The Rudra Veena of Ustad Asad Ali Khan -Beenkar of Alwar- असद अली खान




असद अली खान


The Rudra Veena is probably one of the oldest sacred musical instruments of the global heritage of sacred music.
The Rudra veena is very well known and till nowadays frightened for her
mystic and mighty spiritual auratic power and the end of any
type of musical questions and theories.Here one can find the operating mind expressed as pure Sound !

The mighty  Godess Sarasvati is Master of Rudra Veena.
Her portrait is even mounted on ancient bas reliefs dating back
to 1000  B.C.

Basically the rudra veena is not bound to style, because her style is worshipping god and initialisation of deeper type of inner meditation  for religious communication.
It is well known that in In ancient sacred music of India many Gharanas
(Music Traditions) exist but one should not forget that In the science
of music one has to make a difference between science (the discourse about matters) and religion (the discourse to god) therefore  it,s at least obsolete for asking about style in a serious manner.

The inner discourse, which is perfectly demonstrated by Beenkars of Rudra Veena is not bound by any rule,with one exception :execution of truth by the order of perfection.
(Ram51 Ed.)


The Rudra Veena maestro Asad Ali Khan spoke to Deepak Raja on January 11, 2000.

I belong to the Jaipur Beenkar gharana, founded by the 18th century beenkar, Shahaji Saheb. Rajasthan has been our home for several centuries even before Shahaji Saheb; but my ancestors had a long sojourn in Golconda-Bijapur in South India, after which we returned to Rajasthan. My father, Sadiq Ali Khan, was a musician at the Alwar and Rampur courts. He had studied with my grandfather, Musharraf Khan, who was trained by my great-grandfather, the legendary Rajab Ali Khan.

At Alwar, my father’s colleagues were people like Allah Bande Khan (the grandfather of Nasir Aminuddin and Nasir Moinuddin Dagar), and Sageer Khan (the son of Wazir Khan of Rampur). After retirement from the service of the Court, my father settled down at Rampur, where I was born in 1934. In 1962, my father agreed to join the faculty of the Bhatkhande College of Music at Lucknow. He died there in 1964. Until my father’s end, I lived and studied with him, traveling whenever necessary for concerts.

A sense of futility
In 1965, after my father’s demise, I took up an assignment at the Bharatiya Kala Kendra in Delhi, whose founder, Sumitra Charat Ram, was keen on preserving the Been art. Despite her efforts and mine, we could find only two students for the Been – neither of them has pursued the art — while the Sarod, Sitar and Khayal music got an encouraging response. I spent a futile three years there, and quit.

In 1971, the Delhi University invited me to join its music faculty with similar hopes, and similar results. I served there for 14 years, teaching music theory and the Been style of the sitar, which nobody plays any longer. But, I could not get a single student to learn the Been. By the early 1980’s I was traveling frequently for concerts, and unable to manage my teaching responsibilities. So, without waiting to reach the age of mandatory retirement, I quit in 1985 to devote myself to performing.

The futility of our efforts to enlarge the Been’s following, in the 1970’s does not surprise me. But, we had to try. The university classroom is, in any case, not the ideal place for shaping performing careers. Those who seek a degree in music, do so to qualify for jobs as music teachers or as producers with radio or TV. Many ladies study music at university while they wait for Mr. Right to turn up. The Dhrupad revival was, at that time, nowhere on the horizon; the international market for the Been was just about opening up. For propagating the Been art, that was not a promising context. Even if the limitations of the university framework did not exist, it would have been near impossible to find students who would submit themselves to the grooming of a beenkar, as my gharana views it.

The making of a beenkar
In our gharana, we take the students through a three-stage training. The Been is an instrument of the Dhrupad genre and the gayaki ang (the vocalized idiom). Therefore, a musician is first trained as a vocalist, starting with the science of breath control and intonation, going on to the knowledge of a sufficient number of ragas, and several Dhrupad compositions in each raga. At the second stage, he is trained to apply his knowledge of Dhrupad vocalism to the sitar, which is an easier instrument to handle than the Been. At this stage, he also acquires knowledge of the rhythmic intricacies and improvisatory movements of the Dhrupad genre.

