About Dilli Gharana

Dilli Gharana

The Gharana

A 1200-year old musical tradition and the oldest of the gharanas in India, the Dilli (Delhi) Gharana is in the present times, a one-of-its kind institution that works solely towards promoting Indian Classical Music amongst the youth. From organising festivals and creating music-based Dastangoi productions to recording & archiving and providing Guru-Shishya parampara based high quality education the gharana continually involves itself in finding ways of showcasing the rich repertoire of Shastriya Sangeet; a repertoire which includes not only classical compositions, but also various semi-classical, sufi and folk genres of thumri, dadra, ghazal, naqsh gul, qalbana, qaul, qawwali, sehre-suhaag, banhda-geet, jhoola-geet, barahmaasa, hawa-baseet and such.

The Dilli Gharana currently runs under its wings three organisations –

  •  An NGO by the name of Sursagar Society of Delhi Gharana (Founded, 1940) which ideates and organises relevant projects and festivals,
  •  A production house by the name of DG Productions (founded, 2015) for creating artistic content and managing shows and events, and
  • The Ameer Khusro Institute of Music, wherein deserving young talents study classical music under the tutelage of Ustad Iqbal Ahmed Khan, the Khalifa (Doyen) of Dilli Gharana. Furthermore, both senior and junior musicians and scholars from the gharana regularly give performances and workshops across the globe to spread the knowledge of this most beautiful art-form; a style of music which not only provides quality entertainment, but is also a living example of the diverse nature of our nation, and symbolic of its religious and cultural harmony.
Dilli Gharana

Ustad Chand Khan & Ustad Iqbal Ahmed Khan Dilli Gharana

Dilli Gharana


Historical Background

Gharanas are families of musicians whose members are linked by ties of blood, or the ganda (an actual ‘musical’ thread knotted around the wrist), in case of disciples from outside the family. On being accepted in a Gharana, the relationship between the ustad (teacher) and shagirds (disciples) is that of a parent with his children. Thus, students spend their maximum time in the family house, perpetually learning from their ustad, everything from his/her music and culture to morals and manners.

However, in terms of art, Gharana represents a tradition which nurtures a particular style of rendition and the philosophies behind practicing that particular style of music. And it is passed on from generation to generation, in the purest form possible, among its followers. There are several gharanas traditions that exist today, each displaying a specific style of singing and of voice production. Each has its own marked characteristics, and growing out of these, its repertoire of preferred ragas (melodic modes) and compositions that reflects the aesthetics of the gharana’s style.

Among these, the oldest is the Dilli Gharana. Delhi has been, for centuries, a hub of political power and artistic patronage. Its glittering courts have been adorned by many great artists. Quite naturally, Delhi has been home to a rich gharana tradition. One can easily trace the beginnings of the Delhi Gharana to the thirteenth century to the court of Shamsuddin Altamash who ruled from 1211 to 1236. His court was home to two brothers Mir Hasan Sawant and Mir Bula kalawant. Mir Hasan Sawant was of a spiritual temperament. Great singer though he was, he left the court and became a disciple, a murid of Khawaja Moinuddin Chisti of Ajmer who had by then adopted the local traditional musical style of Kirtan (Hindu Temple Music), and fused it with sufism and the sounds and vocal flavors of central and western Asia, to create a new form called the qawwali. Mir Hassan Sawant learnt this new style and became the India’s one of the first Sufi Classical Singer. Mir Bula kalawant, on the other hand, remained at the court as the King’s singer and continued to perform the older, traditional singing of DhrupadDhamaar.

Mir Hasan Sawant was followed by his son and grandson, Miya Shams Sawant and Miya Saamti Qawwal. Miya Saamti was a disciple of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, and a contemporary of Hazrat Ameer Khusro, a great poet and musician of those times. Khusro had created many compositions and ragas which, not surprisingly, Miya Saamti used to sing. As a result, Miya Saamti’s descendants came to be regarded as to be belonging to the tradition of the Qawwal Bachche Gharana (a branch of Dilli Gharana dedicated to the practice and performance of Qawwali). This style of singing flourished down the generations until the time of Miya Achpal whose time, the styles and traditions of the Qawwal Bachche and those of the court singers (descendants of Mir Bula Kalawant) were fused into one rich music tradition known to us today as the Dilli Gharana. The fusing of these two streams- the Sufi, and the Court style- is seen in the singing of an early twentieth-century singer, Shams-e-Mausiqi Ustad Mamman Khan. He was heir to both these traditions which he inherited through his father’s and mother’s lineage.

Thus, the Sufi and the court style came together again in his voice to further refine the composite tradition that we now speak of as the Dilli Gharana. Apart from a vast range of styles of music and poetry, the Dilli Gharana is also credited with the inventions of several instruments: among them Ustad Mamman Khan’s Sursagar and Ustad Bundu Khan’s small sarangi (called Tota).

Ustad iqbal ahmed khan


Doyen Ustad Iqbal Ahmed Khan

A celebrated classical singer, scholar and recipient of the prestigious Sangeet Natak Akademi Award (2014), Ustad Iqbal Ahmed Khan is the sole bastion of the Dilli Gharana in the present times. Having begun a stage career in singing at the tender age of 4, under the guidance of his guru and grandfather Ustad Chand Khan (ex-Khalifa, from 1900-1979), he is a ‘sea of knowledge’, and one of the most refined performers of Classical music in the 21st century. Khan Saheb has been, for over six decades now, serving classical music through various mediums that include performing, teaching, research, recording & archiving, and curating productions and events that aim towards preserving and promoting the classical repertoire, both in India and abroad.

And not just classical compositions, Ustad Iqbal Ahmed Khan also holds equal expertise in genres like qaul, qawwali, kalam, ghazal, thumri, dadra and bhajan. His specialty is the ability to retain the true essence of these pieces and the ragas they are set in, by making sure to explore them only using the ‘khyal’ way, that is, to improvise on the melody and lyrics of a composition but maintaining the notes and phrases of the ragas. Doing so, he has been able to preserve many rare ragas and compositions from the gharana.

From compositions in 35 variations of raga malhar to the 42 variations of raga bahaar, his repertoire is exemplary of the intangible cultural heritage of our country. Besides, he also performs Arabic-Irani melodies dating back to the times of Hazrat Ameer Khusro, and genres like trivat and qalbana, which are now on the verge of extinction. Khan Sahib has also created many new ragas, such as chand kalyan, chand kedar, chand kauns and chand bhairav.

The versatility of Khan Sahib is further evident from his contribution towards the preservation of khayal-based ghazal gayaki. Recipient of the first ever Bahadur Shah Zafar Award by the Government of NCT of Delhi, Khan Sahib is one of the few performers who are keeping alive Ghalib and other poets’ traditions, as an intrinsic part of Delhi’s cultural legacy.

Ustad Iqbal Ahmed Khan has received many awards like International Amir Khusro Gold Medal, Gayan Acharya Award, Priyadarshini Award, Rajiv Gandhi Sadbhavana Samman, to name a few. He has composed music and won accolades for popular TV serials like Amir Khusro (Doordarshan), Yaadgaar-e-Ghalib (DD), “Chadar Ka Tukra (DD)”, “Basant Bahar (DD)” and Talaash (Kashmeer TV). Furthermore, he has composed music for three anthems funded by the Government of India-‘Haath Pakadlo Saath Chale’ for the e-governance division of MCIT, GOI; Safal Swachh Bharat Abhiyan Anthem; and ‘Jeewan Ye Prakashit Kare’ for NIOS.

His wish is to see the 1200 year old legacy of Dilli Gharana preserved and carried forward.