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The Music and Life of Inayat Khan

An excerpt from Great Masters of Hindustani Music, by Susheela Mishra:

Many years ago, Mrs H. van Tuyll van Serooskerken, an ardent Dutch lover of Indian classical music wrote to me from the Hague, requesting me to give her all the information I could gather about the great Sufi-mystic-musician-Pir Inayat Khan who had earned great popularity and fame in the West during his travels (from 1910 to 1926) in the U.S.A., U.K. and Europe. She wrote:-

"I am a pupil of the late musician and philosopher Professor Inayat Khan of Baroda, the grandson and pupil of Professor Moula Baksh of Baroda ... We people of the west are getting more and more interested in the grandeur and beauty of Indian music... During the first World War, Prof Inayat Khan (known in the west as Pir-O-Murshid) lost his whole set of 22 gramophone records which were made in Calcutta by the firm VICTOR between 1908-1910..."

I felt quite ashamed of myself because when I received this letter from Holland I knew next to nothing about this Sufi musician of India. However, her letter whetted my appetite to learn more about this great savant who had earned a high reputation and many followers abroad, and is yet, so little-known in his own country. Subsequently, I have been able to gather the following information about the Pir-O-Murshid, thanks to the curiosity aroused by the letters from this music-lover living in Holland! She had also been generous enough to send me a couple of good photographs of her guru and thoughtfully added:- "Please keep these photos; it might occur that some day people may ask you about this musician, and you will be glad to have these photos". The photo in this book is one of the two sent by H. van Tuyll van Serooskerken years ago. Many thanks to her.

Inayat Khan Rahmatkhan Pathan was the grandson of Prof. Maula Bakhsh, the eminent founder of the Academy of Indian Music established in Baroda under the patronage of Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad of Baroda. It is said that Maula Bakhsh's wife was a grand-daughter of Tippu Sultan, the Tiger of Mysore. However, it was not the martial qualities of the Tippu blood, but the rich musical and spiritual heritage of Prof. Maula Bakhsh that Inayat Khan had inherited. He was born in Baroda on 5th July, 1882. The most important influence on him during his early formative years was that of his grandfather. Even as a school- boy, he showed great liking for poetry, music, and religion. Once he pleased the Maharaja Scindia so much with his singing of a classical song (in Sanskrit) that the royal patron rewarded him with a valuable necklace and a scholarship. Very early in life Inayat Khan shaped into a versatile linguist with a remarkable, mastery over several languages such as Sanskrit, Gujarati, Marathi, Urdu, Hindi, Persian, Arabic, and English! He did not seem to be interested in any of the games that boys are usually fond of. A very thoughtful boy with a serious bent of mind, he preferred the company of elders, intellectuals and artistes who surrounded his revered grandfather. At eleven he managed a small organisation "Bala Sabha" where he astounded his listeners by his fluent speeches in his attractive sonorous voice. Right from an early age, he was very broad-minded, kindhearted towards all-irrespective of caste, creed, colour, and status. While his academic and musical training was going on successfully under the loving and close supervision of Prof. Maula Bakhsh, it was Inayat Khan's father Rahmat Khan (Pathan) who moulded his religious temperament and his noble character with simple teachings such as:-

"Tell only the Truth; Truth is God; lead a pure and simple life. Forget all the good you do, but remember your faults and mistakes". "Neki kar paani me daal (Do good and forget about it); Baadi kar pallu me baandh (Remember all your misdeeds)".

Alongside his academic studies, the young Inayat did excellently in the five years music course of the Baroda Music Academy under the expert guidance of his grandfather who was himself a great musician, Veena player and composer. Maula Bakhsh is also remembered as one of the pioneers in introducing notation into Indian music. In the final examinations of the Academy, Inayat Khan topped in both vocal and instrumental music. What was even more remarkable was the fact that he was equally good in Karnatak as well as Hindustani music. Gifted with a sweet and sonorous voice, he could keep his listeners in a spell. What set apart his music from that of the others was the fact that he considered music as a sacred and divine art. He composed beautiful songs with religious word contents and he poured his soul into them as he rendered them.

Inayat Khan was the author of many books on music such as:- "Minqar Mousiquar," "Stee Sayaji Garbavali", "Inayat Fiddle Shikshak", and "Inayat Harmonium Shikshak."

