Forging notes: Maihar Band

Rajiv Trivedi




Legend has it that after an epidemic ('red-fever' according to popular consensus) Baba Allauddin Khan was moved by the tragedy and with an aim to provide solace to orphaned children inducted them into an orchestral group that fructified later as Maihar Band (1918). The ruling prince, Braj Nath Singh agreed to the suggestion readily. He was ignited by the idea of having an indigenous philharmonic apart from the formal Military band that was under the charge of Allauddin Khan. Soon with Baba's passionate teaching and dedication of the young boys and girls, there existed an orchestra that used the full range of Indian instruments with a few western ones. Baba could impart sufficient knowledge of music to these unschooled children so that they handled western instruments like piano, violin and cello with equal ease. The band positioned itself in the gallery above the main Darbar hall and would play western and Indian compositions to the dignitaries assembled below. Baba Allauddin Khan was so pleased with this accomplishment that he lead the band himself as its band-master. He would often exclaim that there is no equal on this earth to this classical band. He had trained with famous Indian conductor Habu Dutt as also with Robert Lobo (conductor of the Eden Garden Orchestra in Calcutta). That he appreciated harmony based western music is emphasized by the sketch of Beethoven that hangs in his room to date. During his stay in Rampur as an artiste in the court band he had adopted several Dhruva-pada to orchestral compositions.

The first members of the Maihar band were:

Anar Khan Sitar
Vishwanath Violin
Shiv Sahaya Bansuri (Flute), Clarinet
Ramswaroop (Daulal / Dauaa) Sitar Banjo
Baijnath Bansuri (Flute)
Tansu Maharaj Harmonium
Brinda Mali Israj
Moolchand Israj
Jamna Prasad (Gulgul Maharaj) Harmonium Assitant Band-master
Jhurrelal Nal Tarang
Pt. Girdhar Lal Nal Tarang, Piano
Lachchi Surdas Tabla, Dholak
Sukhdev Saranga, Cello
Pt. Urmila Prasad Cello
Mahipat Singh Sitar
Chunbaddi Israj
Dashrath Mali Sitar Banjo

Ustad Allauddin Khan had learnt from several Guru-s, although his lineage is traced from Ustad Vazir Khan, disciple of Ustad Amir Khan respectfully referred to as Dada-Guru by the family and disciples. Overflowing with the vast musical knowledge he had accumulated, Baba taught several compositions in a single Raga and therefore the repertory of Maihar Band is rich even after loss of several compositions. The solo-players among the disciples were often consumed with polishing of their art that despite their better education, exposure and opportunities they did not concern themselves with preservation of these precious compositions. The members of the band, awed by their own ability to produce the magical sound of the orchestra mastered the skill of memorizing the compositions. According to Shri Lakhanlal Pandey, a Sitarist in second generation Maihar band, there were about 250 compositions of which some 150 bandishes are known to present members of the orchestra. Apart from some western tunes, compositions in Khamaj, Tilak Kamod (aao gori gale lag jao), Yaman abound along with rare ones like Hemant, Bihag etc. He invented ragas like Madan Manjri, Subhavati, Dhavalasri, Hemant-Bhairav, Bhuvaneshwari, Hemant, Manj-Khamaj and Hem Bihag etc. However in orchestration he kept the compositions simple so that the children could pick them up. Most of the compositions had an instant appeal like one in Prabhakali which employs flat notes Re Dha Ni and uses the phrase: S - D D D D P P D P M P D P M R _ S*. He was quick to appreciate the wandering minstrels and adopted folk tunes like Rajasthani Ghoomar, Mand, Baoul of Bengal and folk songs from Malwa for the orchestra.

