This Gharana or school had its roots in the Bangash tribe of Afghanistan, three of whom migrated to India some 200 years ago bringing with them the Afghan Rabab. The Bangash tribesmen eventually settled in Rewa, currently in the state of Rajasthan in northwestern India, after taking up positions as soldiers under various ruling lords and kings. Eventually, they became court musicians.
One of the original tribesmen was Ghulam Bandagi Khan Bangash. There is controversy around the identity of his son who, according to some, was Hyder Khan and Hyder’s son’s name was Ghulam Ali Khan. Some other musicians and music historians argue that Ghulam Ali Khan was the direct son of Ghulam Bandagi Khan Bangash. In any case, all of the members of the Bangash families, descendent from the orginial three Afghan tribesmen, were Rabab players, and Ghulam Ali Khan, along with his cousins (or nephews) Enayet Ali and Niyamatullah Khan, laid the foundations of the Gharana.
The Bangashes became significantly influenced by Indian music through one Zafar Khan, a descendant of the legendary court musician Tansen, who is believed by some to have given instruction to the Bangash family. Zafar Khan and other descendants of Tansen from his son’s side used to play a form of Rabab that had become known as the Tanseni Rabab. The Tanseni Rabab was different in both structure and tonality from the Afghan Rabab and this influenced the Bangashes to make them experiment with their Rabab. Elsewhere, other members of Tansen’s family, referred to as the Seni Gharana, specialized in the Dhrupad style of singing and playing the Veen (north Indian Veena), another existing stringed instrument, from which they took the name of ‘Veenkar’.
Story has it that Zafar Khan heard Nirmal Shah Veenkar playing the Veen at a music conference in Varanasi and was impressed by the instrument’s ability to sustain notes and play both long Meends (slides) and Gamaks (repetitive slides). Khan then made some modifications to the Tanseni Rabab his family played, replacing the skin covered drum of the Rabab with a wooden covered drum, similar to the Sur-Bahar (also similar to the Sitar), the alabaster fingerboard with a metallic one, and the silk strings with metallic ones.
Meanwhile, the Bangash students or ‘disciples’ of Zafar Khan saw their master make changes to the Tanseni Rabab and also started to experiment with the Afghan Rabab they had been playing. The disputed son or grandson of one of the original Bangash tribesmen, Ghulam Ali Khan, replaced the wooden fingerboard of the Afghan Rabab with metal, and the existing strings with metal ones, thus initiating the development, which would later earn him the credit as the father of the modern-day Sarod. The shape of the Sarod also started to evolve from the Afghan Rabab moving from its original elliptical shape to a round drums shape, however, both are seen today. The alternate elliptical drum together with the hollow neck most closely tie the Sarod to its origins in the Afghan Rabab.
Ghulam Ali Khan had three sons – Hussein Ali, Murad Ali and Nanne Khan. Nanne Khan’s son was the great Sarod maestro Ustad Hafiz Ali Khan who also had three sons – Mubarak Ali, Rehmat Ali, and the world-renowned living legend, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan.
However, the middle son of Ghulam Ali Khan, Ustad Murad Ali Khan, is considered by many to be the most talented of the three brothers. He, like his forebearers, had received musical training from the descendants of Mian Tansen and is said to have greatly improved the technique of Sarod playing. Ustad Murad Ali Khan is also said to have provided basic training to his nephew, the great Hafiz Ali Khan.
Murad Ali Khan was childless. At some point of time, he had an argument with his siblings who ridiculed him for being without a successor, which was obviously a concern in those days. This comment is said to have angered him so much that he left his ancestral home in Gwalior. He made up his mind to find a boy, literally, off the streets and turn him into his successor – a musician par excellence who would be an ideal rival to his siblings and their successors. He went to Shahjahanpur, a small town near Lucknow in the state of Uttar Pradesh in India where the family of Ustad Najaf Ali Khan, one of the other two members of the Bangash tribe who had come to India along with Ghulam Bandagi Khan Bangash (see History of Sarod) was living. The grandson of Najaf Ali, Ustad Enayet Ali Khan had settled down in Shahjahanpur. Murad Ali found a lonely orphan boy in Enayet Ali’s extended family and decided to adopt him as his son. He was named as Abdullah Khan and Murad Ali took him to Darbhanga in Bihar where he settled down as the court musician of the local Maharaja, and Abdullah Khan indeed became a legend.
Ustad Abdullah Khan started to visit Bengal during his time. It was quite customary for the Zamindars (landowning local lords established under British rule), who were often connoisseurs of music and great impresarios as well, to invite well-known musicians from other parts of India to perform at their courts. Abdullah Khan used to frequently visit the court of Birendra Kishore Roychoudhury of Gouripur in Rajshahi (now in Bangladesh).
Ustad Ameer Khan was the son of Ustad Abdullah Khan. He started learning from his father at a very early age and grew up to be an excellent Sarodia. He was also a prolific composer. Ameer Khan was invited by Lalita Mohan Maitra to come to his court and take up the permanent position of the court musician. He started to teach Sarod to Lalita Mohan’s two sons, one of them being Brojen Maitra. Soon the young Radhika Mohan, Brojen Maitra’s son, was also learning from Ameer Khan.>
Since this Gharana evolved primarily from the Rabab, the playing style initially developed with the heavy right handed strumming of the strings. Later on, with the influence of other instruments such as the Veena and Sur Shringar, as well as vocal music, the Gharana included the use of the ‘Meend’ (long slides from one note to another) and ‘Gamak’ (the variation of the pitch of a note or the sliding movement between two or more notes, somewhat similar to a trill). However, the uniqueness of this Gharana still lay in execution of Bol-Taans or phrases emulating patterns of various percussion instruments.
In this video clip Pt. Buddhadev Dasgupta demonstrates how an original composition in the Raga Desh meant to be played on the Sur-Shringar or Veena was modified for the Sarod by early Sarodias and then restored back to its original form with the advent of Meend and Gamak on the instrument.
The influence of Sur-Bahar and Sitar as well as vocal classical music on this Gharana led to the creation of Ekhara Taans, where each note is played alternatively by upward Da or downward Ra strokes. Ekhara Taans allow the artist the ability to play a rapid sequence of notes, similar to that of a Sitar or a vocalist. A sample of Ekhara Taans is demonstrated in the clip below:
Another notable feature of this Sarod Gharana is the Larant. The Larant is normally played either at the end of the Alaap, Jod section or at the end of the Gatkari section, prior to the Jhaala. In a Larant, the chikari strokes of the Jhaala are replaced by Da-Ra-Di-Ri strokes of the tonic (or the Sa). The Larant is a unique movement where the Rababiya style of Sarod playing is probably best demonstrated. Using this technique, the artist can combine the melody of the Alaap with a rhythmic, fast-paced movement, to paint a more complete picture of the Raga. Pt. Buddhadev Dasgupta of the Shahjahanpur Gharana demonstrates in the clip below.