RMIM Archive Article "67".
From the RMIM Article Archive maintained by Satish Subramanian
# RMIM/C Archives..
# Subject: Great Master's series
# Great Masters #7: Ustad Bade Gulam Ali Khan
# Posted by: Rajan Parrikar (email@example.com)
# Sources: "Down Melody Lane" (1984) by G.N. Joshi
From the RMIM Article Archive maintained by Satish Subramanian
Salaam Aleikum and Namashkaar! Continuing our series of biograph-
ical anecdotes, our first offering of 1992 features the doyen of
Patiala Gharana and one of India's (and the world's) greatest vo-
calists - Ustad Bade Gulam Ali Khan.
Khan Saheb Bade Gulam Ali Khan
Down Melody Lane
While film stars continued to fascinate the people with their
singing and acting, a new class of gifted classical singers and
instrumentalists was being born.
Film music has a tremendous attraction for the masses and it has
great commercial value. But, like the films, its appeal is
short-lived. A popular film and its songs may hold the public
interest for some time, but as other films come along the old
film and its songs are gradually forgotten.
It is not so with classical music, which has a lasting hold on
the interest of listeners. Even though records of classical
music do not sell as fast as film records, their value to music
lovers does not decline.
In 1944 the Vikramaditya Sangit Parishad was held in the Bombay
University Convocation Hall. An artist from Punjab presented
Raga Marwa and a thumri, as they had never been presented be-
fore, and will never be presented again. This was how Ustad Bade
Gulam Ali Khan introduced himself to lovers of classical music in
Bombay. Raga Marwa, which he selected as his opening item, has a
combination of notes -komal rishab and shudha dhaivat- which
sounds very pensive and persuasive. The Ustad's melodious voice
and his most arresting style gripped the listeners from the
start. He unfolded before the amazed audience a most attractive
and elaborate picture of Raga Marwa.
The almost effortless phirat of his voice, which ranged through
three octaves -Mandra, Madhya and Taar-elevated the artist and
the listeners to immeasurable heights of musical experience.
This was Bade Gulam Ali's maiden appearance in this city. He
came, he sang, and he conquered the entire musical world of Bom-
The audience that day was star-studded. Eminent artists like (fa-
ther of Ali Akbar Khan and guru of Pandit Ravi Shankar), the
famous sarod player from Gwalior-Ustad Hafiz Ali Khan (father of
the young sarod player Amjad Ali Khan), Marhoom Ustad Alla Diya
Khan and many others were seen nodding in appreciation of Bade
Gulam Ali's performance.
Ustad Alla Diya Khan with his snow-white mustache and fair com-
plexion, was a very impressive person. He had settled in Bombay
a few years before, but having stayed many years in Kolhapur, he
always dressed in the Maharashtrian style. He looked very digni-
fied, clad in a pure white dhoti in Brahminic style, an open
collared coat, shining pump shoes and a turban tied in the im-
pressive Kolhapuri fashion. Amidst the galaxy of artists he
looked like an emperor holding his darbar. M. R. Jayakar
honoured him that night with the title: 'The Mount Everest of
This was a significant night, not only because I heard Bade Gulam
Ali, but also because it was the last appearance of Ustad Alla
Diya Khan in such an august assembly. That night the Ustad was
flanked by his disciple Surashri Kesarbai Kerkar on the right
and his son on the left as tanpura accompanists. This was indeed
an unforgettable experience.
Bade Gulam Ali Khan was the biggest attraction of the evening. In
this, his very first visit, I managed to bring him to our studio
to record a few of his choicest khayals and thumris. He sang
lilting thumris like Yad piya ki aaye, Katena birahaki raat,
Tirachhi Nazariya ke baan and Premke fandeme aakar sajani, and
these records, cut almost forty years ago, are still popular
with listeners, not only in India, but all over the world.
