Musical Excursions: the Maihar Band

The beautiful music of the dying notes of the Maihar band



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I first heard of Maihar in high school while reading the information booklet that came along with one of the beautiful releases in the All India Radio ‘Fond Memories’ series featuring Pt Nikhil Banerjee, a sitarist I grew to love over time. Born in Calcutta, the booklet noted that the child-prodigy in him was grown and nurtured by the attention of Ustad ‘Baba’ Alauddin Khan of the Maihar Gharana.

Curiosity piqued, I started reading about ‘Baba’ Alauddin Khan, and it was a journey into the life of a supremely gifted artist and teacher. I like to draw a comparison here with Gauss. Like Gauss, Ustad Alauddin Khan lived to a great age (around 110), continues to be a legendary figure in his field of Indian Classical music, was versatile (Wikipedia notes that he could play over 200 musical instruments - I myself have heard recordings of him playing the sarod, surbahar, sitar and violin, no mean feat) and taught a generation of students who were legendary in their own right. They include some of the biggest names in Indian classical music, like Pt Ali Akbar Khan, Pt Ravi Shankar, Pt Nikhil Banerjee, Pt Pannalal Ghosh, Pt V.G. Jog and his own daughter Annapurna Devi.

However, here I shall not talk about these legendary figures, but another group of Ustad Alauddin Khan’s students who I only heard about very recently (that is, today). They are the Maihar Band.

According to legend, the Ustad formed the band to provide some solace to young kids who had been orphaned due to an epidemic. The band uses Indian classical instruments and plays in an innovative style comprising of both Indian and western musical elements, and is in my limited knowledge, a unique experiment of the kind.

The following is a video of the band at work, unfortunately one of the very few examples I could find.

The lead instrumentalist in that video is playing what is known as the ‘Nal tarang’, a variant of the jaltarang conceptualized by the Ustad himself, that uses gun barrels of varying types and lengths to produce different notes of music.

However, as this article notes, this unique offshoot of the Indian classical musical tradition is probably dying a slow death, due to various reasons that the article explains better.

Is there any way to stop Maihar’s notes from fading away? Who knows. Did I like the music based on just that one track? Yes, very very much.