Ustad Abdul Karim Khan : Epitome of Musical Expression

This exhibition tries to showcase the life and works of Ustad Abdul Karim Khan of Kiran Gharana with a special focus on emotions and expression in his music.

Ustad Abdul Karim Khan is considered to be the founder of modern Kirana Gharana. He was born on 11th November 1872 in a family deeply engaged in classical music. His father, Kale Khan, was a grandson of musician Ghulam Ali. Abdul Karim Khan got his training (Taalim) from father Kale Khan and uncle Abdullah Khan.

Abdul Karim Khan began his training in Sarangi and initially, was a Sarangi player. As the story goes, he later moved to vocal music due to the low status Sarangi players had in the society in those days.

Apart from vocals and Sarangi, he was a accomplished Veena, Sitar and Tabla player. Here is a rare recording of him playing Raga Darbari on Veena.

The most prominent feature of Ustad Ji’s Gayaki is the prominence that he gives to Bhava, that is the emotions and expression. He used to pronounce the words in a softer manner so that they did not affect the musical expression of the compositions. As Pt. Kumar Gandharva used to say, in Abdul Karim Khan’s music, the words were deliberately pronounced in such a manner as if they were dissolved into the notes.

Here is a recording of him singing Raga Patdeep. This phenomenon of ‘dissolving’ the words in notes can be observed in this as well as all of his other recordings.

Baithak Foundation · Raga Patdeep by Ustad Abdul Karim Khan

Ustad Abdul Karim Khan was invited to perform in the royal court of Mysore very frequently. During his visits to Mysore, he learnt the nuances of Carnatic music from masters in the court of Mysore. He was awarded with the title Sangeet Ratna by Maharaja of Mysore.

He incorporated many elements of Carnatic music, especially the Sargam in his own music. Here is a clip of him singing a Natyageet Ugeech Ka Kanta, where he extensively uses Sargam.

Baithak Foundation · Raga Anand Bhairavi – Ugich ka kanta by Ustad Abdul Karim Khan

On his trips to Mysore, Ustad Abdul Karim Khan used to halt at Dharwad to teach his foremost disciple, Rambhau Kundgolkar alias Pt. Sawai Gandharva (seen in the adjacent picture). He also taught Kesarbai Kerkar for a short span of eight months.

In 1013, he founded Arya Sangeet Vidyalaya in Pune where he openly shared his knowledge with his disciples. Apart from Sawai Gandharva, he taught many other disciples like Roshanara Begum, Abdul Wahid Khan, Mashkoor Ali Khan, Sureshbabu Mane etc.

Here is a recording ofAbdul Karim Khan singing Moundar Bajo, a beautiful composition in Raga Shuddha Kalyan, sung and made popular by his disciple Sawai Gandharva and even Sawai Gandharva’s disciple, Pt. Bhimsen Joshi.

Baithak Foundation · Raga Shuddh Kalyan – Mondar bajo by Ustad Abdul Karim Khan

He finally settled in Miraj till his death in 1937 when he was returning from a musical tour. He was the one who invited finest of the instrument makers to Miraj and helped them to establish and start making instruments there. Even today, Miraj is the preferred destination of performers, Gurus and even music students get their instruments from. Every year, a musical festival is organized in Miraj in memory of Ustad Abdul Karim Khan.

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