Artist, Biography

Ali Akbar Khan

“Music is the only thing that you can share with a million people and you don’t lose, you gain. It helps you...

Written by Himshweta Vijayran · 5 min read >

“Music is the only thing that you can share with a million people and you don’t lose, you gain. It helps you to get energy and to live long, because when your soul is very happy then you don’t want to die.”  – Ali Akbar Khan.


Quick Information

Artist NameAli Akbar Khan
Birth Date14 May 1922
From – To14 May 1922 – 18 June 2009 (aged 87)
Birth PlaceComilla, Chittagong, Bangladesh
Death PlaceSan Anselmo, California
GharanaMaihar Gharana
Father’s NameBaba Allauddin Khan
Mother’s nameMadina Begum
Instrument PlayedSarod
UncleAftabuddin Khan
Brother-in-lawRavi Shankar
SisterRoshanara Khan (Famous as Annapurna Devi)
AwardsPadma Bhushan, Padma Vibhushan
Honoured by TitlesNational Treasure, Indian Johann Sebastian Bach, Hathi Saropao and Dowari Tajeem
WivesZubeida Begum, then Rajdulari Khan Sahiba, and last one Mary Khan
SonsAashish Khan Debasharma (b 1939, sarod), Dhyanesh Khan (1941–90; sarod), , Pranesh Khan (tabla), Amaresh Khan (sarod), Alam Khan (b 1982, sarod), Manik Khan (Sarod)
DaughterMedina Khan
GrandsonShiraz Ali Khan (Sarod Virtuoso)

Brief Introduction:- 
Ali Akbar Khan (14 May 1922 – 18 June 2009) was one of the most accomplished Hindustani classical musicians known for his virtuosity in playing the sarod.

He was called a “National Living Treasure” in India and was admired by both Eastern and Western musicians for his brilliant compositions and his mastery of the SAROD (a beautiful, 25-stringed Indian instrument, 10 plucked with a piece of a coconut shell while the remainder resonates sympathetically). He composed several classical ragas and film scores.

Concert violinist the late Lord Yehudi Menuhin called Ali Akbar Khan, “An absolute genius…the greatest musician in the world” and many have considered him the “Indian Johann Sebastian Bach.”

Family, Friends, and Relatives:- 
Ali Akbar Khan was born to renowned musician and teacher Allauddin Khan and Madina Begum in the village of Shibpur, Nabinagar Upazila, Brahmanbaria, in present-day Bangladesh, (then Comilla, East Bengal).

Ustad Ali Akbar Khan’s family traces its Gharana (ancestral tradition) to Mian Tansen, a 16th century musical genius and court musician of Emperor Akbar. Ali Akbar Khan’s father, the late Padma Vibhushan Acharya Baba Allauddin Khan, was acknowledged as the greatest figure in North Indian music in this century.

Baba Allaudin Khan (Father of Ali Akbar Khan sahab)

Image source:-
https://pothi.com/pothi/book/dr-sarita-mckenzie-mcharg-dr-baba-allauddin-khan-1881%E2%80%931972

Khan’s family returned to Maihar (in present-day Madhya Pradesh, India) soon after his birth, where his father was the primary court musician for the Maharaja of the princely state. Khan’s uncle Aftabuddin Khan was a tabla and Pakhawaj player who lived in Shibpur. His sister Roshanara Khan (later known as Annapurna Devi), was an accomplished player of the surbahar but custom prevented her from performing in public.

Roshanara Khan (Popularly known as Annapurna Devi)

Image source:-
https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/24/obituaries/annapurna-devi-dead.html

His brother-in-law Ravi Shankar was a fellow student in their training who later married Annapurna Devi in 1941.

Pandit Ravishankar & Annapurna Devi
Image source:-
https://www.mansworldindia.com/people/annapurna-devi-the-tragedy-and-triumph-of-ravi-shankars-first-wife/

Allaudin Khan continued to teach Ali Akbar Khan until he was over 100 years old. When Ali Akbar Khan first received the title of Ustad as a relatively young man, his father merely laughed. But later, when the patriarch was a centenarian, he told his son one day that he was very proud of him: “I am so pleased with your work in music that I will do something which is very rare. As your Guru and father, I am giving you a title, Swara Samrat (Emperor of Melody).” Khan Sahab feels most fortunate to have received this blessing from his father, mother, and uncle.

Ali Akbar Khan married three times (first Zubeida Begum, then Rajdulari Khan Sahiba, and last one Mary Khan) and is survived by eight sons and four daughters. 

Ali-Akbar-Khan Sahab with RajDulari Khan Sahiba (Wife)

Six of his children and one grandson are musicians: Aashish Khan Debasharma (b 1939, sarod), Dhyanesh Khan (1941–90; sarod), Pranesh Khan (tabla), Amaresh Khan (sarod), Alam Khan (b 1982, sarod), Manik Khan (Sarod); and his grandson, Shiraz Ali Khan (sarod).