Bade Gulam Ali Khan had an impressive physique and the lofty gait
of a monarch. It was hard to believe that this broad-faced,
bewhiskered giant was capable of producing such sweet, soul-
stirring notes. A year after our first meeting, on the occasion
of my elder daughter's birthday, I invited Bade Gulam Ali to my
place for dinner. It was a pleasant surprise to see the great
Ustad at the dinner table, consuming, with great relish, a whole
chicken. nearly two dozen chappatis and more than a kilo of
mithai (sweetmeats). and still more amazing was his 4 hour musi-
cal recital immediately afterwards. I thanked him profusely and
jocularly remarked that people would always remember him as ran-
gila gavaiyya and rasila khawaiyya (a versatile singer and an
appreciative gourmet). Bade Gulam Ali was also an excellent
cook. On many occasions for several years thereafter, he pressed
on me delicious dishes such as mutton paya and karela mutton
which he had prepared himself.
Bade Gulam Ali hailed from Lahore in Punjab. It was his heartfelt
desire that I, who was by now one of his dear friends and great
admirers, should visit him in Lahore. A chance to respond to
this invitation came very soon. Mr. Z. A. Bokhari the then sta-
tion director of All India Radio, Bombay, offered me a chain
booking to broadcast from the Lucknow, Delhi and Lahore radio
stations. I spent most of my stay in Lahore with the great
Ustad. Walking with him through the Hiramandi park of Lahore
city I felt as if I was walking by the side of a majestic
elephant who was parading through thc streets, accepting the re-
verent salutations of numerous admirers. He lavishly showered
hospitality on me. This was the end of the year 1945.
During his short visit to Bombay in 1948 I fixed up a recording
session with him. In the afternoon, when I had everything ar-
ranged for recording in our studio, he telephoned to say that he
was not feeling well enough to record. I insisted that he should
come over and that we would not do any recording but we would
have a nice long chat and dinner. Very reluctantly he accepted
my pressing invitation. Before he came I had to plan a strategy
whereby I would be able to persuade him to strain his vocal
chords. I gave a hundred rupee note to my peon Sakharam and in-
structed him to procure a bottle of Scotch, which was the
Ustad's favourite drink. Sakharam was to bring the bottle and
the glasses into the studio only when I gave him the signal to do
I had arranged things in the studio in such a manner that I could
start recording at a moment's notice. I instructed that the ac-
companying musicians be kept waiting in an ante-room. I escorted
the great Ustad into the studio, assuring him that we would not
do any recording but would have just an interesting and enjoy-
able evening. On the spacious wooden platform were two tanpuras
already tuned to suit his pitch. The Ustad, a man of generous
proportions, always preferred to sit cross-legged on the plat-
form instead of on a chair. I seated myself near him with one
tanpura close at hand. While we conversed I casually started
playing on the strings of the tanpura. 'Khan Saheb,' I said, ' I
want to know why followers of the Gwalior gharana prefer to use
tivra dhaivat, in Raga Lalat, instead of komal dhaivat which
sounds so much sweeter.' With the sound of the tanpura playing
in the background Khan Saheb could not resist demonstrating why
komal dhaivat is preferable to tivra dhaivat. 1 noticed with sa-
tisfaction that my strategy was succeeding.
Unseen by him, I gave the signal to Sakharam who walked in with
the bottle and the glasses. Noticing this, the Ustad looked hap-
pier, though he protested mildly. I said to him, 'Since we are
not going to do any recording we might as well have a gay time.'
I came up with another question while the maestro was enjoying
the drink. 'Why is it that some singers use both tivra and komal
nishads in Raga Adana? Is it correct to do so?' I refilled Khan
Saheb's glass, and he who had been sitting in a relaxed position
so far sat upright in his usual singing posture, fully inspired
and in the mood to sing. He picked up the other tanpura which
was close to him and began to demonstrate how Raga Adana should
I allowed him to sing for a while and then said, 'Khan Saheb,
your voice is in absolutely top form!' He guessed the implica-
tion of my remark, and smiling a little mischievously he said,
'So, you do want to do a recording'. Taking this as a form of
consent, I immediately summoned the accompanists and in a few
minutes all was ready for the recording.