Once he acquires sufficient command over the sitar, he is allowed to graduate to the Been. We make sure that by this time, the student can sit for hours in the posture of Vajrasana. He has to start with Vajrasana from the first day, long before he holds the sitar. The transition from the sitar to the Been is a major one, as the most important aspects of playing – the mizrab angle, the placement of strings — are different. Gradually, the transition is achieved and the craft is transferred to the Been. Beyond this, the instrument teaches the musician its own art. An exceptionally talented and dedicated student can take upto ten years to go through these three stages of grooming. Most will take fifteen years to become respectable performers, if they have it in them.

The tenacity required to go through this process is rare in present times. The days of hereditary musicianship are over; so are the days of princely patronage, which supported it. Given the many options today, who would want to make a choice that may, or may not, pay off after ten or fifteen years? Music is no more a way of life. It is a profession. Musicians want recognition and money fast, and they will learn what gives them a quick take-off. Moreover, today people want to learn music – whether Been or something else – with different objectives. It may have nothing to do with wanting to perform.

Today, the Dhrupad revival is a reality. The Been has a good international audience. There exists sufficient motivation for promising talent. But, the journey is long and arduous. By the grace of God, I have five disciples today – four foreign, and one Indian. I would be very happy if even one of them emerges as a competent performer.

Performance format
In my gharana, we present the raga in complete Dhrupad format – alap, jod, jhala, Dhrupad, followed by tar-paran. Beenkars who perform a partial or abbreviated protocol betray their poor training – it doesn’t matter how they justify it. Our training has equipped us in all the departments of the art. We don’t compromise with this format for any audience, Indian or foreign. Also, we make very sparing use of the tihai, which has become so popular today. A tihai has to be a spontaneous and effortless improvisation. The pre-composed tihai belongs to the territory of dance and solo percussion. In our gharana, we consider the tihai a childish gimmick.

In the choice of Dhrupad compositions, we have been taught that the compositions with four stanzas are meant for vocal rendition, while the twin-stanza compositions are suitable for the Been. After rendering the two stanzas – the sthayi and the antara – we begin the tar-paran improvisations. The tar-paran belongs to the jod-ang (the jod facet) of the improvisations with percussion accompaniment. A competent Beenkar knows hundreds of parans composed for the Pakhawaj, while his percussionist knows hundreds of stroke-patterns on the Been. They anticipate each other’s improvisations, and co-operate to create the most effective rhythmic impact. And, the advanced stage of the tar-parans, played with chikari punctuation, is the jhala ang (jhala facet/ movement).

Almost 50% of the success of our concert depends on the quality of the Pakhawaj accompaniment. The required rapport with the Pakhawaj player is best achieved through a stable partnership with one percussionist. For years, I have played with Gopaldasji, who once also accompanied my father. He is getting on in years now. I am developing a younger Pakhawaj player from Mathura. There are many soloists in India, but very few good accompanists. An accompanist has to be virtually groomed for that role by senior vocalists or beenkars.

I have done what I could for the Been. Its future is in the hands of God and the future generations.

(© Deepak S. Raja 2000)





Like so many music lovers in India and abroad I was saddened at the news of the demise of Ustad Asad Ali Khansaheb, the great Beenkar. I want to share these memories and thoughts about him.

My first recollection of Ustad Asad Ali Khan is from around 1972/73 when I saw him play in a small theatre in Calcutta. Khansaheb was at that time about 35 years of age but he was not well known in Calcutta and Beenkars, scarce for many years, had become a rarity in the musical world. He belonged to an hereditary musical family and, his father, Sadiq Ali Khansaheb had been one of the deeply respected musicians in the decades straddling independance, but was a remnant of the ‘ancien regime’ of Alwar and Rampur, that courtly musical culture that had receded into a semi mythic domain (…..).

Beenkars, though given a reflexive acknowledgment, were not the darlings of the box-office and with the erosion of the older patronage times were tough. He was very slim and straight and had a look of slightly defensive pride and was firmly buttoned into a black sherwani, shiny with age and meticulous care. It was still the polite mode for musicians to wear white kurta-pyjama, maintain a modest demeanor and, in the cold of winter add a black sherwani or kashmir shawl and I have the impression that Khansaheb kept to this dress throughout his life. As I got to know him better in the following years I realized his slightly haughty distance was a customary, if awkward, formality that served to sheild an otherwise shy, simple and kindly man. His compact face and firm expression would suddenly give way to a luminous smile and his vices were confined to consuming small quantities of rich mughlai food and smoking 555s. I found his Been playing fascinating to watch. The technique was powerful and demanding but he achieved a wonderful balance with long strong fingers, but perhaps the most remarkable thing was how he tuned his Been to his body, using his breath to expand against the tumbahs and regulating and inflecting his Sa the subsequent swaras Before his performance, as he circulated a little among the gunis and rasikas and patiently listened to several of the junior artistes, he appeared singular and a little lonely.

