Within one week, I am writing a tribute to one more outstanding son of Mother India, Rudra Veena exponent Ustad Asad Ali Khan, who passed away yesterday at a rather young age of 74. I have had the fortune of listening and watching him perform live, many a times. Watching Ustad having the Rudra Veena across his shoulder in itself is a spectacular sight to behold. I always saw him completely lost in his own world when Rudra Veena climbs his shoulders. He imaginations and constructs were magical. The music that emanates from his strumming the strings has always taken me to yet another world.
Ustad was one of the last existing advocates of the Khandarbani dhrupad school and represented the 12th generation of Jaipur’s Beenkar Gharana. He received the Padma Bhushan in 2008. He had underwent training under his father Ustad Sadiq Ali Khan Beenakar. His father, grandfather Ustad Musharraf Ali Khan Beenakar and great-grandfather Ustad Rajab Ali Beenakar were court musicians in the princely state of Alwar where Ustad Asad Ali Khan was born in 1937.
His father later moved to the princely court of Rampur where he undertook to teach him music. For the next 15 years he learnt to play Rudra Veena, practicing 14 hours a day. Ustad Khan was an artiste of the All India Radio and participated in ‘sangeet samelans’ and musical performances across the country and the world. He has also performed at concerts in Afghanistan, Australia, Holland, Italy, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, the US and other countries.
Ustad has also been a professor of music at Delhi University. Rudra Veena, an instrument said to be created by Lord Shiva, has remained essentially unchanged for millennia. It comprises a bamboo piece mounted on two gourds and has 19-24 frets fixed with beeswax with four main and three side strings having a range of four to four-and-half octaves. Unlike a sitar or sarod, the rudra veena does not have resonance strings. Ustad used to play dhrupad in tile kharbandi style, which is one of the four ancient styles of Indian music. It is named after Khanda, the Rajput warrior’s traditional sharp curved sword.
Ustad who was unmarried, is survived by his nephew Haidar, whom he had adopted at a very young age and trained to become his successor. I only pray and wish, Haider saab will continue to enthrall the music lovers with his renditions on Rudra Veena for years to come, keeping the memories of Ustad Asad Ali khan alive in the heart of all his loving followers. Praying for Ustad’s peaceful last journey. Love.