Recently I was delighted to come across his book Inayat Geet-Ratnavali which was published by the Baroda Vatsal Printing Press and Bombay Equator Printing Press in the year 1903. At that time, the book was priced at an incredibly low sum of Rupee One! Today, 77 years later, the owner of this yellowing and dilapidated book will not think of parting with it for any tempting sum! The book is dedicated to the royal patron:- "H.H. Gaekwad Sayajirao Maharaja Saheb", and the author's name is given in full as "Professor Inayat Khan Rahmatkhan Pathan, Musical Educationist and Gold Medallist." The book contains a mixed assortment of 75 songs - Thumris, Dadras, Ghazals, Bhajans, Khayals, Lavanis, Horis, and even a few English songs - all given in the notation system initiated by Prof Maula Bakhsh. The songs are couched in Karnatak as well as Hindustani ragas such as Kharaharapriya, Shankaraabharanam, Keerwani, Mand, Manji, Sindhura, Badhams, Zila, Hussaini, Barwa, Sorat, Malhar and so on --- all of which goes to prove Inayat Khan's knowledge of both the Karnatak and Hindustani systems of music. There are songs in praise of Lord Ganesha, and Lord Gopal (Krishna). His compositions can be identified by the name "Inayat" woven into the last line. Grateful references are made to Prof. Maula Bakhsh, founder of the system of notation followed in the book. A major part of the Introduction is a paean of praise to him. Inayat Khan writes:-

"Taking pity on the degraded state of our classical music, God has specially created a great man like my grandfather who established music-schools, introduced notation-system, composed many songs, and popularised our music widely--".

The long introductory chapter by Inayat Khan is in a very strange dialect of Hindustani and spelt unusually. There is a Testimonial (dated 16th June, 1902) written by Sri Sreenivasa Raghava Iyengar (Ex-Dewan of Baroda State) whose children had been students of Ustad Inayat Khan. Sri Iyengar says in the Testimonial:-

 "... Prof Inayat Khan comes of a distinguished family of musicians, his grandfather being the famous Prof. Maula Bakhsh, a distinguished professor of Hindu music, author of a series of graduated text-books in music. He is the nephew of Dr. A.M. Pathan, L.R.A.M who was educated in England and in the European system of music and passed his examinations with high distinction. Inayat Khan has studied both the Hindu and European system scientifically and has already acquired great proficiency in the former. He has winning manners..."

From 1900 to 1910, Inayat Khan made an extensive tour of the length and breadth of India. He and his maternal uncle Murtuza Khan visited Nepal, Gwalior (to pay his obeissance near Tansen's tomb), Banares, and the Punjab. During these tours, he came into contact with many musicians, Sufi mystics, Swamis and saints who initiated him into the mysteries of sound and into the mystic beauties of the Art of Music. The death of his dear grandfather Maula Bakhsh in 1896 at the age of 63 was the first blow in young Inayat Khan's life. When he lost his gentle, pious mother in 1902, he decided to spend his time wandering all over this vast sub-continent. At first he visited all the important places in South India and made warm contacts with a number of cultured and important people. Wherever he sang or gave lecture-demonstrations everyone was charmed and Inayat was presented with medals and "addresses." One such address, presented by the music loving public of Madras is published in the Inayat Geet Ratnarali. It says:-

To Prof. Inayat Khan Rahmat Khan Pathan, Musician of Baroda.
Dear Sir,
We, on behalf of the public of Madras, have assembled here to express our deep-felt joy at having had you in our midst The public entertainment given by you on 12-7-1902 has led us to form a very high opinion of your attainments in the history and practice of Music. It is no wonder that young as you are, you have acquired such pre-eminence in your Art and displayed a wonderful insight into its intricacies for which a right explanation is to be found in the fact that you are descended from that great and famous musician Prof. Maula Bakhsh who is renowned throughout India . . . . You have not only given us exquisite pleasure by your sweet melody and scientific harmony of your songs, but you have created in us an instantaneous appetite for the symphonies of the celestial art of music. It is gratifying to us that you have made it your life-work to improve the Music of India, to introduce a uniform system of notation, and also establish some sort of friendly understanding between the Hindustani and gentle Karnatic systems and musicians. We sincerely wish you all success in your noble undertaking. Your skill, talents, and manners have endeared you to us. May you win the affection of all those whom you come in contact with. Please accept this gold medal as a slight token of our sincere gratitude and high esteem for your talents and attainments .......

