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Archive for the ‘Nasiruddin Khan Dagar’ Category

Ustad Nasiruddin Khan at the Coffee House, Calcutta

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Nasiruddin Khan – the torch bearer of the Behram Khani Dhrupad tradition after his illustrious predecessors, his uncle Zakiruddin and father Allabande, had a great following among the cognoscenti in Bengal. His remarkable singing, his great knowledge of shastra and his extraordinary mastery over shruti, the microtones that bring out the flavour of ragas has been written about by several writers – Dhurjati Prasad Mukhopadhyay, Gyan Prakash Ghosh, and Suresh Chakrabarty to name a few.  His reputation  had already preceded him when he visited the city in the last week of December 1935 to perform at the 2nd All Bengal Conference. The star of the first conference of 1934, inaugurated by Tagore the previous year at the Senate Hall, had been Faiyaz Khan, and Nasiruddin Khan proved to be the most talked about performer in the second. Yet when he took to the stage in the first of his two performances at the Conference on 29th December at the University Institute Albert Hall College Square, he was greeted with a half empty hall. The musicians and connoisseurs were of course present since many had heard him before in Allahabad and Varanasi in the preceding years, but some members of the public had left – a striking reminder of the waning interest in dhrupad.

Nasiruddin Khan Amrita Bazar All Bengal Conference 1935

Review of the All Bengal Conference 1935 in the Amrita Bazar hails Nasiruddin Khan as its Central Attraction

Nasiruddin Khan sang raga desh followed by bhatiyar, accompanied on pakhavaj by Vijay Singh – son of the renowned Parbat Singh. His second morning session at the conference had a full audience, as word about his remarkable singing had by then spread. He sang todi and bhairavi. He of course accompanied his singing with his remarkable exposition on shastra for which he was well known. The Amrita Bazar Patrika hailed him as the ‘Central Attraction’ of the Conference and devoted nearly half of its review of the conference to his singing. This would however prove to be Nasiruddin Khan’s only visit to Calcutta and also his last major appearance in a conference. He was invited to perform again in the next All-Bengal but passed away sometime the following year in his early forties. Born in Udaipur in the early 1890’s, his untimely death at the height of his fame was a major turning point for dhrupad. Several writers have called him the last of the giants of dhrupad. It is indeed unthinkable today that a dhrupad singer would be hailed as the ‘Central Attraction’ of a major four day conference featuring over fifty artists.

Advertisement of the 1938 All Bengal Conference in the Amrita Bazar Patrika

Advertisement of the January 1938 All Bengal Conference in the Amrita Bazar Patrika

After his death his younger brother Rahimuddin Khan appeared at a repeat session of the conference at the University Institute College Square on 5th April 1937. His performance of malkauns which was followed by Enayet Khan’s sitar, was lauded by the Amrita Bazar Patrika which stated that like his elder brother Rahimuddin Khan seemed to have a passion for Alap. Rahimuddin also performed at the All Bengal the following year 1938 in January.

Nasiruddin Khan’s elder cousin Ziauddin Khan – son of Zakiruddin Khan, performed in the All Bengal at the First Empire theatre on 30th December 1940 evening, singing raga darbari kanada, and 1st December 1941 in the morning session, accompanied by Nasiruddin’s eldest son Moinuddin.

The Albert Hall in 1942 became the Coffee House, and we can get a pretty good idea of where the stage on which Nasiruddin Khan and others sang in the 2nd All Bengal was located in today’s coffee house, by comparing later pictures  with this photo on the last page of the Amrita Bazar Patrika of 5th January 1936 which appears alongside miscellaneous photos from the Independence movement,  of Mussolini’s children, M. Visveswaria, Prince Aly Khan shopping in New Market, sports champions and the Bertram Mills Circus. The Conference was of course in the pre-microphone era. By  visiting the Coffee House on College Street after closing hours today we could get a pretty good idea of the kind of acoustics to which Nasiruddin Khan and others sang in the conference, since the space does not seem to have changed much since those days. Given its high ceiling I would expect the acoustics to be very impressive, which is also evident from the awesome din of voices during business hours. What a pity we don’t use venues like this for acoustic concerts instead of using the awful mikes and loud amplification in spaces with dead acoustics today, that kills all nuances.


