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Published in the 16-30 Apr 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Ustad Vilayat Khan(1928-2004)

Ustad Vilayat Hussain KhanUstad Vilayat Hussain Khan, famed sitarist and music director died of lung cancer on March 13 in Mumbai. He was afflicted with diabetes and hyper-tension for a long time. Lately, he was diagnosed with lung cancer. He was 76. 

Khan spent most of his time in New Jersey, US. He was born in 1928 at Gouripur now in Bangladesh. His father Ustad Inayat Hussain Khan and grandfather Imdad Hussain Khan were great sitarists, with a family lineage of several generations of musicians.

He was the first Indian musician to go out of the country and perform in England after independence in 1951.

He was credited with creating his own style of music known as gayaki which gave the audience a sense of singing on sitar. The gayaki ang on sitar is his most notable contribution. He is also credited with a new tuning of the drone strings, reducing the number of melody strings from seven to six.

Khan's career was marked by a regally consistent quality. At a time when players of classical music took to fusion and experimentation he was steadfast in his adherence to classical frame. President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed honoured him with the title 'Aftab-e-Sitar' (the sun of sitar) and Artistes Association of India gave him the title of 'Bharat Sitar Samrat'. 

An outspoken critic of low standards, earned him displeasure of Hindustani classical music establishment. Khan complained that his contribution to Hindutani classical music was not properly appreciated by the authorities. He turned down Padma Shree award in 1964 and Padma Vihushan in 1968 saying that deciding committees of these awards were not competent to judge his music.

Music critic Gowri Ramnarayan remembers that Khan came to Delhi from Kolkata at the age of 11 with disheveled hair and crumpled clothes to meet Mr Bokhari, the director-general of the All India Radio. "I am Vilayat Khan, son of the late Inayat Khan Sahib," he said with sobs. "If you try to send me back, I will run away again. Mr Bokhari who later headed Radio Pakistan, decided to care for the fatherless child and to nurture his musical talent. He provided him shelter and engaged him as an AIR artiste at Rs 10 a month.

Later, someone asked the child, "Can you play sitar you are carrying around?" He started playing Raag Bhairavi on the instrument. Staff members gathered to listen him. Sitarist Hyder Husain Khan of Jaipur Gharana said with astonishment, "Arey! Inayat Khan is still alive. Here, in this boy."

He had a number of interests. He had collection of guns, pipes from England, China and Japan, crockery from the Czar's and Kaiser's tables, iridescent cutglass from Venice, Turkey and Bohemia, chandeliers painstakingly collected by him.

In his younger days, he had been an accomplished billiard player, horseman, swimmer and ballroom dancer. 

Paying an emotional tribute on his demise his lifelong rival sitar maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar remarked, "He was truly a great artist. We will sorely miss him."
M Mazarhul Haque.

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