To Speak about Maihar Gharana, it is better to know a few things about ‘Baba Allauddin Khan Saheb’. Throughout his whole life, he learnt from many musicians. Wherever he went when anything inspired him, he just took it. He had a tremendous grasping Power. When he finally settled in Rampur to learn from Ustad Wazir Khan Saheb, at that time Rarnpur was a great seat of musicians. There were almost a few hundred musicians present in Rampur. So Baba used to listen to them and learn from them. Few names that inspired Baba in the style of Sitar Playing are Kallu and Hafiz and Ustad Nasir Ahmed Khan the great Sitar and Surbahar player. He heard and learnt from many musiciansthere and thus after this Beenkar Gharana talim from Wazir Khan Saheb along with his association with the musicians there, he assimilated the whole thing and created a style of his own, which was enriched by the alap, jod of the drupad style of Beenkar Gharana. At the same time in vilambit gat, the Vistar and Tan-s etc. had the Khayal style. In all Tempo-s from Ati Vilambit, Madh-Vilambit, Madhya Drut, Ati Drut he progressed gradually and tried to set his own style to start with slow alap and finish with Ati Drut Gat Jhala. On the top of it, he was very fond of folk Dhuns which has got a very lilting quality. So starting from alap, which has got “Adhyatmic” or spiritual quality; then ‘Gat’ having ‘Romanticism’ and finally ending with Dhun which has got that earthy and lilting quality. Baba was very fond of playing Dhun. So it was a pattern which was followed and further developed by Pdt. Ravi Shankar, Ustd. Ali Akbar Khan and Pdt. Nikhil Banerjee. And now it is a very popular pattern and mostly can be herd anywhere. It is an admitted fact that Baba Allauddin made the canvas much larger of an instrumental music presentation, with tremendous range between the Alap-Jod-Ladi, Lad-Lapet, Jhala, Thok jhala, Tarparan, Dhua, Matha, Kattar etc. — then Vilambit Gat, Madhya and Drut Gat, Jhala, Thumri or Dhun.
One more thing in Gat style, as it was in Vilambit Gat there were Masitkhani Gat, the style which starts from 12 matra like Dir Da Dir Da Ra Da Da Ra Dir Da Dir Da Ra Da Ra…… That was mainly the Vilambit Gat bol used in the gats being played at that time. What we call vilambit today, was not exactly of the same tempo or laya. It was in what we call madhya-vilambit or madhya laya. But due to Baba’s being influenced by many many musicians and khayal aesthetics, he first started and made it much more vilambit laya which was not in practice at that time. Moreover, in drut Razakhafli gat-s the pattern was to start from 7th beat …..- dir dir dar dir da dir da ra, dar dar da…… This was a very popular pattern or starting from 12 again …..- da ra dar da dar da da ra da da ra…… But Baba Allauddin Khan Saheb created his own style by playing the drut gat from Sam and mainly the Jamjama gats. So Jamjama and gat starting from Sam were first played by him who are very popular even now. This has been further developed by Ustad Ali Akbarji and Pdt. Ravi Shankar to start a mukhada from any matra and join with tan or tihai. Not only this, but in those days the gat-s were mostly in teental, either vilambit, madhya or drut laya. But other tala-s like Roopak, Jhaptal, Pancham Sawari, Chartaal Ki Sawari (names of tala) all these tala-s came into practice due to Baba’s influence. After Baba, Pdt Ravi Shankar, Ustd. Ali Akbar Khan and other musicians played in this style.
As Baba was not only a singer, and instrumentalist but also knew drums. He was a good pakhawaj and tabla player. He also used to play folk Drum, dhol, from Bengal. So this also influenced his style and his compositions. Very surprisingly, we found from Pdt Ravi Shankar when we learnt, that some gat-s have the patterns of the dhol.
Baba’s association with different musicians and learning from some of them, finally brought out a style of his own which is called the Maihar style of sitar playing today. When Pdt. Ravi Shankar, Ustd. Ali Akbar and Anna porna ji used to learn together from Baba, though Baba was basically a sarod player; he knew many technical things about sitar playing. When he used to teach with the sarod, the sarod scale was much lower. Ali Akbar ji was on Sarod, Annappoorna ji was on Surbahar and Pdt. Ravi Shankar was sometimes with Surbahar and sometimes on sitar. Pdt. Ravi Shankar used to play the sitar on a much lower pitch almost tuned to B flat. Naturally the sound was very soft. But finally he changed the sitar. Pdt. Ravi Shankar on his part, to get all the varieties of things the Baba used to teach him did some modifications also. With the help of Mr. N.C. Mallick, a long time friend of Pdt. Ravi Shankar, the shape of the instrument, the sound quality etc., was developed. And now it has become a standard of his style. The instruments that we see today is a contribution of N.C. Mallick who thought a lot to bring about the desired sound quality. That is even when it is played in duet with sarod at a low pitch, it must be louder. That is how the whole body, shape, etc., were improved.
As Pdt. Ravi Shankar felt the necessity of putting ati-kharaj strings to do justice to Baba’s talim of the different styles of Been, Sur singar, Rabab and Surbahar playing, he faced problems also. While playing Drut jar, Jhala, gat Tan Toda, etc., the Ati-Kharaj and Kharaj pancham strings sounded loud with the laud strokes! Therefore he invented the ‘hook’ system which were attached on ‘parda’ (fret), where when needed, these two strings can be ‘hooked’ and tuned to ‘sa, ga, ma, pa or dha’ — any of these notes suited to the Raga — which gives such a pleasant effect!