Indian-Coffee-House-Kolkata(2)Coffee House







I have discussed at length the various available accounts of Nasiruddin Khan’s singing including his appearance at the All-Bengal, The All-India Conferences of V. N. Bhatkhande, the Allahabad University and other conferences as also accounts of performances of Zakiruddin, Allabande, Riyazuddin, Ziauddin and Rahimuddin Khan in my soon to be published book – Dhrupad of the Dagars, Conceptual Foundations and Contemporary Questions, Munshiram Manoharlal Pvt. Ltd.

photos of the coffee house from


Manuscripts of Rahim Fahimuddin Dagar

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Ustad Rahim Fahimuddin Dagar had a considerable collection of hand written manuscripts of his ancestors – mostly of his grandfather Allabande Khan, his uncle Nasiruddin Khan and his father Rahimuddin Khan Dagar. After the untimely death of Nasiruddin Khan Dagar in 1936 the possession of these manuscripts had caused frictions in the family.

During my long apprenticeship as his disciple I would often see him leafing through them. I would try to use every such occasion to let my video camera range over pages that he opened and have in the process managed to record some fragments of the writings. For example rummaging through his papers one day he came across these loose sheets pinned together which he could not identify at first. A close examination revealed that they were prastara exercises for the Veena written by his uncle Nasiruddin Khan in 1912 in Alwar Rajasthan.

Dhrupad Prastara Exercises Nasiruddin Khan Dagar

Dhrupad Prastara Exercises Nasiruddin Khan Dagar Dhrupad Prastara Exercises Nasiruddin Khan Dagar Dhrupad Prastara Exercises Nasiruddin Khan Dagar




The video grabs above give us the title page with the author’s name and the first page. It should be possible to understand the logic or the algorithm if there is one from such fragments.

Here is a little video of him reading aloud the text of a Dhrupad composition from such a manuscript written by his grandfather Allabande Khan in 1908.

The second video shows the first page of the same manuscript and has him chiding me for wanting to know in a minute what supposedly take years to understand. If the names of the famous Dhrupad singers he reads aloud are of the authors of the compositions whose texts are written in the manuscript then it would be a very interesting one indeed.

For a long time the knowledge of the grammar and conceptual framework of Dhrupad was kept as privileged knowledge to be revealed only to a few chosen bearers of the tradition. Fahimuddin Dagar was enormously protective about his manuscripts, his enormous knowledge and insight. A part of his guardedness was of  course due to the concern that the knowledge should be given through the right process to someone who would be able to carry the tradition forward

I would often bring him texts of Dhrupad compositions I found in rare books in the hope that he might remember some and spontaneously sing them. Here is his singing of the first part of a composition in Deosakh when he found a variant of its text in the Urdu version of Nad Vinod Granth (which is why I cannot read it). I try to coax him to sing the second part – he reads the text aloud but is unwilling to sing it or cannot remember the melody immediately.

Here is the same composition text from the Hindi version of Nad Vinod. Some kind of a reconstruction of the 2nd part – the antara based on the structure of the 1st part sung by him in this video would be possible for a singer who knows the Raga well. However it would not be as straightforward as reconstructing the 3rd and 4th parts – the sanchari and abhog from the 1st and 2nd as outlined in a previous post.

Text of Dhrupad Composition in Deosakh Nad Vinod Granth Pannalal Goswami 1896

Text of Dhrupad Composition in Deosakh Nad Vinod Granth Pannalal Goswami 1896

Perhaps the most interesting manuscript in his possession was what appeared to be an entire book on music written by his grandfather Allabande Khan in 1890. I saw a few pages of it – it has diagrams and tables and is probably on concepts of music. He can be seen reading from it in the beginning of my documentary film on Dhrupad.

I don’t know if all the manuscripts in the possession of Rahim Fahimuddin Dagar would ever become publicly accessible to be used by students and researchers of Dhrupad. The same sad story has been repeated often enough – of manuscripts in the zealously guarded possession of families in the end getting lost or destroyed – like the manuscript of Budhprakash of Seni compositions or the one of Radheshyamji of Tikamgarh. I hope this won’t happen with the manuscripts of the Dagar tradition that Fahimuddin Dagar had.
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