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We like to remember the 39th anniverary of vocalist Ustad Amir Khan (Aug 15, 1912 – Febr 13, 1974)

Posted by ElJay Arem (IMC OnAir) on February 13, 2013

Amir Khan (singer)

Amir Khan (singer) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ustad Amir Khan (Hindi: अमीर ख़ान, Urdu: امیر اقبال خان‎, pronounced [əˈmiːr ˈxaːn]; August 15, 1912 – February 13, 1974) was a well-known Indian classical vocalist. He is considered one of the most influential figures in Hindustani classical music, and the founder of the Indore Gharana.

Amir Khan was born in a family of musicians in IndoreIndia. His father, Shahmir Khan, a sarangi andveena player of the Bhendibazaar gharana, served at the court of the Holkars of Indore. His grandfather, Change Khan, was a singer in the court of Bahadurshah Zafar. Amir Ali’s mother died when he was nine years old. He had a younger brother, Bashir, who became a sarangi player at the Indore station of All India Radio.

He was initially trained in the sarangi by his father. However, seeing his interest in vocal music, his father gradually devoted more time to vocal training, focusing on the Merukhand technique. Amir Ali was exposed at an early age to many different styles, since just about every musician who visited Indore would come to their house, and there would be mehfils at their place on a regular basis. Also, he learnt the basics oftabla playing from one of his maternal uncles, who was a tabla player.

Amir Khan moved to Bombay in 1934, and there he gave a few concerts and cut about half a dozen 78-rpm records. These initial performances were not well received. Following his father’s advice, in 1936 he joined the services of Maharaj Chakradhar Singh of Raigadh Sansthan in Madhya Pradesh, but he stayed only about a year. Amir Khan’s father died in 1937. Later, Khansahib lived for some time in Delhi and Calcutta, but after the partition of India he moved back to Bombay.


Amir Khan developed his own singing style, influenced by the styles of Abdul Waheed Khan (vilambit tempo), Rajab Ali Khan (taans) and Aman Ali Khan(merukhand). This unique style, known as the Indore Gharana, blends the spiritual flavor and grandeur of dhrupad with the ornate vividness of khyal. He presented an aesthetically detailed badhat (progression) in ati-vilambit laya (very slow tempo) using bol-alap, followed by gradually speeding up sargamswith various ornamentations, taans and bol-taans, including Merukhandi patterns, and finally a madhyalaya or drut laya (medium or fast tempo) chhota khyal or a ruba’idar tarana. He had a rich baritone voice with a three-octave range. His performances had an understated elegance, reverence, restrained passion and an utter lack of showmanship that both moved and awed listeners. According to Mohan Nadkarni’s book “Great Masters: Profiles in Hindustani Classical Vocal Music”, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan‘s music was extroverted and exuberant, whereas Amir Khan’s was an introverted, dignified ‘darbar’ style. Amir Khansahib believed that poetry was important in khyal compositions, and with his pen name, Sur Rang (“colored in swara“), he has left several compositions.

Amir Khan helped popularize the tarana, as well as khyalnuma compositions in Persian. He often used the taals Jhoomra and Ektaal, and generally preferred a simple theka (basic tabla strokes that define the taal) from the tabla accompanist. As in the case of Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Amir Khan’s initial sarangi training was important in establishing him as a great singer. Even though he had been trained in the sarangi, he generally performed khyals and taranas with only a tanpura and tabla for accompaniment. Sometimes he had a subdued harmonium accompaniment, but he almost never used the sarangi.

Characteristics of his style include:

  • slow-tempo raga development
  • improvisation mostly in lower and middle octaves
  • tendency towards serious and expansive ragas
  • emphasis on melody
  • judicious use of pause between improvisations
  • bol alap and sargam using merukhand patterns
  • sparing application of murki
  • use of kan swaras (acciaccatura) in all parts of performance
  • controlled use of embellishments to preserve introspective quality
  • rare use of tihai
  • careful enunciation of text of bandish
  • actual bandish as sung may or may not include antara
  • multiple laya jatis in a single taan
  • mixture of taan types in a single taan
  • use of ruba’idar tarana (considered similar to chhota khyal)

Besides singing in concerts, Amir Khan also sang film songs in ragas, in a purely classical style, most notably for the films Baiju BawraKshudhita PashanShabaab, and Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baaje. He also sang a ghazal Rahiye Ab Aisi Jagah for a documentary on Ghalib.

Khansahib’s disciples include Amarnath,Pandit Kamal Bandyopadhyay, A. KananShankar MazumdarSrikant BakreSingh BrothersMukund GoswamiGajendra BakshiKankana BanerjeePradyumna Kumud Mukherjee and Poorabi MukherjeeHridaynath MangeshkarAkhtar Sadmani, Amarjeet Kaur, Ajit Singh Paintal, Bhimsen Sharma, Munir Khan, and Kamal Bose. His style has also influenced many other singers and instrumentalists, including Prabha AtreBhimsen JoshiRashid KhanMahendra TokeShanti SharmaRasiklal AndhariaGokulotsavji MaharajNikhil Banerjee and the Imdadkhani gharana. Although he referred to his style as the Indore Gharana, he was a firm believer of absorbing elements from various gharanas.

Amir Khan was awarded the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1967 and the Padma Bhushan in 1971.

Personal life…

Amir Khan’s first marriage was to Zeenat, sister of the sitar player, Ustad Vilayat Khan. From this marriage, which eventually failed and ended in separation, he had a daughter, Farida. His second marriage was to Munni Bai, who gave birth to a son, Ekram Ahmed. Around 1965, Khansaheb married Raisa Begum, daughter of the thumri singer, Mushtari Begum of Agra. He had expected that Munni Begum would accept the third wife; however, Munni disappeared and it is rumored that she committed suicide. With Raisa he had a son, Haider Amir, later called Shahbaz Khan.

Khansahib died a premature death in a car accident in Calcutta, and was buried at Calcutta’s Gobra cemetery.

Awards and recognitions…

Related links…

(Source: 02/2013 –

Raga Yaman Kalyan…

Raga Rageshree and Raga Malkauns (Tarana)…

Raga Hamsadhwani (Live, 1995 – All India Music Conference, Kolkata)


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