‘Comfortable praying in temples and mosques, fanatics shouldn’t dictate religion’: Ustad Moinuddin Khan
In an environment of growing religious strife, Padma Shri Ustad Moinuddin Khan, Rajasthan’s only Sarangi artist, gives a strong message of communal harmony.
Khan rebuffs bigots saying he is comfortable praying in temples and mosques and fanatics should not dictate religion to people.
“A true artist can never be a fanatic. Music is worship. It connects you to god. There can be no fanaticism if you worship music,” says Khan who hails from a noted family of musicians of the Jaipur gharana. His is the only family of artists in Rajasthan who play the Sarangi.
“I have visited several temples. I sing bhajans. Whenever I have performed aarti at the Khole ke Hanuman temple in Jaipur many times,” says Khan who was conferred the Padma Shri in 2014.
“I can never support fanaticism. Nowadays I see some Muslim religious leaders who tell us to pray five times or not visit dargahs. Who are they to dictate us about our religion. We should rise above religion and be good human beings.”
He recalls that at a programme in Rampur, UP, he was served beef but he didn’t touch it and performed on an empty stomach. “Cow is like a mother. We venerate her. I can never eat beef.”
Nestling a 175-year-old Sarangi inherited from his grandfather Ustad Khwaja Baksh Khan against his chest, Khan says since the Sarangi is played by resting it on the chest, “Dil ki baat suron se bayan hoti hai” (the instrument speaks the language of the heart).
Khan hails from Sikar district and is the eighth generation of Sarangi players. He says Sarangi originated in his family and most Sarangi players in India have been trained by his forefathers.
He is saddened by the government’s attitude towards artists. The government has announced unemployment dole to youth and pension to the elderly but does not support artists, he says.
“Governments are ignoring art and artists. My family is continuing the legacy of Sarangi in Rajasthan. The government should open a Sarangi academy so more and more people learn the instrument. They should given some monetary help to artists,” says the mild-mannered Khan.
His grandfather Ustad Khwaja Baksh Khan was at the court of the king of Narsingarh, now in Chhattisgarh. His father Ustad Mehboob Khan lived in Kolkata and Udaipur before finally settling in Jaipur.
The youngest of five brothers, Khan started playing the Sarangi at the age of five years.
“I grew up listening to the sound of the Sarangi instead of lullabies. I asked my father many times to teach me but he kept putting it off. One day I became adamant and said if he did not teach me I would not eat. It was then that he started teaching me.”
Sarangi is difficult to play as it has to be played with the cuticles. But such was the Ustad’s passion for the instrument that despite bruises, blisters and pain, he persisted.
“I would put bandages on my fingers and do my riyaz. Even when I was in school, instead of the lessons, my mind was my busy rehearsing ragas and creating taan patterns,” says Khan who studied till class 10.
Sarangi is closest to the human voice, being rich in its tonal texture. It can produce nuances of any style of vocal music such as dhrupad, khayal, thumri, bhajan and ghazal, says Khan. That is the reason Sarangi players are trained in classical vocal music. Artists like Bade Ghulam Ali Khan and Amir Khan were originally Sarangi players and later became vocalists.
By the time Khan was 10, he was performing publicly and winning awards. Among the awards he has been conferred with are the Surmani, Sangeet Kala Ratna, Achievement award, Rajasthan Sangeet Natak Akademi award, Dagar Gharana award and Egypt government award.
I won praise from senior artists and that gave me self-confidence. When I was 14 years I thought I should audition for Akashvani to get selected as a staff artist. The minimum age was 16 years. However I went and auditioned and was selected as an A grade artist.”
After that he regularly performed in India and abroad in solo concerts and in accompaniment with other artists such as Girija Devi, Shobha Gurtu, Nirmala Devi, Shubha Mudgal, Pandit Jagdish Prasad, Ustad Zakir Hussain and Pakistani artist Ghulam Ali.
He has also performed in the film ‘Holy Smoke’. The late Raj Kapoor too had wanted Khan to perform in his film Heena but things didn’t work out.
Asked if he has any regrets about not moving to Delhi or Mumbai where there are more opportunities for artists, Khan says he was loathe to leave his father. “I am happy that I could serve music and accomplish a lot even in Jaipur.”