Introduction to Music:-
 Ali Akbar Khan (Khansahib) began his studies in music at the age of three. His father Allauddin Khan trained him as a classical musician and instrumentalist from an early age in various instruments as well as vocal composition, but he finally gravitated towards the sarod. His father was a stern,  sometimes brutal taskmaster, a perfectionist rousing his young son at dawn for several hours of practice before breakfast and continuing well into the evening of what were often 18-hour days.  
He learned tabla and pakhavaj from his uncle, Fakir Aftabuddin Khan who he visited at Shibpur. During this period he met several prominent musicians, such as the sarodist Timir Baran and flautist Pannalal Ghosh, who came to study with his father. Later, he was joined in his lessons by his sister Annapurna Devi, who became an accomplished player of the surbahar and fellow student Ravi Shankar. Shankar and Annapurna Devi were married in 1941.

Ustad Allauddin Khan Sahab(teaching), Pandit Ravishankar Ji (Left) and Ustad Ali Akbar Khan Sahab (Right)
Image Source:-
https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/allauddin-khan-and-the-maihar-gharana/article7896278.ece

Career :-  
Belonging to Maihar gharana school, Ali Akbar Khan was known for his virtuosity in playing the sarod. After years of rigorous training he gave his debut performance at a music conference in Allahabad in 1936, at the age of 13. 

Ali Akbar Khan Sahab

Three years later in December 1939, he accompanied Ravi Shankar on the sarod during the latter’s debut performance at the same conference. This was the first of many jugalbandis (duets) between the two musicians. In 1938, Khan gave his first recital on All India Radio (AIR), Bombay (accompanied on the tabla by Alla Rakha) and starting in January 1940, he gave monthly performances on AIR, Lucknow. Finally in 1944, both Shankar and Khan left Maihar to start their professional careers as musicians. Shankar went to Bombay, while Khan became the youngest Music Director for AIR Lucknow & was responsible for solo performances & composing for the radio orchestra.

In 1943, on his father’s recommendation, Khan was appointed a court musician for the Maharaja of Jodhpur, Hanwant Singh. There he taught and composed music besides giving recitals and was accorded the title of Ustad by the Maharaja. Khan moved to Bombay defying his father, when the princely states were wound down with India’s independence in 1947 and Hanwant Singh died in a plane crash in 1948.  Many years later, he received the title of ‘Hathi Saropao and Dowari Tajeem’ at the Jodhpur Palace’s Golden Jubilee Celebration in 1993.

Beginning in 1945, Khan started recording a series of 78 rpm disks (which could record about three minutes of music) at the HMV Studios in Bombay. For one such record he conceived a new composition Raga Chandranandan (“moonstruck”), based on four evening ragas, Malkauns, Chandrakauns, Nandakauns and Kaushi Kanada. This record was a huge success in India, and the raga found a worldwide audience when a 22-minute rendition was re-recorded for the album “Master Musician of India” LP in 1965 − one of Khan’s seminal recordings on the Connoisseur label.

In Bombay, he won acclaim as a composer of several film scores iincluding Chetan Anand’s Aandhiyan (1952). Lata Mangeshkar sang the title song, “Har Kahin Pe Shaadmani” and as a token of her respect to sarod maestro, did not charge any fee. This was followed by Satyajit Ray’s Devi (1960), Merchant-Ivory’s The Householder, and Tapan Sinha’s Khudito Pashan (“Hungry Stones”, 1960) for which he won the “Best Musician of the Year” award. 


Allaudin Khan went to see the film as a friend of the director of “Hungry Stones,” and said: “My goodness, who composed the music? He is great.” On being informed that it was his son, the elder Khan sent a telegram of forgiveness.

He also played Sarod for a song in 1955 film Seema which had the music composed by Shankar Jaikishan. By this time the younger Khan had grown frustrated with the limitations of film work and was eager to return to classical music, though he later composed the scores for “The Householder” (1963), the first Ismail Merchant-James Ivory feature film, and America’s  Bernardo Bertolucci’s “Little Buddha” (1993). 


Khan has participated in a number of classic jugalbandi pairings, most notably with Ravi Shankar, Nikhil Banerjee and violinist L. Subramaniam. A few recordings of duets with Vilayat Khan also exist. He also collaborated with Western musicians.

Achievements :-  

The records of his composition of Raga Chandranandan (“moonstruck”) was a huge success in India, and the raga found a worldwide audience when a 22-minute rendition was re-recorded for the Master Musician of India LP in 1965 − one of Khan’s seminal recordings.

Ali Akbar Khan popularized Indian classical music in the West eminently, both as a performer as well as a teacher. He first came to America in 1955 on the invitation of violinist Yehudi Menuhin to perform in a concert at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and settled in California afterwards. He was a Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Music at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

In 1956, Khan founded the Ali Akbar College of Music in Calcutta, with the mission to teach and spread Indian classical music. He founded another school of the same name in Berkeley, California in 1967 and later moved it to San Rafael, California. Khan performed in Boston with Shankar Ghosh in 1969 for the Peabody Mason Concert series. In 1985 he founded another branch of the Ali Akbar College of Music in Basel, Switzerland.

Ustad Ali Akbar Khan sahab at his home in 1986

Khan was the first Indian musician to record an LP album of Indian classical music in the United States and to play sarod on American television on Allistair Cooke’s television program “Omnibus.”


In August 1971, Khan performed at Madison Square Garden for the Concert for Bangladesh, along with Ravi Shankar, Alla Rakha and Kamala Chakravarty; other musicians at the concert included George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton and Ringo Starr. A live album and a movie of the event were later released.

Written by Himshweta Vijayran
I am a poet, writer, life coach & stage performer. Profile

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