The above is only a sample of the many addresses be received, from his appreciative audiences. It was also the age of Gold Medals.

From South India, Inayat Khan went to Colombo, and then to Calcutta, where Babu Lahiri, a Sufi in spirit, arranged for his lecture-demonstrations in the University Hall in the presence of Gurudev Tagore, Sir Gurudas Benerji and other celebrities. In deep appreciation, the people honoured him with the title of the "Morning Star of Indian Music Revival." He made numerous friends and admirers in Calcutta through his sweet music. It was during this trip that the Victor Gramophone Company cut several discs of his. Alas, none of them are available any longer in India, except perhaps in the precious collection of some music connoisseurs. Many have been already taken away by his numerous followers in Holland. Mrs. H. van Tuyll van S. had also mentioned this in her letters to me -

"The Firm VICTOR does not exist any more in Calcutta and the records are long since sold out. I am now making every effort possible to retrace the whereabouts of those old records of Prof. Inayat Khan of India. A few months ago I was at last so fortunate to find one of those records in a private collection in Dacca. May I ask you if you have ever come across any of his records in India? As Prof. Inayat Khan who sang and played on the Vina was for years travelling in the south of India where his singing was highly admired, also stayed for a year in Calcutta. I suppose that the greatest chance of finding his records would be in those parts of the country. There is a difficulty in the fact that there existed more musicians with the name of Inayat Khan. However, only those records on which is printed the word 'Baroda' together with the name of Prof. Inayat Khan are genuinely his. . . ".

In a very informative article on Hazrat Inayat Khan, Sri Vibhu Kumar S. Desai explains how the true secret of Inayat Khan's "divine music" lay in its "soul quality" which captivated easterners and westerners alike. Quoting Inayat Khan's musical credo, Sri Desai writes:-

"The true use of music is to be musical in one's thoughts, words and actions. True harmony of music comes from the harmony of the soul, its true source, and when it comes from there, it must appeal to all souls".

Once when the Nizam asked Inayat Khan to explain why listeners found his music "so divine and magical", the latter is said to have replied:-

"Your Highness, as sound is the highest sources of manifestation, it is mysterious within itself and whosoever has the knowledge of sound, he indeed knoweth the secret of the Universe. My music is my thought, and my thought is my emotion. The deeper I dive into the ocean of feeling, the more beautiful are the pearls I bring forth in the form of melodies. 'My Music is my Religion'. Therefore, worldly success can never be a proper price for it and my sole object in music is to achieve perfection".

Truly these are the words of a Sufi mystic, and these words fully reveal the man and his art. The reply impressed the Nizam so deeply that he named him as "the modern Tansen"! He also presented him with an emerald ring and a purse full of gold coins.

Inayat Khan began to have an increasing number of friends and admirers among sages, Fakirs, and Sufi mystics like Maulana Hashmi, Sirdar Dastur Hoshang, Maulana Khair, Maulana Khair-ul Mubin - all of whom detected in Inayat's eyes "the sparkling genius of a mystic". Later on, he met his Murshid Maulana Sayed Mohammad Abu Hashim Madani at whose behest, Inayat proceeded to the West for the twin purpose of spreading Sufism and popularising Indian classical music in the West. Before going abroad, he had acquired considerable proficiency in Western music from his maternal uncle Prof. Alauddin Khan Pathan of Baroda, a highly qualified musician with many covetable degrees in Western music. With his proficiency in 3 systems of music - Western, Hindustani, and Karnatak - with his command over so many languages, and his noble and charming ways, Inayat Khan was excellently equipped for his chosen mission. In September 1910 he reached U.S.A. accompanied by his brother Mahboob Khan and cousin Ali Khan.

