Amir Khan (singer)

Ustad Amir Khan (pronounced [əˈmiːr ˈxaːn]) (15 August 1912 13 February 1974) was an Indian classical vocalist and the founder of the Indore gharana.[3][1]

Amir Khan
Background information
Birth nameAmir Khan
Also known asSur Rang
Born(1912-08-15)15 August 1912[1]
Indore, Indore State, British India
Died13 February 1974(1974-02-13) (aged 61)[2][1]
Calcutta, West Bengal, India
GenresIndian classical music
(Khyal, Tarana)
Occupation(s)Hindustani classical vocalist[1]
Years active19341974
LabelsEMI, HMV, Music Today, Inreco, Ninaad, Navras, Columbia, The Twin

Early life and background

Amir Khan was born in a family of musicians in Indore, India.[4] His father, Shahmir Khan, a sarangi and veena player of the Bhendibazaar gharana, served at the court of the Holkars of Indore. His grandfather, Change Khan, was a singer in the court of Bahadurshah Zafar. Amir Ali's mother died when he was nine years old. He had a younger brother, Bashir, who went on to become a sarangi player at the Indore station of All India Radio.[5]

He was initially trained in the sarangi by his father. However, seeing his interest in vocal music, his father gradually devoted more time to vocal training, focusing on the merukhand technique. Amir Ali was exposed at an early age to many different styles, since just about every musician who visited Indore would come to their house, and there would be mehfils at their place on a regular basis.[5][6]

Amir Khan moved to Bombay in 1934, and there he gave a few concerts and cut about half a dozen 78-rpm records. These initial performances were not well received. Following his father's advice, in 1936 he joined the services of Maharaj Chakradhar Singh of Raigadh Sansthan in Madhya Pradesh. He performed at a music conference in Mirzapur on behalf of the Raja, with many illustrious musicians present, but he was hooted off the stage after only 15 minutes or so. The organizer suggested singing a thumri, but he refused, saying that his mind was never really inclined towards thumri. He stayed at Raigadh for only about a year. Amir Khan's father died in 1937. Later, Khansahib lived for some time in Delhi and Calcutta, but after the partition of India he moved back to Bombay.[5]

Singing career

Amir Khan was a virtually self-taught musician. He developed his own gayaki (singing style), influenced by the styles of Abdul Waheed Khan (vilambit tempo), Rajab Ali Khan (taans) and Aman Ali Khan (merukhand).[1] This unique style, known as the Indore Gharana, blends the spiritual flavour and grandeur of dhrupad with the ornate vividness of khyal. The style he evolved was a unique fusion of intellect and emotion, of technique and temperament, of talent and imagination. Unlike other artists he never made any concessions to popular tastes, but always stuck to his pure, almost puritanical, highbrow style.[6]

Amir Khansahib had a rich baritone open-throated voice with a three-octave range, and could move equally effortlessly in any octave. His voice had some limitations but he turned them fruitfully and effortlessly to his advantage. He presented an aesthetically detailed badhat (progression) in ati-vilambit laya (very slow tempo) using bol-alap with merukhandi patterns,[7] followed by gradually speeding up sargams with various ornamentations, taans and bol-taans with complex and unpredictable movements and jumps while preserving the raga structure, and finally a madhyalaya or drut laya (medium or fast tempo) chhota khyal or a ruba'idar tarana. He helped popularize the tarana, as well as khyalnuma compositions in the Dari variant of Persian. While he was famous for his use of merukhand, he did not do a purely merukhandi alap but rather inserted merukhandi passages throughout his performance.[8] He believed that practising gamak is essential to mastering singing.

Even though he had been trained in the sarangi, he generally performed khyals and taranas with only a six-stringed tanpura and tabla for accompaniment. Sometimes he had a subdued harmonium accompaniment, but he almost never used the sarangi.[9]

While he could do traditional layakari (rhythmic play), including bol-baant, which he has demonstrated in a few recordings, he generally favored a swara-oriented and alap-dominated style, and his layakari was generally more subtle. His performances had an understated elegance, reverence, restrained passion and an utter lack of showmanship that both moved and awed listeners.[1]

Characteristics of his style include:

  • slow-tempo, leisurely raga development (except with Carnatic ragas)
  • improvisation mostly in lower and middle octaves
  • tendency towards serious and expansive ragas
  • emphasis on melody
  • clarity of notes
  • judicious use of pause between improvisations

Besides singing in concerts, Amir Khan also sang film songs in ragas, in a purely classical style, most notably for the films Baiju Bawra, Shabaab and Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baaje. This attempt to introduce classical music to the masses through films significantly boosted Khansahib's visibility and popularity. He also sang a ghazal Rahiye Ab Aisi Jagah for a documentary on Ghalib.