I don’t remember what Raga he played that first time but once I had understood that the Been, when amplified through pretty crude PA systems, such as may still be found in many concert venues in India, presents acoustic problems that demand an extra element of participation from its listeners, I was impressed with the sense that I had just encountered some sort of revelation of what lay at the heart of the instrumental music of North India. It was partly a compelling fulness in the articulation of the swaras despite what might otherwise be characterised as a twangy sound; strong in the base and thin in the higher registers. With this instrument he played the Ragas with a pure simplicity, quite free of arbitrary flourishes, that allowed the subtlest inflections of swaras to be filled with the moving energy. Later when I heard his Been un-amplified and was even able to put my ear to its gourds the incomparable richness of the sound became evident. It inspired me to make a Been and, although I had no expertise, it actually turned out to be OK and became part of a barter in which I got a Vicki 50cc moped, Manfred Junius took my Been and Peter Row acquired Manfred’s Kanai Lal Been. It was also an element in my early friendship with Khamsaheb. After that first concert I had gone to meet him to ask about the instrument and how to make it, taking measurements and peering at the jovari. Despite his profound intitial scepticism he was chuffed that I had tried and we agreed that I should try to make a good instrument for him one day. Unfortunately this never happened, largely because I was never convinced that I had any way of improving on the traditional instrument and I procrastinated in the expectation that one day I would have a brain-wave or two on the subject.

In 1975 Asad Ali Khansaheb stayed with me in my apartment at Lake Market for about ten days during which time I was able to observe his playing and the instrument in some depth. During that time Fahimuddin Dagarsaheb often dropped by as they were old friends and had much in common musically. One memorable evening they played and sang a very extended and vilambit Khamaj, full of beautiful vistars that showed fresh pathways into the Raga. In this context I recall Dr SK Saxena recounting an impromptu meeting in his Friends Colony apartment in Delhi in the late ’50s early 60’s, when Rahimuddin Dagar was requested by Sadiq Ali Khansaheb to listen to his son, the young Asad Ali, and comment on his playing. He began playing Bhimpalashi and after some time Dagarsaheb’s mood came and he began to sing, becoming deeply immersed in the raga. Dr Saxena claims that the music was so powerful and profoundly beautiful that it became overwhelming and after some time he had to beg Dagarsaheb to stop. Sadiq Ali Khansaheb was in tears and exclaimed ‘Arre! This is Been ang Beta . . this is how one should try to play!’. Although it was not spelt out as a formal arrangement I was led to believe that Asad Ali Khansaheb had benefitted from repeated musical contacts with Dagarsaheb and had absorbed fundamental ideas from him which changed his baaj, giving the Seniyah base of his family parampara a Dagar vocal quality in its presentation.

In 1978 our friend Brad Warren, who was learning sarode with him, took Asad Ali Khansaheb on an extensive tour of Austrtalia for six weeks. He played lots of concerts and was in fantastic form. The performance in the Sydney University chapel was particularly memorable for me as I had dragged along uncles and aunts who, while avid classical music fans, were mildly indifferent to Indian music. After two hours of one raga (again Bhimpalashi and wonderfully played) they surfaced at the interval a little glassy-eyed but convinced that he was one of the greatest musicians they had ever heard. Nevertheless, they pleaded, two hours was enough for the time being.

Khansaheb was not one to happily compromise on form or content but he was a regular artist at AIR in Delhi where time constraints had to apply. The Office and studios at AIR, which had assumed many of the functions of the Gunijankhanas of the princely courts, were blessed zones in those days, before Mrs Gandhi’s assassination and the brutish security regime that followed. The director for classical music through the time I used to visit was Sunil Bose, a thumri singer, whose office overflowed with musicians coming and going from work or just dropping by to share gossip and songs and consuming vast quantities of tea and cigarettes and if you were a music lover you were welcome. I was invited into the spaciously minimalist and relaxed studios to listen to someone or others recording session several times but the most memorable was in 1981. I met Khansaheb at AIR he called me into the studio and proceeded to play a brilliant Darbari Kanhra for 25 minutes followed, I think, by Desh.

