Ustad Faiyaz Khan – The Biography of Indian Classical Vocalist
The living legend of vocal music that Ustad Faiyyaz Khan was in his own lifetime and later makes it rather difficult to attempt any essay on his life and music. He was a many-sided genius both in his music, his personality, his magnanimity and simplicity of mind, which indeed are the qualities of the truly great. Before we come to his music and start his life story, a word or two about his magnetic personality and great personal charm may not be out of place.
Standing about six feet in height, with a complexion of gold and emerald dressed in gold embroidered bhar-jari sherwani and chust pyjama, a flowing mouchtache, longish eyebrows, shinning eyes, and a flowing colorful turban or “safa” on his head—these conjured up to make a personality whose presence was at once compelling and attractive. We were literally drawn towards him. He was fond of many good things of life like good food and he had a particular weakness for “attar” or perfume which he regularly used himself and greeted his musically near and dear ones with it. Once at a musical festival in mid—twenties at Nizam’s Durbar in Hyderabad, being mistaken (on account of his personality, grace and presence) the Nizam personally led him to the special enclosure meant for rulers and royal guests and seated him close to his own throne chair. There was naturally a sense of consternation all round but the Nizam having come to learn about Khan Sahib’s identity loudly said that he had seated Faiyyaz Khan in the right place for he was a “King in his own right in the field of music.”
The world of Indian Classical music, with all its grace and charm, can be a queer place indeed. How else can one explain that a living legend of music, an acknowledged master in practically all branches of vocal classical music.
An armed and fortified Ustad Faiyyaz Khan (who was a veritable storehouse of both Dhamars and Dhrupads) gave his maiden performance of Alap in Darbari kanada in a royal concert at Baroda Durbar in 1930 followed by brilliant Dhamars and khayals. There was unending applause and ovation and the news spread like wild fire across North and Western India. It took a little time but all criticism regarding Faiyyaz Khan flouting and violating the rules of khayal singing fell silent. This time not only the hard liner khayalias but also the Dhrupad singers and even Binkars came out with full throated praise. It was perhaps Faiyyaz and Faiyyaz Khan alone who proved to the world that our Classical Music is one indivisible entity and Dhrupad, khayal, Bin, and instruments were only its varied expressions. We have had great khayal singers but Faiyyaz Khan surpassed them in that he was also a great creator and could mastermind innovations in performance remaining strictly and firmly in the traditional main-stream of our music.
The Agra Gharana which Faiyyaz Khan not merely represented but symbolized in his personality was a Dhrupad based Indian gharana of Classical Music having as its base a masculine voice, unusual command over ‘swara’ and ‘raga’, dhrupad based layakari, a scientific vistar system, clear and bold tanas with clear beats and combination of rangile bolkari with varying rhythmic phrases.
Faiyyaz Khan (who lost his father Safdar Khan in his infancy) was trained up by Ghulam Abbas from the age of seven. Faiyyaz Khan also briefly learnt from Pandit Ganeshilal Choube of Mathura who also taught Hafiz Ali Sarodia. Faiyyaz Khan also learnt from Kallan Khan and from his uncle Mia Husain (his father’s gharana was the Secunderabad Rangile gharana). Faiyyaz Khan was trained also by Mehboob Khan (‘Daraspia’) of Atruali Gharana and father of Ustad Atta Husain Khan. It is said that in developing Thumri gayaki, apart from the Rangile tradition, Faiyyaz Khan was deeply influenced by the singing of Moujuddin Khan. Ustad Faiyyaz Khan was also influenced to some extent by the style of Alap of the famous Dhrupad singers Alla Bande and Zakiruddin Khan who once stayed with him for a couple of months.
Faiyyaz Khan joined the Baroda Durbar at the call of Sir Sayaji Rao Gaikwad in 1915 when he was about 44 years of age. Khan Sahab was born in 1870 and passed away in 1950 at Baroda at the age of 71-72 years. He started performing in concerts from the age of 24-25. In 1925 the Maharaja of Mysore conferred upon him the title “Aftab-e-Mausiqui” or ‘Sun of Music’. That year he was honoured with “Sangit Churamani” by the Lucknow Music Conference. Then came the title of “Sangit Saroj” from Allahabad. The Baroda Durbar conferred upon him the title of “Gyan Ratna.”
The pupils of Khansahab are legion. To name but a few Azmat Husain, Atta Husain, Khadim Husain, Latafat Husain, Dilip Chandra Vedi, Malka Jan of Agra, S. N. Ratanjankai and last but not the least that great young maestro Ustad Sharafat Husain, who prematurely left us in 1985 at the height of his fame.
Ustad Faiyyaz had the highest sense of loyalty towards His Highness the Maharaja of Baroda. The traditional Ustads of those days were rather strict in selecting their disciples. But there is one vivid instance in the late twenties when the late Pundit Bhatkhande produced a young man in his late teens (and a ‘graduate’ in those days) before the full Durbar of Sir Sayaji Rao Gaikwad. Ustad Faiyyaz Khan was in attendance at the Court and was to perform very shortly. Pundit Bhatkhande politely suggested to the Maharaja that he may the gracious enough to “request” Ustad Faiyyaz Khan to accept the young man as his disciple. The Maharaja Sahib beckoned to Khansahab and whispered something in his ears. Khansahab, however, in token of loyalty and regard for the Maharaja loudly responded saying if this was the ‘royal” wish, he would make it his own wish also and take the young man as his disciple. Many readers would be pleasantly surprised to know that this young man was none other than that great musician and musicologist of the Maurice College of Music fame—Pandit S. N. Ratanjankar. The training given by Ustad Faiyyaz Khan helped him to build a fine synthesis between “Gwalior gayaki” and “Agra gayaki” with greater accent on Agra gayaki. Another instance of the Ustad’s sense of loyalty in the Royal House of Baroda may be recorded.
After the passing away of Sir Sayaji Rao Gaikwad in 1939, the new ruler and great sportsman Sir Pratapsing Rao Gaikwad took a significant step to bring Indian classical music within the reach of ordinary music lovers. He issued a “firman” that the Court Musicians should “perform for the public at famous Kirti Mandir hall of Baroda on fixed days of the week”.
Inspite of a highly masculine personality and strong exterior, Ustad Faiyyaz was at heart a soft and emotional person.
One more fact of Ustad Faiyyaz Khan’s personality. One of his near and constant associates was Ustad Ghulam Rassul Khan, his brother in law by relation. Ghulam Rassul spoke fluent English and Hindusthani. He was also one of the best harmonius players.
How great a man he was apart from being a legend in music. One wonders whether a singer of his personality, depth and charm with a voice of solid gold and unrivalled mastery over rhythm will reappear in our land in the foreseeable future. It is only after centuries of culture of music that such luminaries appear on the musical firmament. That, unfortunately, is a hard fact of our musical tradition.