His disciples include Amarnath,[3] A. Kanan, Ajit Singh Paintal, Akhtar Sadmani, Amarjeet Kaur, Bhimsen Sharma, Gajendra Bakshi, Hridaynath Mangeshkar, Kamal Bose, Kankana Banerjee, Mukund Goswami, Munir Khan, Pradyumna Kumud Mukherjee and Poorabi Mukherjee, Shankar Mazumdar, Shankarlal Mishra, Singh Brothers, Srikant Bakre and Thomas Ross. His style has also influenced many other singers and instrumentalists, including Bhimsen Joshi, Gokulotsavji Maharaj, Mahendra Toke, Prabha Atre, Rashid Khan, Ajoy Chakrabarty, Rasiklal Andharia, Sanhita Nandi, Shanti Sharma, Nikhil Banerjee, Pannalal Ghosh, the Imdadkhani gharana, and Sultan Khan.[5] Although he referred to his style as the Indore Gharana, he was a firm believer of absorbing elements from various gharanas.[10]

Amir Khan was awarded the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1967[11] and the Padma Bhushan in 1971.[12]

Personal life

Amir Khan's first marriage was to Zeenat, sister of the sitar player, Vilayat Khan. From this marriage, which eventually failed and ended in separation, he had a daughter, Farida. His second marriage was to Munni Bai, who gave birth to a son, Akram Ahmed. Around 1965, Khansaheb married Raisa Begum, daughter of the thumri singer, Mushtari Begum of Agra. He had expected that Munni Begum would accept the third wife; however, Munni disappeared and it is rumored that she committed suicide.[5] With Raisa he had a son, Haider Amir, later called Shahbaz Khan.[2]

Khansahib died in a car accident in Calcutta on 13 February 1974 aged 61, and was buried at Calcutta's Gobra cemetery.[2]



78 rpm recordings

  • Adana
  • Hansadhwani
  • Kafi
  • Multani
  • Patdeep
  • Puriya Kalyan
  • Shahana
  • Suha Sughrai
  • Todi tarana

Public and private recordings

  • Abhogi - three versions
  • Adana - longer performance of 'Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baje' title song, one other version
  • Ahir Bhairav - three versions
  • Amirkhani (similar to Vachaspati)
  • Bageshree - six versions
  • Bageshree Kanada - five versions
  • Bahar
  • Bairagi - two versions
  • Barwa
  • Basant Bahar - two versions
  • Bhatiyar - four versions
  • Bhimpalasi - two versions
  • Bihag - three versions
  • Bilaskhani Todi - two versions
  • Bhavkauns
  • Chandni Kedar
  • Chandrakauns
  • Chandramadhu - two versions
  • Charukeshi - two versions
  • Darbari - ten versions
  • Deshkar - four versions
  • Gaud Malhar
  • Gaud Sarang
  • Gujari Todi - four versions
  • Hansadhwani - three versions
  • Harikauns
  • Hem
  • Hem Kalyan
  • Hijaz Bhairav (a.k.a. Basant Mukhari) - five versions
  • Hindol Basant
  • Hindol Kalyan
  • Jaijaiwanti
  • Jansanmohini - five versions
  • Jog - three versions
  • Kafi Kanada
  • Kalavati - six versions
  • Kausi Kanada - four versions
  • Kedar
  • Komal Rishabh Asavari - four versions
  • Lalit - seven versions
  • Madhukauns
  • Malkauns - three versions
  • Maru Kalyan
  • Marwa - three versions
  • Megh - five versions
  • Miya Malhar
  • Multani - two versions
  • Nand - three versions
  • Nat Bhairav - two versions
  • Pancham Malkauns
  • Poorvi
  • Puriya - three versions
  • Puriya Kalyan
  • Rageshree - two versions
  • Ramdasi Malhar - two versions
  • Ramkali - two versions
  • Ram Kalyan (a.k.a. Priya Kalyan or Anarkali)

Awards and recognitions


  • Amarnath, Pandit (2008). Indore ke masihā: Paṇḍita Amaranathaji dwara Ustad Amir Khan sahab ke sansmaran (in Hindi). Pandit Amarnath Memorial Foundation. ISBN 978-81-7525-934-8.
  • Kumāraprasāda Mukhopādhyāẏa (2006). The Lost World of Hindustani Music. Penguin Books India. pp. 95–. ISBN 978-0-14-306199-1.


  1. Amir Khan - Tribute to a Maestro ITC Sangeet Research Academy website, Retrieved 20 August 2018
  2. Banerjee, Meena (4 March 2010). "Immortal maestro (Ustad Amir Khan)". The Hindu (newspaper). Chennai, India. Retrieved 20 August 2018.
  3. Chawla, Bindu (26 April 2007). "Stirring Compassion of Cosmic Vibration". The Times Of India. Retrieved 20 August 2018.
  4. Review of music CD "The Legend Lives on... Ustad Amir Khan", by Deepa Ganesh
  5. "Amir Khan: In Memoriam", by Suresh Chandvankar, Society of Indian Record Collectors, Mumbai Retrieved 20 August 2018
  6. "Ustad Amir Khan", from "Great Masters of Hindustani Music" by Susheela Misra Retrieved 20 August 2018
  7. Thomas W. Ross (Spring–Summer 1993). "Forgotten Patterns: "Mirkhand" and Amir Khan". Asian Music. University of Texas Press. 24 (2): 89–109. doi:10.2307/834468. JSTOR 834468.
  8. Ibrahim Ali. "The Swara Aspect of Gayaki (Analysis of Ustad Amir Khan's Vocal Style)". Retrieved 20 August 2018.
  9. Jitendra Pratap (25 November 2005). "Pleasing only in parts". The Hindu (newspaper). Chennai, India. Retrieved 20 August 2018.
  10. "Beatstreet (The Legend Lives on...Ustad Amir Khan)". The Hindu (newspaper). Chennai, India. 3 November 2008. Retrieved 20 August 2018.
  11. "Sangeet Natak Akademi Awards - Hindustani Music - Vocal". Sangeet Natak Akademi. Archived from the original on 17 February 2012. Retrieved 20 August 2018.
  12. Padma Bhushan Award for Amir Khan on GoogleBooks website Retrieved 20 August 2018
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