Khan Saheb was indeed in great form that night. The next two
hours literally flew by. He sang one enchanting song after
another, and we were able to record such immortal pieces as Aaye
na baalam, kya karun sajani, Naina more taras rahe hatn and Prem
ki maar katar, to name a few. Like a person possessed Khan Saheb
poured his heart and soul into the magic notes. He did not even
know how many songs he recorded; this after having been deter-
mined not to record at all. During a short respite I handed him
a fresh glass. After taking a sip from it he said, 'Joshi Saheb,
you must have cast a spell on me. I was determined not to sing.
How many have you recorded?' I smiled and replied, 'We need only
We had a hearty laugh and thus the memorable recording session
came to a close. Outside it had rained very hard and inside the
studio we had had torrents of music.
Bade Gulam Ali's study of music was extensive. While discussing
any aspect of music, he would make intelligent observations that
would surprise and impress the most learned and knowledgeable
persons. A seminar was once arranged under the auspices of the
Sur Singar Samsad. In Hindustani classical music, ragas are as-
cribed particular hours of the day or night for their exposi-
tion. The point under discussion at the seminar was whether
there was any scientific reason for this convention or whether
it was just a result of custom and tradition. Bade Gulam Ali
gave his opinion with practical demonstrations. According to him
ragas are divided into two types. A raga of the first type may
be played between 12 noon and 12 midnight. Ragas of the second
type may be played at any time from midnight to 12 noon. The
ragas in the first section are known as 'Purva ragas' and those
of the second section as 'Uttar ragas . A saptak is also divided
into two parts or 'tetrachords'. The first contains Sa, Re, Ga,
Ma, and the second the other four notes, Pa, Dha, Ni, Sa. In the
purva ragas the vadi swara (the prime or 'life' note of the
raga) is taken from the first tetrachord and therefore these ra-
gas are known as purvangavadi ragas. In the same way, the vadi
swara in the uttar ragas is usually taken from the second tetra-
chord, i.e., Pa, Dha, Ni, Sa, and these ragas are called ut-
tarangavadi ragas. When the vadi swara is either 'Sa' or 'Pa',
there is no time restriction for the performance of that raga.
He also propounded another theory explaining why a particular
raga should be sung at a particular time and why, if it is ren-
dered accordingly, it is more effective and appreciated by the
The 24 hours of the day are divided as follows:
(1) 4 in the morning to 7 in the morning.
(2~ 7 in the morning to 10 in the morning.
(3) 10 in the morning to 4 in the afternoon.
(4) 4 in the afternoon to 7 in the evening.
(5) 7 in the evening to 10 at night.
(6) 10 at night to 4 in the morning.
It will be observed that in the ragas of the first and fourth
divisions the 2nd note rishabh and 6th note dhaivat are komal
swaras. These ragas are also known as Sandhiprakash ragas.
Bhairava of the morning variety and Purvi of the evening, having
these notes, are Sandhiprakash ragas. Khan Saheb explained how
just a slight change of half a note in the structure of the oc-
tave changes the raga from a morning to an evening one. In Raga
Bhairava the 4th note, madhyam, is shudha, while in Purvi the
4th note is half a note higher, that is tivra madhyama. He also
demonstrated and explained the difference between the morning
raga Todi and the afternoon raga Multani. Although both have
identically the same notes in the octave, they differ from one
another owing to different vadi samvadi notes and different
In the same way ragas in the 2nd and 5th parts have the 2nd note
rishabh and the 6th note dhaivat as shudha notes. The ragas of
the 3rd and 6th parts have the 3rd note gandhara and the 7th
note nishad komal.
Khan Saheb however added that this theory was based on his obser-
vations of general practices. He was of the firm opinion that
the theory of division of ragas according to time has some
scientific basis and that physicists should be able to arrive at
some final explanation after experiments.
Ragas are also seasonal melodies. For example, Raga Malhar is as-
sociated with the rainy season and Raga Vasant with spring. One
evening during the monsoon I had the good fortune to find Bade
Gulam Ali in a very exuberant mood. From the balcony of his flat
on Malabar Hill one could see the turbulent sea with its rising
mountains of waves. This exhibition of nature's strength always
inspired Khan Saheb and that day he gave vocal expression to his
feelings, in a number of variations of Raga Malhar. He reeled
out gamak taans when there was a clap of thunder. He would be
inspired by a flash of lightning to indulge in a brilliant
'Phirat', and when it poured cats and dogs, the result would be
a torrent of powerful taans ranging over two to three octaves.