I rarely saw him after that and never again had a chance to confer with him about Beens and music but he has remained prominent in my mind for all his qualities and because his vani stands clear as a realisation of the Veena-ang paradigm that has informed music in India for millenia. The fine point, the bindu, where breath and vani meet, humming like a bumble-bee, moving freely along the dandi from tumbah to tumbah, revealing in ahata naada the subtle and majestic dynamic of prana moving as musical thoughts and emotions.

[Courtesy of Jonathan Barlow ,a disciple of Pandit Radhika Mohan Moitra]


Asad Ali Khan

(Hindi: असद अली खान) (1937 – 14 June 2011) was an Indian musician who played the plucked string instrument rudra veena. Khan performed in the style dhrupad  and was described as the best living rudra veena player in India by The Hindu. He was awarded the Indian civilian honor Padma Bhushan in 2008.

Khan was born 1937 in Alwar in the seventh generation of rudra veena players in his family.[1][2]  His ancestors were royal musicians in the courts of Rampur, Uttar Pradesh, and Jaipur, Rajasthan  in the 18th century.[3][4]  His great-grandfather Rajab Ali Khan was head of the court musicians in Jaipur and owned a village land holding.[4][5]  His grandfather Musharraf Khan (died 1909) was court musician in Alwar, and performed in London in 1886.[4][6]  Khan’s father Sadiq Ali Khan worked as a musician for the Alwar court and for the Nawab  of Rampur for 35 years.[6][7]  Khan grew up in a musical surrounding and was taught the Beenkar gharana  (stylistic school of rudra veena playing) of Jaipur and vocals for fifteen years.[2][4][6]

Khan was one of a few active musicians who played the rudra veena and the last surviving master of one of the four schools of dhrupad, the Khandar school.[3][4][8] He performed in many countries, including Australia, the United States, Afghanistan, and Italy and several other European countries, and conducted music courses in the United States.[8][9] Khan worked at All India Radio, taught the sitar in the Faculty of Music and Fine Arts at the University of Delhi for 17 years, and continued to train students privately after his retirement.[7][8][10] Students of Khan who perform include his son Zaki Haidar and Bikramjeet Das of Kolkata.[11][12] Khan criticized the lack of willingness among Indians to study the rudra veena and has more foreign than Indian students.[9] He was involved in preserving the playing of the instrument, which he believed to be created by the deity Shiva, and performed for SPIC MACAY, promoting Indian classical music to young Indians.[2][4][8] Khan was a Shi’a Muslim.[13]

Khan received several national awards, including the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1977 and the civilian honor Padma Bhushan in 2008, which was awarded by Indian President Pratibha Patil.[3][14][15] He was described as the best living rudra veena player in India by The Hindu and lived in Delhi.[6][16]



