Agra was an important part of the Braj Bhumi, the land of Shri Krishna and the Bhakti and Sufi saints like Sur Das, Raskhan and others. Sujan Singh Tomar, a Rajput commander in Akbar’s army was one of the many courtiers who like the Emperor, practiced music at his residence. During one of the musical concerts at the Emperor’s Court, Sujan Singh sang Deepak Raga. So perfect and excellent was the performance of Sujan Singh that the Emperor conferred upon him the title ‘Deepak Jyoti.’
Sujan Singh became the founder of the Agra Gharana of music. He composed seven hundred Dhrupad songs with their Ragas. The members of his family and his successors became famous as the Dhrupadye or the singers of Dhrupad. Sujan Singh accepted Islam and renamed Sujan Khan Deepak Jyoti, but his successors prided in calling themselves Rajputs. Sujan Khan’s son Dayam Khan was adorned with the title of ‘Sur Gyan Khan.’
According to Tasadduq Hussain Khan, a cousin of the renowned Ustad Faiyaz Husain Khan of Agra Gharana, there were four variations or styles of Dhrupad prevalent in medieval India - the Nauhar, the Dagar, the Khandar, and the Gabar, which have been described in his Urdu book ‘Calendar Musiki.’ Each of these four techniques of Dhrupad had a philosophy of its own. The Nauhar school adopted the Shiva school of philosophy; the Dagar, Gharana adopted the Bharat school of philosophy; the Khandar, Gharana adopted the Hanumat school of philosophy while the Gabar, Gharana adopted the Kalyan school of philosophy. The Agra Gharana of Music adopted the Nauhar style of singing the Dhrupad Raga.
The Agra Gharana of Music adopted the Nauhar style of singing the Dhrupad Raga.
The Kheyal is another technique of the North Indian Music in which the Agra Gharana excelled.
Sujan Khan Deepak Jyoti, Dayam Khan Sur Gyan and their descendants and members from their family became important exponents of the Agra Gharana of Music. The Agra Gharana was nick-named Rangila Gharana, the school of Charm and Beauty.
The family of Sujan Khan gave its daughters in marriage in the family of Tan Sen and Khan solemnized several such matrimonial alliances. The two families of Sujan Khan and Tan Sen became very close relations, more so because both families were newly converted Indian Muslims. The Sons of the family were married in another family of musicians at Atrauli in Aligarh district.
The Agra Gharana has been devoting its entire time and energies to the science and technique of music and to the art of singing. Music was not only their profession and source of bread; it was a mission and a faith of their lives. Their mornings began with the Bhairav Raga and the evenings and nights were devoted to the Deepak Raga and the Malkaus Raga sung in groups and in mehfil.
In the words of Sripad Bandhyopadhyaya, therefore, “it was natural that all the musicians of the Oharana had to culture their voice to the best and they had also to take care of the wording of the song to give full expression of sound.”
The Agra Gharana of music was continued by the sons and grandsons and the numerous disciples of Sujan Khan. The tradition was continued.
In the nineteenth century lived and practised at Agra, a descendant of several generations whose pseudonym was ‘Shyam Rang.’ Shyam Rang trained a large number of disciples, prominent among who was Natthan Pir Bakhsh an enthusiastic student of Gwalior who later rose to be the top-most musician of the court of Madhav Rao Scindhia of Gwalior. Natthan Pir Bakhsk in his turn trained many disciples in the Agra School of Music and thus served the Agra Gharana. In fact it was Natthan Pir Bakhsh of Gwalior who preserved the Agra Gharana and saved it from being lost in oblivion on the death of his Guru Shyam Rang. The Guru’s infant son Ghagge Khudabakhsh became an orphan at the age of six years without receiving any training in the family traditional system of music. Natthan Pir Bakhsh was an expert maestro of the Agra Gharana. However, he earned his bread at the Gwalior Darbar. Besides training his three sons named Haddu Khan, Natthu Khan and Hassu Khan, Pir Bakhsh also trained his Guru’s only son Ghagge Khuda Bakhsh in the Agra Gharana of music and art of singing. It was natural that all the four young men learnt the same Ragas and Raginis from their common teacher.
It so happened that the three sons of Natthan Pir Bakhsh and Ghagge Khuda Bakhsh one day appeared as rivals in the Court of the Maharaja Madhav Rao Scindhia (the grandfather of Madhav Rao Scindhia, former Railway Minister of Rajiv Gandhi Government) and they gave performance. Since they had received training from a common teacher Natthan Pir Bakhsh, but separately, each one of them considered he to be the real, original disciple of the Agra Gharana and charged the other of having stolen his Gharana’s technique. Haddu Khan, Nattu Khan and Hassu Khan, the sons of Pir Bakhsh and Ghagge Khuda Bakhsh the son of Shyam Rang almost came to blows. The young men abused each other and accused the rival with forgery and theft of the technique. Realizing the gravity of the situation, Maharaja Madhav Rao Sindhia called Nathan Pir Bakhsh to find out the real musician of the Agra Gharana and to distinguish the imposter. The explanation offered by the veteran Pir Bakhsh revealed that both the rival claimants were correct and that none was an imposter. The Maharaja was very happy to learn this, rewarded Ghagge Khuda Bakhsh and bid him fare.