It sounded as if a jugalbandi programme was in progress between
Nature and this great man. Bade Gulam Ali was very generous in
sharing his knowledge and rare compositions with deserving per-
sons. And what is more. he did not feel it below his dignity to
accept compositions not known to him. There was a frequent ex-
change of .such knowledge and compositions between my guru Guni-
das and Khan Saheb. I have often enjoyed such musical
***Insert: Gunidas referred here is Pandit Jagannathbua
discussions and exchanges at Khan Saheb's residence in the com-
pany of my Guruji and Professor B. R. Deodhar.
Bade Gulam Ali had a lively wit and sense of humour. His elder
son Karamat Ali, who lived in Pakistan, was on a visit to his
father when Bade Gulam Ali introduced him to me as 'my Bade
Shahzede - Karamat Ali'. When I inquired about the nature of his
profession, Bade Gu]am Ali gave a loud burst of laughter and,
pointing to four or five little children playing nearby, he
said, 'Look, that is his Karamat.' Karamat Ali joined in our
burst of laughter.
His younger son, Munawar Ali, was his constant companion and was
being groomed to succeed him. He always accompanied Khan Saheb
on the tanpura and being so close to his father, he imbibed the
vast treasure of his father's musical knowledge. Naturally with
such training and all the makings of a first grade artist,
everyone expected him to follow in Bade Gulam Ali's footsteps.
Unfortunately, however, Bade Gulam Ali had always kept Munawar
under his wing. Consequently, Munawar did not learn the art of
performing independently and in spite of the vast knowledge he
received from his father, this gifted but unlucky singer is
still struggling to make a name for himself.
Bade Gulam Ali's brother Ustad Barakat Ali Khan also had great
talent. The sweetness and phirat of his voice sometimes sur-
passed that of Bade Gulam Ali. Bade Gulam Ali, however, allowed
his brother to accompany him on the harmonium but never to sing
with him in public. Therefore Barakat Ali remained unknown to
most music lovers in India. It is difficult to say for what
reason Bade Gulam Ali always kept his son Munawar and brother
Barakat Ali in the background, not giving them a chance to
display their talents independently. I had the gond fortune to
hear Bade Gulam Ali and Barakat Ali sing together in the same
Mehfil when I was a guest of Nawab Zahir Yar Jung at the
Basheerbag palace in Hyderaba~.
The Jainophone Record Company of Lahore, which was a sister con-
cern of H.M.V., was the first to market Barakat Ali's records.
Of these Bagome pade zule, Ek sitam aur lakh adaen and Ufari
jawani haye jamane have made his name immortal.
In 1962 Barakat Ali camc on a visit to Bombay. At my request he
made three records, one of ghazals and the other two very lilt-
ing dadras. At this recording session. Barakat Ali was in the
mood and willing to record many more songs but my boss (the same
'Kudhon ke Badshah' mentioned before) came in the way. He was of
the opinion that we could record more when Barakat Ali next came
to the city. I helplessly obeyed and, after making three
records, Barakat Ali returned to Pakistan never to come back.
Only a few months later he passed away in Karachi. I felt ex-
tremely upset with my boss for coming in the way of my recording
more of this gifted musician's work. Years later I was able to
lay my hands on some of Barakat Ali's tape recordings from which
I got enough material for two LPs. Although we embarked on the
production of LP records in 1960, I could not get Bade Gulam Ali
for LP recording till 1963, There is a story behind this.
In 1959 we received from our head office a copy of the first In-
dian classical LP record, featuring Ustad Ali Akbar Khan on the
Sarod. The record had an introduction by the world renowned vio-
linist Yehudi Menuhin. Obviously, it was meant for Western audi-
ences. I was asked to evaluate the sales potential of LP records
in India. Until then all our records had been made on 78 R.P.M.
and were 3 minutes and 20 seconds long. Most classical musicians
found it very difficult to do justice to a raga and give their
best within such a short time. The LP record would be 5 times
the length of a 78 R.P.M. record and I felt that this would be
very welcome, not only to the performers but also to listeners
and lovers of classical music. However, an LP disc would cost
more than Rs. 30 in those days, and considering the pockets of
Indian listeners, I had to be very cautious, bearing in mind the
sales aspect of the venture.