1. AUVIDIS-UNESCO CD D8021: NORTH INDIA/ Instrumental Music. 1989. Raga Gunakali, 15’41; the rest of the disc is devoted to other instruments and artists.
2. AUVIDIS-UNESCO CD D8025: NORTH INDIA/ Instrumental Music of Mediaeval India. 1991. Raga Darbari Kanada; Raga Gunakali (different version than on D8021).
3. NIMBUS NI 5601: Asad Ali Khan: Raga Jaijaivanti. Recorded 1997; released 1999.
4. NIMBUS NI 5633: Asad Ali Khan: Ragas Purvi and Jogiya. Recorded 1997.
5. MUSIC TODAY CD-A91012: Asad Ali Khan: Maestro’s Choice. 1991. Ragas Asaveri and Malkauns.
6. MUSIC TODAY CD-A97014: Asad Ali Khan: Rarely Heard Ragas. 1997. Ragas Badhans Sarang and Bhinna Sadja.
7. INDIA ARCHIVE MUSIC IAM CD 1080: Ustad Asad Ali Khan/ Rudra Bin. 2005. Raga Miyan Ki Todi.
#  Kinnear, Michael S. (1985). A discography of Hindustani and Karnatic music. Greenwood Press. p. 26. ISBN 0-313-24479-0.
# Jump up to: a b c Tandon, Aditi (2005-04-26). “Preserving the fading tradition of rudra veena”. The Tribune. Archived from the original on 11 February 2009. Retrieved 2009-03-21.
# Jump up to: a b c Massey, Reginald (1996). The Music of India. Abhinav Publications. p. 144. ISBN 81-7017-332-9.
# Jump up to: a b c d e f “Artiste profiles” (PDF). Nagaland University. June 2008. Archived from the original on 26 March 2009. Retrieved 2009-03-21.
# Jump up Miner, Allyn (2004). Sitar and Sarod in the 18th and 19th Centuries. Motilal Banarsidass. p. 132. ISBN 81-208-1493-2.
# Jump up to: a b c d Bor, Joep; Bruguiere, Philippe (1992). Masters of Raga. Berlin: Haus der Kulturen der Welt. p. 28. ISBN 3-8030-0501-9.
# Jump up to: a b “While my veena gently weeps”. The Financial Express. 2006-10-01. Retrieved 2009-03-21.
# Jump up to: a b c d “Profound notes”. The Hindu. 2006-02-18. Retrieved 2009-03-21.
# Jump up to: a b Sharma, S.D. (2006-10-29). “Sole exponent of Rudra Veena”. The Tribune. Retrieved 2009-03-21.
# Jump up Mohan, Lalit (2005-05-17). “Protect art of making Rudra veena: Ustad”. The Tribune. Retrieved 2009-03-21.
# Jump up to: a b “Rudra veena exponent Ustad Asad Ali Khan passes away”. Daily News and Analysis. Press Trust of India. 14 June 2011. Retrieved 14 June 2011.
# Jump up Bhatia, Ravi (2008-04-20). “Artist’s passion for female faces”. The Tribune. Retrieved 2009-03-21.
# Jump up Naqvi, Jawed (16 June 2011). “Battling the cultural Taliban”. Dawn. Retrieved 18 June 2011.
# Jump up “Padma Awards”. Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (India). Retrieved 18 June 2011.
# Jump up Sengupta, Debatosh. “Image Number: D-2488”. National Informatics Centre. Retrieved 2009-03-21.
# Jump up Pratap, Jitendra (2006-01-20). “Where are the songs of strings?”. The Hindu. Retrieved 2009-03-21. Builders)

The Rudra Veena

Traditional sources call the Rudra Veena the mother of all stringed instruments. This beautiful instrument is said to have been made by Rudra – or Shiva – who in some versions of the tale used his intestines to make the st…rings. Which is why the Rudra Veena is said to resonate to the primordial sounds of the Cosmos.

Other stories say that in making this instrument Shiva took inspiration from the form of Parvati. Thus the dandi is the hand of Parvati, the frets are her bangles and the strings Shiva’s hair.The pegs symbolize the Sapta Rishis, and the bridge is Sarasvati. The two gourds are Brahma and Vishnu.

It is also said that while Ravana was playing the Rudra Veena for Shiva, one of the strings broke and Ravana replaced it with a nerve from his body as he did not want to bring the recital to an end.

Historically the Rudra Veena seems to have come into being in the 13th or the 14 century AD. Initially,we are told, it was called Been and was used by certain types of ascetics in their meditation.

Ustad Bande Ali Khan 1830-1895 is said to be one of the greatest Rudra Veena exponents of all time. He was a court musician of Indore. Ustad Bande Khan played in both the Drupad and Khayal styles. Many Beenkars – players of stringed instruments – in Pune light incense at his grave on Guru Poornima day and offer flowers in homage and seek the blessings of one in whose hands the Rudra Veena is said to have taken the form as seen today.

Of his disciples, Ustad Murad Khan and Ustad Rajab Ali Khan were famous as singers as well as Rudra Veena players.

(Courtesy Vasudev Murthy)

असद अली खान




About RAM Chandrakausika राम च 51

Ram51 is a researcher in the various fields of Musicology, Philosophy and History as well as old languages. One of his first topics is the wide scope of Indo-arabic cultures as represented in various art-forms religion and history. Below a list of selected Research topics which sum up partitionally the task of anthropological Frameworks in totaliter : Sanskrit Hinduism and Mythology Hindustani Music, The Muqhal Empire Gharanas from North India Kashmir Sufiyana The Kashmir Santoor Traditional Folk Music from USA Philosophy in Orient and Okzident Genealogy of musical instruments Ethnomusicology, Arabic Maqams, No Theatre fromJapan, North american poetry, Cultural heritage of mankind and Islamic architecture... View all posts by RAM Chandrakausika राम च 51

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