The Agra Gharana, one of the major streams of Hindustani classical music, is on the verge of extinction in the place of its birth. There are few patrons and the number of practitioners of this great musical tradition is dwindling.
The last of the illustrious representatives of the four-century-old Agra Gharana, Ustad Aqeel Ahmad Sahab, is leading a life of penury with no support from any quarter. The ustad, about 80 years old, is no longer able to give musical performances.
However, he continues to train a few passionate singers about the subtle nuances and variations that distinguish the Agra Gharana from other streams. But classical music aficionados wonder what is going to happen after him.
Jyoti Khandelwal, a teacher at the Lalit Kala Sansthan, says the old traditions have to be preserved because they are part of our musical heritage. "Only when we learn the old Gharana sangeet and have a sound grounding in classical streams can we do well in other forms of music," she adds.
Jitendra Raghvanshi, national secretary of the Indian People's Theatre Association (IPTA), laments the loss of interest in classical traditions.
"The young ones are veering towards pop musical streams which are neither soul satisfying nor soothing to the senses. Unlike other summer camps, we hold workshops on traditional folk music for children," he said.
Raghvanshi added that although the Agra Gharana was not popular in Agra, it had patrons all over India and was being kept alive by many classical singers.
Laiq Khan, the latest ghazal singing sensation of Agra, feels that singers who have solid grounding in classical music can make an impact. Khan says: "The Agra Gharana is not yet dead. It has admirers and patrons all over. But people in Agra are not taking pains to preserve and promote the rich tradition, which is sad indeed."
Debashish Ganguli, another of Agra's bright singing talents, said the Agra
owed its birth to the efforts of Shamrang and Sasrang, two Rajput men who lived during the reign of Mughal emperor Akbar. The two later converted to Islam to be able to sing in the Mughal court. They are believed to have been relatives of Mian Tansen from Gwalior.
Ustad Faiyaz Khan later introduced several nuances to the musical form through voice modulation and stress on aalaap (non-metered opening section of Hindustani classical recital) and the rhythmic patterns of bandish (melodic composition fixed with words to a cycle of beats). The ustad is credited with founding the proper Agra Gharana. This school of music stresses on the melodic aspect of the raga and is replete with ornamentation.
Renowned singers of this school include Sharafat Hussain Khan, Ustad Vilayat Hussain Khan 'Agrawale', Latafat Hussain Khan, Yunus Hussain, Vijay Kitchlu, Jyotsna Bhole, Deepali Nag and Sumati Mutatkar. A famous independent singer taught by Ustad Faiyaz Khan was K L Sehgal.
Reflecting the Agra Gharana's unique versatility these vocalists have practised and nurtured various styles of singing such as Thumri, Dadra, Hori and Tappa, apart from Dhrupad and Khayal.
Some feel that the Agra Gharana has even had a profound influence on stalwarts like Pandit Bhatkande.
Agra musicians lament the loss of interest in the glorious heritage and musical traditions of this area. Unfortunately, there are only a handful of institutions promoting classical musical traditions. Last year, Agra University shut down the Hindustani classical music department of its Lalit Kala Sansthan for want of interest among students.
A few colleges like Dayal Bagh, P D Jain and Agra College offer courses in Hindustani classical music including the Agra Gharana but these courses are a few in number and are open only to girls.