Last month, at G-20 in New Delhi, Jyoti Prakash performed for domestic and international guests. She played a novel instrument, unfamiliar to most locals: Nal Tarang. It consists of various large and small tubes and was invented by Ustad Baba Alauddin Khan. Musical peers refer to Ustad Alauddin Khan respectfully as Ustad Baba Alauddin Khan, symbolically placing their hands on their ears. And, the local residents simply call him Baba. Baba didn’t just belong to the Maihar music family; he was its nurturer. He was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 1958 and the Padma Vibhushan in 1971. Sadly, there are no longer any music disciples of Baba’s caliber in Maihar, or even Baba himself.
Who was Baba Alauddin?
Born in Brahmanbaria, Bangladesh in 1862, Baba Alauddin Khan is a major figure in the realm of music who was largely responsible for cultivating eminent sitar/santoor players such as Pandit Ravi Shankar. Numerous prominent musicians including Nikhil Banerjee, Basant Roy, Pannalal Ghosh, Hariprasad Chaurasia, Sharan Rani and Jotin Bhattacharya had connections to the Maihar Gharana, either as disciples of Baba or students of baba’s disciples. Nonetheless, Baba’s accolades extend far beyond such connections. Baba Alauddin took drastic steps at the age of eight, venturing alone to Calcutta to pursue his passion for music. His initial tutelage came from Nuolo Gopal. Later, he received further instruction in playing the sarod from Ustad Ahmed Ali Khan of the Rampur royal court. He then continued his musical education under the mentorship of Mohammad Wazir Khan, journeying through a long and challenging process to acquire his musical skills.
After learning from all his gurus, Baba came to Maihar in the year 1918. Here he lived till his last breath in 1972. During this period, he gave many such disciples to the world of music like Pandit Ravi Shankar, Annapurna Devi and his son Ali Akbar Khan who raised the tower of Meher Gharana all over the world.
“Maihar Gharana is actually Maihar Senia Gharana which belongs to Gwalior.”
Moin, from Ustad Alauddin Khan Music and Arts Academy in Bhopal, provides information for the ground report. He elaborates, highlighting that the Maihar gharana has produced more notable artists excelling in various musical instruments compared to any other gharana.
A lonely grave in the city of music
‘Medina Bhawan’, located near Alauddin Tiraha in Maihar city, was the residence of Baba and his musical practices, or Riyaz. Himanshu Saini, learning Sarod for a decade, shares that each morning began with Baba praying to the Sharda Mata temple, situated atop Trikut mountain, visible from his home’s terrace, followed by his Riyaz. Himanshu guides us around various sections of Medina Bhawan, sharing stories about Baba. Despite the Navratri festival having passed, there’s no decline in the number of pilgrims traveling to Sharda Mata temple via Alauddin Tiraha. However, a sense of solitude dominates the grand house where Baba rests in his tomb, especially as only a single woman appears to be taking care of the place. Himanshu adds that this loneliness is typically broken when Meher, Baba’s family descendant, pays a visit, causing the house to bustle. Else, solitude usually prevails.
Declining interest in classical music
A former student, who asked to remain anonymous, commented on the current state of Maihar’s government music school, stating it lacks qualified teachers. This individual feels that the traditional musical legacy in Maihar has significantly altered, with contemporary generations being drawn more towards Bollywood music rather than classical. They reasoned that the double blow to this tradition resulted from fewer students learning and a depletion of teachers teaching the art. According to him, an increase in the number of available teachers could potentially boost interest in music across the city.
Maihar’s famous band
Ramayan Prasad Chaturvedi was a sitar player in Maihar Band. Now, he has retired. Talking about the band, he says, “The band made for the Maihar royal family was called Maihar Band, and Baba adapted it to the classical music tradition.” Actually, the history of Maher Band is linked to the First World War. In the year 1918, when the World War was in its final stages, many countries of the world including India were hit by the Spanish Flu. During this time, Baba Alauddin Khan gave shelter to the orphaned children in his house. Later Raja Brijnath Singh of Maihar provided them a place to live. It was here that Baba started the first batch of Maihar Band with the children. After this, Meher Band gained fame in the country as well as abroad.
But after the gradual retirement of artists like Ramayan Prasad Chaturvedi, the current condition of the band has become very pitiable. Chaturvedi says,
“The older members are no longer part of the band, and the replacements lack experience. This is why the band no longer maintains the same quality it once had during baba’s or our era.”
Revive the Maihar Band
In the month of August, the government decided to establish the Maihar Band Gurukul to revive the Maihar Band. Under this scheme, the government will provide assistance of Rs 10,000 per month to the students for learning under Gurukul. Whereas Gurus will be given Rs 37 thousand 500. However, Ramayan Prasad Chaturvedi believes that to bring the Maihar Band back to that level, gurus who have been teaching for many years should be brought into the band instead of new ones.
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