I was, however, very anxious to have the facility of putting
classical music on a long playing record and hence advised our
head office to send to us 300 copies of Ustad Ali Akbar Khan's
record. These, when put in the market, sold out very quickly.
Hence it was obvious that, in spite of their high price, the
market was ready to absorb LP records. I took this as the green
signal to bring stalwarts in the classical field before the mi-
crophone for such microgroove recordings. To persuade an artist
to record was always a problem. Apart from the conservative
outlook of our musicians, their performing form, health and con-
dition of voice had to be considered. To add to this, artists
usually put a very high price on their performance, Bade Gulam
Ali, like others, had always complained about the inadequate
length of records. Therefore, when I approached him, telling him
that he would be able to get about 17 to 18 minutes per side, he
was very happy and immediately consented. 'Very good' he said, 'I
will do the recording but I have a request. On the previous oc-
casions, you paid me on a royalty basis, but this time I want
I tried to reason with him as to how a royalty agreement would be
more advantageous to him in the long run. But he was very adamant
so I asked how much he would expect in cash. 'I want only a lakh
of rupees,' he said.
This was an impossible demand, and I told him so. I decided,
therefore, to drop Bade Gulam Ali for the time being.
During the next few months I recorded artists like Nazakat Ali,
Salamat Ali, Bhimsen Joshi, Ustad Amir Khan, Bismillah Khan and
several others on LPs. These records found quite a big market
and became popular. Whenever we brought out a new LP I made it a
point to show a copy of it to Bade Gulam Ali. The LP records al-
ways had very attractive ccvers and these tempted Bade Gulam Ali
to agree to my proposal. The demand for a lakh of rupees was the
main hurdle. My bosses also tried to reason with him, but this
only made Bade Gulam Ali more obstinate. 'If you are not ready
to pay my fees I will go and record abroad,' was his final
answer to them.
I had however not given up hope. I kept up friendly relations
with him and persisted in my persuasive tactics. In the course
of 6 months Khan Saheb climbed down from a lakh to 45 thousand,
and after another 4 months he agreed on 25 thousand, from which
he would not budge. >From the commercial point of view, film
records with their huge sales potential are most profitable to
the company. Records of classical music, even by a top artist,
would never have such a large sale in a short period. The com-
pany, being always eager to get quick returns and a large turn-
over, was naturally reluctant to enter into a cash contract.
Therefore Bade Gulam Ali's demand for 25 thousand was also unac-
One more year passed, and around 1962 his health started
deteriorating. This affected his voice and performance. Early in
1963 he gave a concert at Shivaji Mandir, the theatre in the Da-
dar area of Bombay. Of course, I attended it. With Munawar Ali
accompanying him on the tanpura, Bade Gulam Ali started with
Raga Bhoop. After some alap he started the Bandish. But instead
of giving it his usual slow and thorough treatment, he very soon
switched over to Sargams. It was obvious that he found it diffi-
cult to keep his voice steady and stable on the raga notes. In
my opinion the concert was an absolute failure. More than 60% of
the singing was done by the son. Whenever I attended his con-
certs it was my practice to meet him after the concert. But on
this occasion I was so painfully disturbed in my mind that I
went home without meeting him. The thought of this rich treasure
slowly but steadily dwindling. caused me much mental anguish.
The next day, however, I could not resist the temptation of meet-
ing him. He had noticed my absence after the concert the previ-
ous night, and wanted to know the reason for it. I told him the
truth. Previous to this appearance in Shivaji Mandir I had no-
ticed distinct signs of decline in his health and performance. I
said to him, 'What you presented a month ago at Akola you could
not present yesterday and what you achieved yesterday you may
not be able to give tomorrow. This is really a very serious
state of affairs. An artist of your calibre is born, maybe, once
in a century. For God's sake listen to me and make an LP
For a few moments he looked worried and pensive, then he said,
'Very well, I will make only one record. I will sing one morning
and one evening raga. The morning raga must be recorded in the
morning and the evening raga at the appropriate time.'