Baba was an innovator. The resources in a small princely state like Maihar were limited. The palace had a grand piano; violins could be obtained with some effort but other western instruments were simply out of reach. Till the time a cello could be ordered and supplied, Baba got a sarangi made which measured twice the size of usual one. It had strings which could be tuned and using a large bow would give out a deep tone almost that of cello. The stressed sound of "e" generally demotes feminine gender and that of stressed "a" (father) represents the masculine. A large feminine sarangi would naturally be called a Saranga as a pun on the word. After using Sarod, Baba found that this melodious instrument could not be heard among others. He then set out to create a replacement which would serve his purpose. He fixed the plate and frets of Sitar to the leather base and bridge of Sarod and played it with a plectrum (Jawa). Baba also invented Chandra Sarang but could not include it in the band. It was a complex instrument with leather mounted base of Sarod, fret-less but with resonance strings, played using a bow.

There is perhaps no Indian instrument in which his disciples did not excel. The who's-who of Indian instrumentalists is filled with Baba's disciple. Lesser known disciples - Sanat Banerji (Sarod), Ranjit Banerji (Chandra Sarang), Shiv Balak Tiwari (sitar), Som Kartik Sharma, Shyam Bihari (sarod) graduated from orchestra to solo-artistes and moved into various allied fields -- teaching, broadcasting etc. The band came to halt at one point of time. A scion of the erstwhile Maihar royalty, Shri Narayan Singh pleaded with the government and finally the band was attached with Maihar music college. Subsequently 18 posts of musicians were created and the staff was absorbed. However with artistes retiring there are only ten active musicians in the band. A great admirer of Baba, Shri Deepchand Jain started an an annual conference at Maihar where the first presentation of each evening is that of Maihar Band. After Deepchand Jain's death other members of family under guidance of Dr. Kailash Chandra Jain continue to co-host the festival with Ustad Allauddin Khan Sangeet Academy, Bhopal in third week of February every year. Through active interest of some well-wishers, prestige of the band was revived and the band was highlighted in the opening and closing ceremonies of jubilee celebrations of Madhya Pradesh. Through active interest of Culture department, proposal for their empanelment with ICCR has been taken up; department of Tourism is equipping the band with designer dresses; money is being obtained to replace the existing instruments with new ones.

The orchestra would lack the leadership of Baba. All efforts of musicians, local admirers and the government are aimed merely at preservation of the form that Baba gave to this orchestra. No mean achievement this, if accomplished it shall be a successful foray into the past and into the mind of a music genius. However, it is the spirit of orchestration that is more difficult to address. Having learnt from several teachers, Baba Allauddin Khan realized the urgency of imparting knowledge. He believed in making music available to learners rather than to listeners alone. The band that he inducted and infused with his knowledge requires another such leader. Employing Indian instruments for orchestration was a revival of ancient traditions. There is no dearth of musicians who have done the same. Exemplary work has been done by several Indian artistes; some have restricted themselves to Indian classical compositions while some others have used it for light music. Yet Baba's band was unique, not alone for the sonorous compositions but also as application of concept of philharmonic to Indian music and Indian circumstances. The compositions he created were such that even children could pick them up. With grown up artistes he did take up a few complex ones. Yet, the band essentially remained in first stage. It is ready to deal with more complex compositions today but there is no master to lead the band. The position is given to the senior most artiste after retirement of the existing one. the loyal musicians have neither felt an urge nor displayed ability to create fresh compositions. Unless, someone with creative zeal and understanding of orchestration comes to lead the band, it shall remain a well-preserved monument at best.

Each of Baba's disciples has carved a unique path for himself, because with his strict and rigorous training he inculcated a feel for music in them. He provided them with discipline required to master their instrument and with creative thrust. He knew that if he started a Gharana, the world would have one (although very special) kind of music, but if he started a school he would enrich it with several possibilities and versions of that music. He would love it if some one was to lead his band - the best on this earth - and bring out a symphony unheard but strangely familiar.

References :

Contemporary Problems for Indian Music

Ustad Allauddin Khan. Dr. Prabha Jain. M.P. Hindi Granth Academy, Bhopal: 2001. pp 122-143

Bharatiya Sangeet Vadya

Future of Indian Music: Solo or Group Performance An Article by Dr. Sudha Dixit in Bharatiya Shastriya Sangeet: Shikshan, Shastra Va Prayog.

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