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Kairana: musical notes subdued by electoral war cries

Kairana in UP has been in the news for communal violence and elections. Strangely, very few remember its legendary contributions to music and nursing legends from Maharashtra, Karnataka and Pakistan

Photo courtesy: social media 

Chandrakant Naidu

With civility having all but deserted political discourse and election campaigns, the conduct of Tabassum Hassan, who won the Kairana Lok Sabha seat last week, and Mriganka Singh, who lost to her, would have come as a breath of fresh air.

The candidate put up by the combined opposition was gracious in victory and acknowledged that if she was the daughter-in-law of Kairana, her rival was also the daughter of Kairana. The vanquished candidate was equally graceful in congratulating the winner and refrained from accusing her of stealing the election, an allegation that is fast becoming the norm.

It was a welcome break in the jarring notes of divisive politics. Kairana has hopefully found its rhythm, sanity and serenity back.

Over the years people have almost forgotten the original reason for Kairana’s global fame—its music. The resonant notes of a unique style of khayal singing made Kairana known all over the world through distinguished alumni from Pune, Miraj, Baroda and Dharwar.

If Kairana were to count the distinguished people who owe their Padma awards to it, it could beat most other towns of its size hands down. The town’s name however got corrupted to Kirana in music circles and the style came to be known as Kirana gharana.

The roots of the gharana, as per one school of thought, go back to the 13th century musician Gopal Nayak who initially promoted the Dhrupad style. Nayak subsequently converted to Islam and imbibed the Sufi style. After a few centuries of hazy existence, the gharana came back to eminence through new masters of the art, Miyan Bande Ali Khan (the famed Rudra Veena exponent) in the late 19th century and through Abdul Karim Khan and his cousin Abdul Wahid Khan.

Over the years people have almost forgotten the original reason for Kairana’s global fame—its music. The resonant notes of a unique style of khayal singing made Kairana known all over the world through distinguished alumni from Pune, Miraj, Baroda and Dharwar.

Abdul Karim Khan was by far the most popular vocalist. He imparted a new height to Khayal singing of Kirana style, in which rendition is underscored with note-by-note elaboration of musical pieces. Between them the two trained an array of illustrious musicians.

Wahid Khan who migrated to Pakistan, played a part in shaping the talents of maestros like Pt Ramnarain, the famed sarangi player, Hirabai Badodekar, Begum Akhtar and Mohd Rafi. Yes, you read it right, the legendary Mohd Rafi.

Abdul Karim Khan’s most famous pupil was Ramchandra Kundgolkar aka Sawai Gandharva, who in turn trained Bharat Ratna Pandit Bhimsen Joshi of Pune who took the Kirana (or Kairana) Gharana to dizzying heights.

Abdul Karim Khan had moved from court to court to Miraj, Mysore, Dharwar. He then moved to Sangli- Miraj under the patronage of the royal Patwardhan family of that part of Southern Maharashtra. There he groomed many distinguished students including his own daughter Hirabai Badodekar, although very briefly. A significant aside about her later.

In time, the region around Dharwad, Karnataka, from where Kundgolkar and Bhimsen Joshi hailed, came to be known as the nucleus of the Kirana Gharana.

Abdul Karim Khan’s contribution to Marathi Natya Sangeet was immense. His renditions are part of Maharashtra’s heritage as also of Karnataka. Carnatic style of music influenced him considerably.The Kirana Gharana’s other stars are; Gangubai Hangal, Kesarbaai Kerkar, Basavraj Rajguru, Firoze Dastur.

The life of Hirabai and her siblings points to the agonising part of artists’ lives. Ironically Heerabai could not be trained by her own father for long because of her parents’ marital troubles. She was born as Champakali to Karim Khan and Tarabai Mane. Tarabai was the daughter of Marutirao Mane, brother of princely Baroda state’s Rajmata.

"As a court musician at Baroda Abdul Karim Khan was also a tutor of Tarabai. The two fell in love and got married against the wishes of her family and Tarabai had to leave Baroda for Bombay. The couple had two sons: Suresh or Abdul Rehman, and Krishna; and three daughters: Champākali, Gulāb, and Sakinā or Chhotutāi.

The five of them subsequently earned fame as- Sureshbhau Mane,Krishnarao Mane, Hirabai Badodekar, Kamlabai Badodekar and Saraswatibai Rane. Since Karim Khan separated from his wife in 1922, Wahid Khan trained her. Baroda’s loss was to turn into many other states’ gain.

Another brother Abdul Haq Khan was also a musician in the Baroda state. His daughter Roshan Ara Khan also earned immense name for Kirana gharana after migrating to Pakistan.

Unfortunately, Kairana’s music resonates all over the world but there are no major exponents in the town or its vicinity who could qualify to be the flag-bearers. Eighth generation descendants who inhabit the town are not adding greatly to Kairana’s musical glory.

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