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The musicians

The Mughal period
The transmission
The legacy of Bande Ali Khan





Procession
during the marriage
of Prince Shah-Shuja,
attributed to Bhola,
towards 1635,
Windsor,
The Royal Collection
(detail)
 

The Mughal period
 
 

The portrait below of Ali Khan Karori is the work of the celebrated Mansur, one of the favourite painters of Emperor Akbar (reign: 1556 – 1605).
View image in bigger size
Portrait of Naubat Khan Kalawant
by Mansur, Mughal School, towards 1600
 
Also known by the name of Sammokhan Singh or Misri Singh, Ali Khan Karori was conferred the honorary title of Naubat Khan by Jahangir (reign: 1605 – 1627); a title that granted him the stewardship of the imperial orchestra.

Only highly ranked figures of the court enjoyed the privilege of being painted alone or within an assembly by the painters of the court and Ali Khan Karori is one of the rare musicians – along with the illustrious singer-composer Tansen – to have been the subject of an individual portrait.
Legend has it that he became the founder of a prominent dynasty of binkar, which continued well into the 19th century.

The Ain-i-Akbari (1593), an imperial chronicle written during the reign of Akbar by Abul Faz’l Alami, mentioned two bin players native to Gwalior, Shihab Khan and Purbin Khan, the latter being the son of the famous singer Nanak Jarju. The name of Ali Khan Karori never appears in this tome, which leads us to suspect that he was yet to arrive in Akbar’s court during the writing of the Ain-i-Akbari.
The most respected among these musicians, Sheikh Bahauddin Barnawi, was, according to Faqirullah, an ascetic and a fervent follower of sufism who followed the path of renunciation until the ripe old age of 117 years. He played the rabab and the bin and had an exceptional knowledge of music, which attracted many disciples to him.

Faqirullah then mentioned Saras-Bin Khan, son and grandson of binkar who had served under Jahangir and Akbar. His mastery of the bin and his talent made him one of Aurangazeb’s favourite musicians.
Another bin player, Mohammed Khan, was conferred the title of Ras-Bin (literally the "flavour" of the bin) by the emperor for the refinement and subtlety of his playing.
Na'mat Khan, who was one of the most influential musicians of the 18th century, had a brilliant career as singer-composer and binkar under the aegis of the Emperor Muhammad Shah (reign: 1719-1748). He wrote myriad compositions under the pen name of Sadarang; compositions that are performed even today in this day and age in the dhrupad and khyal genres.

Dargah Quli Khan, a young noble deccani who lived in Delhi between 1737 and 1741, had the opportunity to hear Na’mat Khan play the bin.
He wrote:... "When he begins to play the bin, when the notes of the bin throw a spell on the world, the party enters a strange state: people begin to flutter like fish out of water (...). Na’mat Khan is acquainted with all aspects of music. Na’mat Khan is considered unequalled and is the pride of the people of Delhi." (Khan 1933: 66-67; Miner 1993: 85).
In the beginning of the 19th century, the British colonisers and the affluent Anglo-Indians got into the habit of commissioning local painters to execute a series of portraits in a Western style - eventually giving life to a movement called the "Company School".

Among the subjects painted featured musicians and courtisans of the time. The Anglo-Indian Colonel James Skinner was one of the influential figures of Delhi and kept musicians and dancers in his house. He commissioned a renowned artist to create an album which featured the portrait of a blind binkar, Miyan Himmat Khan Kalawant.

This musician remains enigmatic but his title Kalawant – exclusively reserved for dhrupad singers and bin players – nonetheless indicates that he belonged to the highest echelons of professional musicians.
  View image in bigger size
Portrait of Miyan Himmat Khan Kalawant,
page from the Tasrih al-aqvam,
by Ghulam Ali Khan (?), 1825
 
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