Monthly Archives: July 2016

Etawah Gharana and the Indian Classical Music

by Dr. Binoy Shanker Prasad*


On 28 May 2016, the Malhar Group, at its 11th Annual Springfest, featured a young Sitar player, Shakir Khan, the first son of Shahid Parvez Khan. Both Shahid and Shakir come from the lineage of an established family of musicians, Etawah Gharana.

A short description on the Etawah Gharana should be in order.


In the mid-19th century, Haddu Khan and Hassu Khan, the two Dhrupad and Khayal singing brothers at the Gwalior Princely court (Darbar), accepted one Sahib Singh, a Hindu Rajput music prodigy, as a disciple. Sahib Singh became Sahabdad Khan after embracing his teachers’ religion and dedicated himself to a rigorous exploration of music and reyaz. He also learnt from the Senia musician Nirmal Shah and later himself became a musician at the Naugaon court.

Accredited with the invention of such musical instruments as Surbahar and Jaltarang, Sahabdad Khan lived in Etawah (in Uttar Pradesh close to Agra) and raised his two sons, Imdad Khan and Karimdad Khan, training them rigorously in music for the first twelve years.

Imdad Khan achieved great fame in his lifetime, became a court musician in Mysore and the first Sitar player ever to be recorded. Although trained by the legendary beenkar Ustad Bande Ali Khan (disciple and son-in-law of Ustad Haddu Khan), Imdad Khan introduced changes in his style of playing instruments.

 In the 19th century, the instrumental classical music of north India was still on the accepted pattern of the Senia Gharana style. The Senia tradition was handed down through the musical dynasty of Mian Tansen’s descendants whose emphasis was on the Dhrupad Ang. Taking a break, Imdad evolved a style that was based on the newer but more popular Khayal singing.

Imdad Khan trained his two sons Enayat Khan and Waheed Khan in Sitar and Surbahar. Around this time Imdad Khan moved from Etawah to Kolkata, his two sons setting off the family tradition of music named after their father, Imdadi Gharana or Etawah Gharana.

Enayat Khan (1893-1938) turned out to be another prodigy and in his short life of 45 years, he did a lot of pioneering work on the Sitar. Besides standardizing its physical dimension, he added the upper resonator gourd to the instrument. But, most importantly, as the nationalist feeling along with the national culture was surging around his time, Enayat brought the Sitar to the masses from the confines of an elite audience. He worked in collaboration with Rabindra Nath Tagore too.

Enayat Khan and his wife Basiran Bibi, the daughter of a famous khayal singer, Bande Hussain, gave birth to two boys, Vilayat Khan and Imrat Khan, who would carry on the tradition of the Etawah Gharana in Sitar and Surbahar. Perhaps, influenced by the DNA of vocal singing, the Etawah Gharana is known to have introduced a lot of gayeeki (singing) style in the details of instrumental playing.

Etawah Gharana is popularly associated with Enayat, Vilayat or Imrat. But the brother of Enayat, Waheed Khan was also renowned and had his descendants. Shahid Parvez Khan and Shakir Khan are from Waheed Khan’s lineage. Shahid has established a great name for himself in the art of Sitar believed to be ahead of all his peers.

It’s up to the progoenies now to carry on the torchlight of their Etawah Gharana. In this age of technology, globalization and competition, it will definitely be a challenge. Answering a question, Shakir Khan, who earlier that evening had enthralled the audience with raag Yaman and Piloo, told me only he (the first of the three siblings) was into the pure Indian Classical Music.


* Dr. Binoy Shanker Prasad is one of the founding directors of The Malhar Group.