My father, the legendary Sarod maestro Haafiz Ali Khan, lived for music. For my father, though, there was no question of a life outside music. Life itself was music and music was Life. And so I came to inherit from him the legacy of five generations of musicians as naturally as a bird taking to the air. The music I know is the music given to me by my father.
Everything I have played in my entire life can only be a result of the legacy that has been bequeathed to me by my father. The guru-shishya parampara is a very appealing and sacred title. The word shishya in Hindi and shagird in Urdu have the same meaning, which is student. My father taught me not only music but a complete way of life. He gave importance to a code of conduct, especially with regard to the respecting manner in which one behaves with senior musicians and younger musicians.
He taught me the value of blessings, compassion, kindness, surrender, generosity and realisation of a common god. In his teachings, he often mentioned that I should always encourage young musicians and respect the musicians whose contributions are recognised by the world.
The world knew my father, Ustad Haafiz Ali Khan of Gwalior, as a musician who devoted his life to music. Those who knew him described him in various ways. Some called him a saint, some called him a musical genius, and some said that he had a volatile personality. Ustad Haafiz Ali Khan had many aspects to his character. However, they were all encompassed by his love for music. It is his love for music that made him, at different times, spiritual, angry, disciplined, tender, humorous, and strict.
Conversely, these qualities were vividly depicted in his rendition of the sarod. He did not believe in a long interpretation of a raga. He was known for his purity of ragas and also for his aesthetic sense, preciseness, colour and beauty in his music. He did not believe in too much elaboration and extended improvisation. For him, a raga was a living entity and if tortured by any musician, the raga too could curse. Every stroke of melody which he produced resulted from a superb combination of nimble fingers, a clear intellect and a magnificent heart that could be brought about only by a spiritual compulsion.
Even before he gave his sarod his magic touch at a public performance, the atmosphere used to become electric. He possessed a magnetic presence. His exquisite music was not just an artistic performance but a form of prayer.
He was initiated in the tradition of the Senia Gharana by direct descendants of the line of Swami Haridas and Mian Tansen and learnt at the feet of Ustad Wazir Khan of Rampur. Accolades came in profusion throughout his life. Ustad Haafiz Ali Khan was honoured with the title of Aftab-e-Sarod by the All Bengal Music Conference in Calcutta and the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, and also received a fellowship of the Akademi.
The universities of Vishva Bharti and Khairagharh conferred doctorates on him. The Government of India conferred the award of Padma Bhushan in 1960. He was indeed a godfather of instrumental music of his times.
The Sarod Ghar — museum of musical heritage in Gwalior — is a unique institution devoted to promoting Indian classical music, heritage and culture. Under the aegis of the Haafiz Ali Khan Memorial Trust, through this ‘window’ to the past, music lovers can gain a better understanding of the evolution and history of Indian classical music and can get a deeper perspective and insight into the context of the art as it exists today.
The aim of setting up this institution is to create awareness and respect for classical music, musicians and the variety of instruments of India. The museum houses a collection of old and contemporary instruments, belonging to great and illustrious musicians of the past, on which they pursued their practice. Their immortality is thus enshrined in this institution. Sarod Ghar also houses an impressive collection of photographs and documents. Work on compiling a database on classical music in the form of books, articles, audio and audio-visual recordings is also in progress.
The road on which the museum stands has been named Haafiz Ali Khan Marg by the Madhya Pradesh government. The first instruments exhibited were the instruments belonging to his forefathers.
On the occasion of Ustad Haafiz Ali Khan Saheb’s 43rd death anniversary, I pray to my father and guru, like every day. May his soul rest in peace. As I have written in my memoir about Ustad Haafiz Ali Khan (1877-December 28, 1972) that for me, the seven notes of music were him. He was the epitome of music. He was my inspiration, my reason of perspiration and he was my idea of representation.
(Amjad Ali Khan is an Indian classical musician and sarod maestro. The views expressed are personal)