This Gharana had its roots in the Bangash tribe of Afghanistan, three of whom migrated to India some 400 years ago bringing with them the Afghan Rabab. The Bangash tribesmen eventually settled in Rewa, currently in the state of Rajasthan in northwestern India, after taking up positions as soldiers under various ruling kings. Eventually, they became court musicians.
One of the original tribesmen was Ghulam Bandagi Khan Bangash. There is some controversy around the identity of his son who, according to some, was Hyder Khan and Hyder’s son’s name was Ghulam Ali Khan. Some other musicians and music historians argue that Ghulam Ali Khan was the direct son of Ghulam Bandagi Khan Bangash. In any case, all of the members of the Bangash families, descendent from the orginial three Afghan tribesmen, were Rabab players, and Ghulam Ali Khan, along with his cousins (or nephews) Enayet Ali and Niyamatullah Khan, laid the foundations of the Gharana.
Ghulam Ali Khan had three sons – Hussein Ali, Murad Ali and Nanne Khan. Nanne Khan’s son was the great Sarod maestro Ustad Hafiz Ali Khan who also had three sons – Mubarak Ali, Rehmat Ali, and the world-renowned living legend, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan.
However, the middle son of Ghulam Ali Khan, Ustad Murad Ali Khan, was considered by many to be the most talented of the three brothers. He, like his forebearers, had received musical training from the descendants of Mian Tansen and is said to have greatly improved the technique of Sarod playing. Ustad Murad Ali Khan is also said to have provided basic training to his nephew, the great Hafiz Ali Khan.
Murad Ali Khan was childless. At some point of time, he had an argument with his siblings who ridiculed him for being without a successor, which was obviously a concern in those days. This comment is said to have angered him so much that he left his ancestral home in Gwalior. He made up his mind to find a boy, literally, off the streets and turn him into his successor – a musician par excellence who would be an ideal rival to his siblings and their successors. He went to Shahjahanpur, a small town near Lucknow in the state of Uttar Pradesh in India where the family of Ustad Najaf Ali Khan, one of the other two members of the Bangash tribe who had come to India along with Ghulam Bandagi Khan Bangash was living. The grandson of Najaf Ali, Ustad Enayet Ali Khan had settled down in Shahjahanpur. Murad Ali found a lonely orphan boy in Enayet Ali’s extended family and decided to adopt him as his son. He was named as Abdullah Khan and Murad Ali took him to Darbhanga in Bihar where he settled down as the court musician of the local Maharaja, and Abdullah Khan indeed became a legend.
Ustad Ameer Khan was the son of Ustad Abdullah Khan. He started learning from his father at a very early age and grew up to be an excellent Sarodia. He was also a prolific composer. Ameer Khan was invited by Lalita Mohan Maitra to come to his court at Rajshahi in Bengal and take up the permanent position of the court musician. He started to teach Sarod to Lalita Mohan’s grandson, Radhika Mohan Maitra.
Since this Gharana evolved primarily from the Rabab, the playing style initially developed with the heavy right handed strumming of the strings. Later on, with the influence of other instruments such as the Veena and Sur Shringar, as well as vocal music, the Gharana included the use of the ‘Meend’ (long slides from one note to another) and ‘Gamak’ (the variation of the pitch of a note or the sliding movement between two or more notes, somewhat similar to a trill). However, the uniqueness of this Gharana still lay in execution of Bol-Taans or phrases emulating patterns of various percussion instruments.
The influence of Sur-Bahar and Sitar as well as vocal classical music on this Gharana led to the creation of Ekhara Taans, where each note is played alternatively by upward Ra or downward Da strokes. Ekhara Taans allow the artist the ability to play a rapid sequence of notes, similar to that of a Sitar or a vocalist.
Another notable feature of this Sarod Gharana is the Larant. The Larant is normally played either at the end of the Alaap, Jod section or at the end of the Gatkari section, prior to the Jhaala. In a Larant, the chikari strokes of the Jhaala are replaced by Da-Ra-Di-Ri strokes of the tonic (or the Sa). The Larant is a unique movement where the Rababiya style of Sarod playing is probably best demonstrated. Using this technique, the artist can combine the melody of the Alaap with a rhythmic, fast-paced movement, to paint a more complete picture of the Raga.