Regarded by many as one of the most creative musicians of the 20th century, one would imagine that sarod maestro Ali Akbar Khan would have had a musical upbringing that was rich and varied. But from the description of his training that he provides in an interview for the Akashvani archives, conducted by erudite scholar-musician and sarod player Buddhadev Dasgupta, it appears that his father and guru Allauddin Khan, the revered teacher and sarod exponent, insulated him from any external musical influences. But he adds that his father taught him several forms and hundreds of compositions in various raags.

Here is the first part of the interview.


Ali Akbar Khan said that he began listening to other musicians only when he accompanied his father to concerts, and more so, after he started working at the Akashvani station in Lucknow. But even there, his father constantly monitored his movements at all times.

Dasgupta tries to probe further regarding musical influences from other sources. Ali Akbar Khan mentions only a few names of musicians he had heard earlier, but does not believe they had any impact on his music.

Arduous training

To some, the training regimen laid down by a disciplinarian father and guru, who was known for his uncompromising nature and mercurial temper, may seem focused and a prerequisite for unadulterated music of the highest order. But for others, this may appear to be a cloistered existence. Undoubtedly, this kind of training would be unimaginable today, particularly when students have access to all manner of forms and styles at the click of a button.

But through this arduous training, Ali Akbar Khan went on to compose music for films, and orchestras, in addition to presenting his solo recitals. As a court musician in Jodhpur, he even had the opportunity to accompany the eminent vocalist and Agra gharana stalwart Faiyaz Khan.

Some may dispute the idea of raags having specific emotions in vacuum even before human intervention through a musician’s presentation. But in response to a question on this subject, Ali Akbar Khan states that each raag has a specific character, mood and emotion, which has to be discovered by the musician.

According to Ali Akbar Khan, the success of a performance is based on the individuality of the musician. He says that the absence of an incorrect choice of raag and taal, or the lack of understanding of the emotion and mood of the raag, leads the performance to being a means of entertainment and not as an offering to god. In fact, he goes a step further, saying that he is always nervous before a performance and that he approaches his instrument as something he has not encountered before.