Ustad Vilayat Khan «Back

Late Vilayat Khan was born into a family of musicians tracing back to the court musicians of the Mughal rulers. His father was Enayat Khan, recognised as a leading sitar and surbahar (bass sitar) player of his time, as had been the grandfather, Imdad Khan, before him. Vilayat was taught in the family style, known as the Imdadkhani Gharana or Etawah Gharana.

Enayat Khan died when Vilayat was only nine, so much of his education came from the rest of his family: his uncle, sitar and surbahar maestro Wahid Khan, his maternal grandfather, singer Bande Hassan Khan, and his mother, Bashiran Begum, who herself belonged to a family of vocalist.

No discussion on Imdadkhani baj would be complete without dwelling upon the remarkable contributions made by great Ustads and master of this gharana, viz Ustad Sahabdad khan(Imdad Khan's father), Ustad Imdad Khan, Ustad Enayet Khan his brother Ustad Wahid Khan and the illustrious Ustad Vilayat Khan. The Vilayat khani style or Vilayat khani baj is lucid and methodical amalgamation of the lmdadkhani and Enayetkhani baj, added to which, are the new dimensions introduced by Ustad Vilayat Khan This style of sitar has 6 main strings, 11 or 12 sympathetic strings and 20 frets. It has a single resonating gourd. The tuning of the main strings are tuned as Ma, Sa(jora), Ga, Pa, Sa(chikari) and sympathetic strings are tuned according to the ragas. The basic structure of the sitar is over all slightly smaller and the decoration is not as elaborate when compared to the Ravi Shankar style sitar


The Etawah gharana sitar is designed for long sustaining of meend (pulling the string along curved frets) and produces a clearer, more resonant tone with less buzz than the traditional sitars. The stage of evolutionary development that the sitar reached in this period projected a style that was very right hand oriented. The right hand was very prominent and its control and power were used in the perfect execution of the Vilambit gat, gat toda, drut gat, tan, jhala and double jhala-alap was relatively simple and devoid of Khayal and Murkis relying more on drupad and meend-s.


Ustad Enayet khan style was very introspective and devotional. To the existing Imdad Khan baj, he added a contemplative quality of his own personality and this made his music richer, deeper and somber. In addition, Enayet Khan made significant contribution in the area of manner ie.'Tarika' or actual technique of playing. In the alap, we discern pleasing and deftly executed khayal type murki-s. On the sitar, 3 to 4 note meends were introduced. In the gat-s, we notice swiftly executed sapat tan-s, using the principle of 1 note - 1 bol. Ustad Enayet Khan introduced tihai-s on sitar.


Ustad Vilayat Khan entered the world of music at a very tender age of 8 or 9 years and was fortunate in receiving very good short talim from his father. He introduced the gayaki ang on sitar which added a new dimension to the Khayal ang based sitar playing. He introduced a left hand technique whereby the continuity of a note for a much longer duration was achieved. In addition, he introduced highly intricate and difficult khayal ang murki-s produced by the voice. All these resulted into a style with a lilt and lyric of its own, evolving a fluid music. Many rightly claim that - "His sitar virtually sings". The right hand techniques of Ustad Imdad khan, Ustad Eynayet kahn and Ustad Wahid khan were further researched and diversified by him. His brother Ustad Imrat khan, his son Shujaat khan and Ustad Imrat khan's sons, Nishad khan and Irshad khan and Ustad Wahid khan's grandson Shaheed Parvez are all torchlight bearers of the Vilayat khani gharana.


As a natural corollary to the individual style that Ustad Vilayat khan created, the sitar as an instrument had necessarily to undergo some basic changes. The physical changes he brought about were:


1.  His execution of intricate miurki's, gamak tan-s ans five note meends, required a much stronger base ie. the tabli - the tabli had to be strong enough to absorb the tremendous power of right hand strokes. The thin tabli was replaced by a much thicker tabli which could sustain the heavy pressure transmitted through the bridge.


2.  The bridge had also to be changed with two ends in view. Firstly, it had to be strong and of a quality that would suit the heavy and round jawari that Ustad Vilayat khan desired. The second change in the bridge was related to the height. In addition to the special shape of the tabli, the legs of the bridge were also required to be higher which would enable the strings to be placed at a greater distance from the frets. How can we produce the gamak-s and meend-s without an arrangement like this?


3. It would be easily understood that the forceful execution through both the left and right hand required an extra strong mechanism which joins the dand with the main tumba. Metal screws and special techniques were used for this purpose.


4. The tar-gahan or aad had also to be necessarily thicker. It had to suffer a much stronger pull. Ustad Vilayat Khan has modified the curvature of the targahan for special sound production.


5. Like wise the frets had also to be thicker and their metal had to be much stronger. Brass was replaced by German silver. The shape or the curve of the frets was also designed to enable proper, easy and accurate execution of meends.


6. Ustad Vilayat khan also made change in the arrangement and the guage of the strings. The seven string sitar was made into six string sitar. One jod string was removed with the view to have less vibrant jod sound and giving a greater scope for clearer execution of the bol-s by providing a greater distance between madhyam and jod. He replaced the Kharaj pancham string by a steel string which is a revolutionary change, having far reaching implications on the sound of the sitar. The strings are tuned at a higher pitch than the earlier sitar-s. The C# pitch has been selected to suit the size, the shape, the thickness of the tabli and the jawari of this newly evolved sitar. There are several other supplementary changes that Ustad Vilayat khan made: such as the removal of upper tumba, a screw style device instead of the usual manka to increase or decrease the pitch.

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