the chosen path. Thankfully he convinced his father or else probably the world would not have experienced this golden voice. The golden voice of Hemanta Mukhopadhyay. 

The usage of the word ‘unique’ is not unique anymore. It can only be applied to a few things, one such is the voice quality of Sri Hemanta Mukhopadhyay. His immensely tuneful voice reaches our soul. But not only his exceptional voice, but also his utmost command in voice modulation and his phenomenal singing style. If the concept of Gayeki and Nayeki are to be demonstrated – one should start demonstrating it through Hemant Kumar’s singing. Hemanta Mukhopadhyay used to make his listeners visualize the songs without even looking at it. It was so full of expressions. But whichever genre he has worked in, he brought the necessary changes in the Gayeki but kept his Nayeki, his own singing signature, untouched.  May it be, ‘Ei Poth Jodi Na Sesh Hoy’-  an immensely romantic film song of Uttam Kumar as the main leading actor or may it be “ Na tum Hamein Jano’ – a classic of Devanand , or may it be  -‘ Khomite parilam na je” – a heart-wrenching composition by Tagore from ‘Shyama’, Hemanta Mukherjee delivered his rendition in his own mythical way.

At the path of fine arts, there is a very common phrase – mass or class. Now there are many theoretical explanations for this ‘ism’s, but I am sure you know what does it mean. Let us assume there are two types of people who appreciate art in two different ways in their own parameters. But when we start tagging the words like ‘legendary’ with some name; it means that the artist is able to create his or her magic on both mass and class. Hemanta Mukhopadhyay fits into this title entirely. Let us talk about one of his most serene songs – ‘Shanto Noditi, Pothe Anka Chobiti’, we must have listened to it numerous time, here in this part –“ paal gutiye chole gache, chotto noditi, aha chotto noditi”, here he has sung chotto noditi twice, but in two slightly different way. This is Hemanta Mukhopadhyay, he used the suddh and komal formation of one single note in such subtle way as if no difference occurred. It was that effortless.

Hemanta Mukhopadhyay, or Hemant Kumar, is a name of a milestone in pan Indian music scene. As the singer and as the ace composer, the fragrance of his creations is as fresh as ever. It’s hard to believe that the compositions like “ Humne dekhi hay in ankhon ki mahekti khusboo” – was created sometimes during 1969-70, from the perspective of it’s singing, it’s poetry, it’s tune and even it’s orchestration. It’s hard to find a listener who doesn’t feel a goosebump after listening to that tune of that mystic whistling at the prelude of ‘Ei Raat Tomar Amar’ or in its hindi version ‘Yeh Nayan Darey Darey’. Yes, it haunts indeed.

 In the history of almost a thousand years of Bengali songs – unanimously  – Adhunik Bangla Gaan ( Modern Bengali Songs) has been considered as the most glorious chapter. Yes, even today this genre, which is at least fifty years old,  is still popular as modern Bengali songs. But if we emphasize on the concept of modern songs, then history would point out some masterpieces from time to time. And one such composition is Ranar. It was path-breaking, as the poem, as the composition and definitely from the perspective of singing. Hemanta Mukhopadhyaya absolutely portrayed that song, portrayed that story. And as I was saying, so smoothly he delivered that very challenging composition. Usage of major, minor or chromatic notes – nothing mattered, nothing. Just the song and story sustained, he never emphasized the grammar, he never presented grammar, he sang, composed, created magic, touched our heart and soul and left. 

My first recording took place at a very popular studio in Kolkata named – Studio Vibration. There I found an old wooden chair, which was a little high in size. I was curious and a dada at that studio probably understood it and said that it used to belong to Hemanta Mukhopadhyay. At his old age he used to sit there and record his songs. I kind of started imagining the legend singing with his accurate modulation in that studio, I am kind of imagining him singing these few lines now– in this soft, mystic, sustaining voice  – ‘Prithibi ghumiye pore, tumi dekhecho ki”.

Hemanta Mukhopadhyaya