Ghagge Khuda Bakhsh was a contemporary of another famous maestro Bahram Khan. Among the other famous musicians of the Agra Gharana, to mention only a few, we have to remember the names of top-musicians like Ghulam Abbas Khan, Kallan Khan, Nattan Khan and Abdul Khan who had helped in maintaining the continuity of the tradition.
The greatest maestro of the Agra Gharana was Ustad Faiyaz Hussain Khan, ‘Aftab-i-Musiki’, who lived in the twentieth century. Ustad Faiyaz khan was born on Frbruary 17, 1886 at Agra in the home of his maternal grandfather Ghulam Abbas Khan. Ghagge Khuda Bakhsh was the paternal grandfather of Ustad Faiyaz Khan. The father of Ustad Faiyaz Khan, though a musician of the Agra Gharana, usually lived at Aligarh. Unfortunately Faiyaz Khan lost his father when he was just in arms, an infant of six months. Therefore, his maternal grandfather Ghulam Abbas Khan brought him up in childhood and trained him in the Agra Gharana and later adopted him as a son. Ghulam Abbas Khan was a famous musician, a fine maestro. He was patronized by the Maharaja of Jaipur. He, a follower of the Agra Gharana, Ghulam Abbas Khan gave the same lessons to his adopted son.
Ustad Faiyaz Khan was married at Atrauli where his father-in-law Mehboob Ali Khan was an eminent player on the Bin. Mehboob Ali Khan had adotped the pseudonym ‘Daras Piya’ and was the Court musician of the Maharaja of Awagarh. He composed many Bhajans and Dhrupad songs.
Usad Faiyaz Khan was a top singer of the Kheyal. He sang Dhamar with authority. His style, technique, his method—was all unique. It is said of him that while singing Dhamar he played in the course of his musical performance hide and seek with tempo or the Ragas and Raginis. His adoptive father Ghulam Abbas Khan had taught him Dhamar and Kheyal, while Thumri he learnt from his uncle Usatad Kallan Khan. Both his teachers were not only his close relations but also renowned representatives of the Rangila Gharana, i.e., the school of charm and beauty as the Agra Gharana was called.
Usad Faiyaz Khan adopted the pseudonym ‘Prem Piya’. Maharaja Sayaji Rao Gaekwar of Baroda patronized him and conferred upon Faiyaz Khan the title of Aftab-E-Musiki, the Sun of Music. The maestro composed a large number of Thumri, Hon and Rasiya. His technicalities were Alap, Bant, Gamak and Tan.
Usad Faiya Khan had many followers and disciples. The late Kundan Lal Saigal was one of those who were enchanted by the maestro’s Bihag Raga. Kundan Lal Saigal had great respect and regard for the master musician of the Agra Gharana Ustad Fauyaz Khan and presented to Him the record of his best composition as a token of regard for him.
Usad Faiyaz Khan expired on November 5, 1950, aged 64 years lamented by all his fans and followers.
The noted maestro Shrikrishna Narayan Ratnajankar studied and mastered the technique of Kheyal for five years under Ustad Faiyaz Khan. Bhaskar Rao the well-known musician, Shri Dileep Chandra Vedi a master harmonium player born at Anandpur in the Punjab and Ustad Atta-Ullah Khan were some of the disciples of Ustad Faiyaz Khan, and all these students spread the message of the Agra Gharana wherever they went and displayed their talents.
The Agra Gharana is a living institution. The music of Agra Gharana finds its place in almost all the important musical functions throughout the country. The Agra Gharana or the Rangila Gharana is a unique gift of the Agra Culture to the nation as a whole.
The gharana adopts a kind of voice-production which relies on a flatter variation of the vowel-sound 'a'. The usage enables it to produce stressful, accented music conducive to rhythmically-oriented elaboration of selected melodies. The gharana enjoys a rich repertoire of composition-types and bada khayal chota kliayal, dhrupad, dhamar, sadra, thumri, tarana can easily be enumerated. The raga is methodically elaborated and there is an unmis¬takable emphasis on grammatical correctness. The singing main¬tains a kind of carefully structured approach to the raga and followers of the gharana-s hardly fail to deliver at least the mini¬mum musical fare, indeed an achievement in itself! Many rare raga-s are sung in the gharana and the treatment is always as detailed as that of any known raga. This obviously augurs well for the thought-content of the Agra-music.
As one of the dhrupad-influenced gharana-s in khayal music, Agra is profuse in boltan-s and tan-s of rhythmic variety, includ¬ing effective use of tihai-s, an obvious indication of any musician's command of the tala aspect of music. Musicians of the school seem to favour a low fundamental pitch and, to that extent, their music sounds masculine. Added to this is its, rhythm - orientation and the flattened 'a' sound used for elaboration of raga-s. Con¬sequently, Agra-music appears to be more suitable to male voices than female. Even if the feature is slightly out of purview of our discus¬sion, it needs to be mentioned that the gharana is known for its tried and rigorous training methods. This is apparent from the large number of performing followers it has today in many parts of the country.