I was delighted beyond words, and asked when we could do the
A very important film recording was scheduled for the next day,
but as I was getting Bade Gulam Ali after years of patient wait-
ing, I arranged to cancel the film recording the following even-
ing I drove him to the studio in my car. On the way he said,
'Joshi saheb, I am doing this for your sake, but I want you to
give me at least some cash.' I was moved almost to tears at these
words and I felt that had I the authority and power, I would
have thrown open the cash boxes of the company and asked him to
help himself. I said to him, 'I am indeed grateful to you and
overwhelmed at his sign of your affection for me. I will give
you some cash but please do not ask me how much it will be.
Whatever I give you after the recording would be out of love and
respect for you and you will have to accept it in the same spir-
it.' This touched his artistic soul and soon the commercial side
of the recording was forgotten. That night he rendered raga Dar-
bari Kanada with Munawar giving him only instrumental support on
the tanpura. Before we started I told him that he would get
about 19 minutes for the performance. 'All right, but it would
have been nice if you had given me half an hour,' he said. How-
ever, since Munawar was not allowed to sing with him, Khan Saheb
soon found the strain too much. After just 1O minutes of sing-
ing he showed signs of being tired and wanted to find out how
much longer he would have to sing. Instead of the alloted 19
minutes he finished in around 17 minutes. Sweating profusely he
remarked, 'Are Bhai, 15 minutes of singing for you here is
equivalent to 3 hours singing in a mehfil'.
We played back the raga recorded by him. This gave him the rest
he badly needed and it also gladdened him to listen to his
delightful performance. He then said, 'Now I would like to sing
Malkauns.' I did not remind him of his earlier stipulation. It
was to my advantage to keep him in good humour. In the following
hour Malkauns was satisfactorily recorded. At last I had got an
LP record out of him. Then I reminded him, 'Khan Saheb, you
promised to sing one morning raga.'
shall do it tomorrow morning.'
The following morning he sang first Raga Gunakali and then some-
thing that sounded to me like Khambavati or Rageshri He told me
that it was neither, but was known as Kaushi Dhani.
Thus, instead of one, I succeeded in bagging 2 LP records. Find-
ing him in a very amiable mood and quite happy about his perfor-
nance, I felt it would be a good idea to get something more out
of him. So I said, with your listeners and a must in your meh-
fil. So you must record it.' would be a good idea to put it on a
semi long playing (extended play) 45 R.P.M. disc. So I said ,to
him, 'You sing it only for about 7 minutes'. Thus I got him to
record the beautiful bhajan. Then I reminded him of the other
side of the disc. He smiled and said, 'You are very smart; last
time, I remember. you got 10 songs out of me when I did not want
to record even a single one.'
I said, 'But Khan Saheb, every record has to have 2 sides; you
must give me one more piece.' I suggested the thumri Kanakar mar
jagaye-Bamna ka chora and he readily accepted my suggestion
since this was also his pet song.
In this manner he eventually gave us 2 LPs and one extended play
record. I prevailed upon him to sign a royalty contract. but, as
promised, I paid him Rs. 5000/- in cash, as advance against roy-
alty. Once again the fact was proved, that a genuine artist
values affection more than money.
This recording had been delayed for more than two and a half
years because of his unreasonable demand for a lakh of rupees.
His failing voice is evident in these records. If he had only
agreed to my requests earlier, we would have had a number of
recordings of this great artist which would have been appreciat-
ed by millions of his fans. Just a few months after this his
health deteriorated further.
My friend Nawab Zahir Yar Jung, a true patron and lover of
music, took Khan Saheb to Hyderabad and looked after him till he
breathed his last in the Basheerbag palace. It was here that I
had heard his memorable mehfil with Barakat Ali on the harmoni-
um, and it was here that the mehfil of his life came to an end.
He left behind a priceless and glorious heritage of music. For
me, besides this, there remain very fond and enduring memories
of his warm-heartedness and intelligence.