Kirana (Kairana) gharana

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In brief

The Times of India, Jun 19, 2016

Malini Nair & Uday Rana

The only thing that left restive Kairana was its soulful music

Today one will hardly find any trace of the musical legacy in the town that is now the centre of a raging debate set off by local BJP leaders. There is one Mohammed Niyaz, an 80-year-old qawwal in Kairana, who claims to be the grand-nephew of the ustad and the last inheritor of the tradition. "He was my grand-uncle. I am not a classical musician but I have carried on the musical legacy though people don't value art in Kairana anymore," he says. The real heart of the Kirana gharana was nurtured elsewhere, mostly Maharashtra and Karnataka. Born in 1872, the ustad left Kairana at an early age to tour the country with his music. He finally settled down in Miraj, southern Maharashtra. Some of the greatest musicians of the gharana - Bhimsen Joshi, Gangubai Hangal, Feroz Dastur, Basavraj Rajguru, Manik Verma and Prabha Atre - came from neighbouring regions. Kairana may have forgotten the genius who revolutionized the way Hindustani music was presented with his deeply sensual and meditative style. But for music lovers across the country the town's name is spoken with reverence. It is particularly important now to recall Kairana's lost musical traditions that go back to the great beenkar Bande Ali Khan of the early 18th century in the context of the communal cauldron being stirred up. Abdul Karim Khan was nothing if not a Sufi at heart. Most of his students - Sawai Gandharva, Balakrishnabuwa Kapileshwari, Kesarbai Kerkar - were Hindus and he married a Baroda royalist, Tarabai Mane, in the face of tremendous opposition, giving up his courtly life for her. His children grew up to be great singers themselves - Hirabai Barodekar, Suresh Rane and Saraswati Rane, Phatarphekar's grandmother. Men like Niyaz are proud of Kairana's secular face. "Fankar fakir-mijaaz ka ho jaata hai. Woh Hindu ya Musalman nahi rehta. Woh sirf insaan hota hai. (The artist is like a pauper. He is neither Hindu nor Muslim. He is just human). And remember that when the Muzaffarnagar riots broke out in 2013, Kairana was largely peaceful. In fact, people helped out those who were rendered homeless by the riots, both Hindus and Muslims," he recalls. But Kairana was always too small to hold its brilliant artists - both Abdul Karim Khan and his nephew the great Abdul Wahid Khan, guru of playback singer Mohammed Rafi, left home and made their way early last century to other big patron cities such as Baroda, Pune and Mumbai. In fact, Abdul Karim Khan spent most of his life's productive years in Miraj, southern Maharashtra, once a great hub of music. His home and tomb there are still pilgrim sites for music lovers.

"We only knew of Kairana as the birthplace of ustadji, a distant town somewhere in UP. For the rest, Miraj was considered his creative home," says Prabha Atre, the seniormost singer of the gharana today. Not only did the Kirana tradition subsume musicians of all religions, it also brought the Hindustani and Carnatic styles in a creative embrace. Today, those who talk of vicious lines between the Kairana's communities, might do well to remember that Abdul Karim Khan is fondly remembered by lay music lovers for his outstanding Krishna-centric thumris - Gopala, Karuna Kyon Nahin Aave and Jamuna ke Teer.

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