Ustad Abdul Karim Khan

Abdul Karim Khan (1872-1937)

In August every year, the town of Miraj in southern Maharashtra comes alive with resonating strains of music. The almost month long series of music concerts pay homage to one of the greatest vocalists of Hindustani classical music of the 20th century, Ustad Abdul Karim Khan. He was a favourite recording artist with the Gramophone Company of India.

A child prodigy who gave his first performance at the tender age of six, Abdul Karim Khan had music in his blood, tracing his ancestry through his grandfather Ghulam Ali, father Kale Khan and uncle, Abdullah Khan. His initial musical training, apart from vocals, included the Sarangi, Veena, Sitar and the Tabla. It is said that he was a proficient Sarangi performer because it was the only accompanying musical instrument to a vocal singer in those days, but the lack of appreciation and encouragement for Sarangi players in comparison to vocalists turned his concentration to Hindustani vocal.

Ustad Abdul Karim Khan was born in Kirana in the Saharanpur District of Uttar Pradesh in 1872. By the age of 15, he had become an accomplished vocalist with many admirers. At the Royal Court of Baroda to which he was appointed, he had the opportunity of receiving guidance from Ustad Rahimat Khan of Gwalior who tutored him in voice modulation and intonation. In later years, Karim Khan grew close to the Mysore royal family. During his frequent visits to the Mysore Durbar, he developed good relations with Carnatic musicians from the south; the influence of these ties was very evident in his adaptable singing style. He was probably the earliest Hindustani classical musician to study Carnatic music in depth and recorded a Tyagaraja kriti. 

The Kirana gharana or the Kirana style of singing founded by him has inspired many and is the most sought after style of singing to this day. Well known and accomplished vocal exponents of the Kirana gharana include Sawai Gandharva, Sureshbabu Mane, and Kesarbai Kerkar. But perhaps, the most famous of his gharana lineage is Bhimsen Joshi, who was the most inspired by the soothing tones, pathos and lilting vocal resonances of the genius. 

Ustad Abdul Karim Khan passed away in 1937 while on his way back to Miraj from an extended tour of the south.