Gharanas and Famous Personalities of Hindustani Classical Music

The term gharana is derived from the Hindi word ‘ghar’. This concept became prominent in the nineteenth century after the fall of the Mughals. The dwindling Mughals could not continue the royal patronage enjoyed by performers traditionally. Performers were then compelled to move to urban centres or princely states.  To retain their respective identities, they fell back on the names of the regions they hailed from. Therefore, even today, the names of many gharanas refer to places. Some important Gharanas in Khayal singing are Agra, Gwalior, Patiala, Kirana, Indore, Mewat, Rampur and Jaipur Gharana. A gharana also indicates musicological ideology, the thinking, teaching, performance and appreciation of music.

Amir Khusro

Amir Khusrow was a Sufi mystic and a spiritual disciple of Nizamuddin Auliya.  He lived for 72 years, out of which 60 years he lived in the courts of as many as ten different rulers of the Delhi Sultanate.  He was a poet as well as prolific musician. His primary language to write poems was Persian but he composed almost half a million verses in Persian, Turkish, Arabic, Braj Bhasha, Hindavi as well as the Khadi Boli. His Khaliq-e-bari, which is known as oldest printed dictionary of the world deals with Hindi and Persian words.

Contribution of Amir Khusro to Indian Music

He is regarded as the “father of qawwali”. He is also credited with enriching Indian classical music by introducing Persian and Arabic elements in it, and was the originator of the khayal and tarana styles of music. Khayal later reached to its zenith during the times of Mohammad Shah Rangile and today is integral part of Hindustani classical music.  His association with various sultans enabled him to travel and stay in various parts of India and this gave him exposure to various local traditions. This helped him to assimilate diverse musical influences. He was patronized by three Khilji rulers successively.


Sharangdeva (1210-1247 AD) is the author of the famous Sangeet Ratnakara. This treatise is so highly regarded that the two important systems of art music in India, Hindustani and Carnatic, try to trace their basic concepts to it.  It is divided into seven chapters so also known as Saptadhyayi. Sharangdev was patronized by the Yadavas of Devgiri.

The Sangeet Ratnakara explains the construction and the techniques of playing 14 kinds of drums. Sangeet Ratnakar shows that by 13th century, Indian music was started getting highly influenced by Islam. This  is evident from some of the names of Rāga mentioned in it such as Turushka Todi and the Turushka Gaud.

Man Singh Tomar

Raja Mansingh Tomar of Gwalior (1486-1516 AD) was the driving force behind introducing and consolidating Dhrupad. He is also known to have related the Indian music to the common and laymen by replacing many of the the traditional Sanskrit songs by Hindi songs.  Man Singh Tomar is credited with composing three volumes of songs viz. Vishnupadas (songs in praise of lord Vishnu), Dhrupads, and Hori and Dhamar songs associated with Holi.

Mansingh’s support gave pride of place to both the Hindu and Muslim musicians. Mankutuhal was the name of a treatise created under the patronage of Raja Man Singh Tomar.

Miyan Tansen

Tansen (Ramtanu Pande/Mohammad Ata Ali Khan) was the legendary musician of Akbar’s court. His early training was held in the music school of Raja Mansingh Tomar.

He was born in a Brahmin family but when he was a child, he was taken to Mohammad Ghaus, a sufi mystic of Gwalior for his blessings. While blessing, Mohammad Ghaus is said to have put a little bit of Pan from his mouth to Tansen’s mouth, as a blessing. This is how his religion was converted. There are no proofs to this story. Tansen’s earliest guru was Swami Haridas, who is best known for his Vishnupadas and devotional compositions, especially in the Dhrupad style.  The name Tansen was later given by Akbar.

Among the many works attributed to him are a treatise named the ‘Rāgamala’, many ‘Dohas’ describing the ‘lakshanas’ or the attributes of rāgas, ‘Sangeet Saar’, and ‘Shri Ganesh Stotra’.

It is said that Tansen reduced the 4000 rāgas and raginis of his time into a system of 400. He also reduced 92 talas to 12. Some of the famous Rāgas of today sich as  ‘Miyan ki Malhar’ and ‘Miyan ki Todi’ were created by Tansen.

The Gharana of Tansen is known as Senia Gharana. His elder son Bilaskhan headed the gharana of the Rabab players and is known to have created some new Rāgas such as Bilaskhani Todi. One more son Suratsen headed another gharana of Sitar players.

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