A few days ago on July 3, the world of Hindustani music saw gurus and shishyas (mentors and their disciples) come together to celebrate Guru Purnima, a day that celebrates the pivotal role played by the guru in the process of transmitting knowledge and wisdom in an essentially oral tradition. While Guru Purnima falls on a single day in the month of Ashadh every year, the relation between the guru and shishya is symbolised through other rituals too.

But there are occasions when performers across gharana boundaries come together to celebrate the life and work of their seniors. These occasions coincide with birth or death anniversaries of these veterans. In the case of death anniversaries, they are known as barsi, from the word baras or varsh (year). They continue to be held despite changing times in which sponsorships play an important role in the patronage of Hindustani music concerts, and it is only due to the respect that musicians have for these senior musicians that such concerts are held year after year.

More specifically, these concerts are not treated as usual professional engagements that would bring some honoraria to the performers. At best, performers on these occasions receive amounts that would cover their travel expenses. However, it is important that performers pay musical tributes to their seniors going beyond the association with their immediate gurus. In a sense, this signifies an acknowledgement that the work of senior musicians impacts successive generations.

Today’s episode of this column revisits a barsi that was held in 1957 to mark the death anniversary of Faiyaz Khan “Prem piya”, the charismatic and trendsetting Agra gharana vocalist and composer. The information is based on a review of the concert by TMM Rao that appeared in the Sunday edition of the Bombay Chronicle (Sunday Chronicle, December 8, 1957).

Before commenting on each of the performances held in two sessions spread over a single day, the reviewer criticises All India Radio for not observing the anniversaries of celebrated musicians like Faiyaz Khan, “...while paying such homage in the case of Pandit Bhatkhande, Pandit Vishnu Digambar Paluskar and even lesser luminaries”,

The reviewer goes further to state: “Memories of such musicians should not vanish because of the lethargic attitude of certain officials, or because of their likes of dislikes of a particular ‘Gharana’.”

The concert that is highlighted here was organised by the Bharatiya Sangeet Samsad in collaboration with the Ustad Faiyaz Khan’s Anniversary Celebration Committee. Twenty vocalists and instrumentalists across gharanas performed on this occasion. The morning session began with a performance by sisters Sulabha and Jyotsna Mohile singing Bhatiyar, followed by Kamala Naik, vocalist of the Kirana gharana, Agra gharana descendant and sitar exponent Shamim Ahmed, eminent vocalist and composer Azmat Hussain Khan “Dilrang” of the Khurja, Jaipur-Atrauli and Agra gharanas, and the respected vocalist and composer Khadim Hussain Khan “Sajan piya” of the Agra gharana.

Unfortunately, recordings of only some of these performers are available, but we will try to recreate performances of artists whose audio tracks from other concerts or commercial recordings are accessible to us. Among these, we have tracks for Shamim Ahmed, Azmat Hussain Khan and Khadim Hussain Khan.

At the barsi, Shamim Ahmed, a disciple of sitar maestro Ravi Shankar, presented Ahir Bhairav, a raag prescribed for the morning. Here is a link to the same raag presented by the artiste in a concert held at Mumbai in 1978. He is accompanied on the tabla by senior tabla player Vibhav Nageshkar. Beginning with a detailed aalaap, Shamim Ahmed plays two compositions in the 16-matra Teentaal.


Azmat Hussain Khan presented a rare raag called Jaijai Bilawal. Since we do not have any recording of this raag performed by him, we will listen to a short track featuring a madhya laya or medium tempo composition set to Teentaal in the raag Miya ki Todi, also a raag prescribed for the morning.


We end the first part of this barsi programme with Khadim Hussain Khan’s vocal recital. He presented Jaunpuri at the programme, but I have included a track featuring his rendition of Lankadahan Sarang, a raag prescribed for the afternoon, since I could not find his presentation of Jaunpuri. He sings a composition in vilambit or slow Teentaal.


One of India’s leading tabla players, Aneesh Pradhan is a widely recognised performer, teacher, composer and scholar of Hindustani music. Visit his website here.