It was while he was giving a Veena recital at the Ramakrishna Ashram in San Francisco that he met, and fell in love with, Miss Ora Ray Baker - "a sensitive, fragile, feylike American girl" who was the niece of Mrs. Mary Eddy Baker, the founder of the Christian Science Movement. They got married in Paris, and Inayat Khan rechristened her as "Sharada Ameena Begum". In one of the later photographs, Inayat Khan in a long loose robe, and with a flowing white beard, looks a bit like Poet Tagore. His wife, clad in a sari in the Parsi style looks serene, gentle, and charming. Her head is covered with the "Pallu" in true Indian style. Their elder son Vilayat Khan married an English lady, the second son Hidayat Khan married a Dutch lady, and Inayat Khan's brother and cousin also married Dutch girls, and all of them have become citizens of Holland. The greatest tragedy in the family was the brutal political assassination of Inayat Khan's beloved daughter Noor, a highly sensitive, talented, and clairvoyant girl, who had later become a secret agent working for the French Resistance Movement against the Nazis. She was captured by the Gestapo, tortured and brutally killed in the Dachau Concentration Camp on 13-9-1944. One of the witnesses of this sadistic torture chamber wrote later:- "What happened was terrible. The girl was a bloody mass. The only word she uttered before they shot her through her head was- "Liberte"-". Thus tragically ended the young life of the vivacious Noor Inayat Khan (1914 to 1943) at the age of 29. In the words of Ravibala Shenoy, "Noor was the only woman to win a posthumous George Cross and the CROIX de Guerre". Inayat Khan was lucky that he died many years before this terrible tragedy.

From 1910 to 1926, Inayat Khan's life was a saga of constant touring all-over Europe, UK and repeated trips to U.S.A. Everywhere he gave an incredibly large number of lectures on Indian philosophy, mysticism, and sufism, and lecture-demonstrations on Indian music. His impressive personality, speeches and music won for him a vast circle of friends and throngs of admirers. In 1912 he met Poet Tagore and Fox Strangways (author of a well-known book on Indian Music) in England. In Russia he made friends with Count Serge Tolstoy (son of the great Tolstoy who later became a representative of the Sufi Order). Regarding the reception he got in Russia, Inayat Khan wrote:- "The warmth that came from the heart of the people kept us warm in that cold country". In many places, his lectures on Sufism were published as books like "The Inner Life". In 1920 he established his Sufi Headquarters in Geneva. In his very first visit to Holland in 1921 Inayat was completely won over by the people of Holland about whom he said:- "Though the Dutch are proud and self willed, I saw in them love of the Spiritual. They are straightforward, most inclined towards religion, lovers of justice, and seekers after Truth".

In 1923 he met Dr Ananda Coomaraswamy who was in charge of the Boston Art Museum, and he met also many other famous personalities. His music and his lectures were so greatly admired that "people thronged around him acclaiming him as their Hazrat, and calling themselves as his Mureeds". In 1925 Mr Ford expressed his admiration by saying:- "if you had been a businessman, you certainly would have been a success. But I am glad that you are as you are". When the Sufi societies started by him in England, Holland, Germany, and U.S.A. were thriving in all these places, Sufi Inayat Khan felt a deep urge to revisit his Motherland where he hoped he would have some respite from this constant round of engagements and perpetual throngs of admirers around him.

Looking forward to some weeks of rest and relaxation in India, he arrived in Delhi on the first of November, 1926. But his fame had preceded him into his country. Therefore, he was once again crowded with admirers and pressing invitations to give lectures and recitals. By 1927 he was tired and exhausted with overwork. He contracted pneumonia and died in Delhi in 1927 in the Tilak Lodge on the banks of the river Yamuna.

Thus ended the busy life of Sufi Inayat Khan who did pioneering work in the West in his mission of propagating Indian music and Sufism all over the West. Through his lectures and demonstrations, he revealed to the Westerners a rich hidden Indian world of endless treasures, spiritual and artistic. With his varied accomplishments, his rare qualities of head and heart, and his noble manners, Inayat Khan was one of the best "Cultural Ambassadors" that India has had. But since he spent the best part of his life from the age of 28 till the last year of his life abroad, very little is known about him in his own. What he achieved in the West in the short span of 45 years is really amazing. His devoted wife Sharada Ameena Begum died in Paris in 1949.


Newsgroups: rec.music.indian.classical
Date: 5 Jul 1998 23:34:51 GMT
Subject: Great Masters 27: Inayat Khan, the Sufi-Musician
From: Great Masters of Hindustani Music, by Susheela Mishra, Hem Publishers 1981

Additional On-Line resources:

Complete Biography of Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan ... on-line version of the East-West Publications book published in 1979, which contains autobiography too.

The Vision of God and Man, Confessions ... biography written by R.M.Bloch in the fall of 1914 and published in 1915.

The Sufi Message of Hazrat Inayat Khan ... online versions of the texts created from the lectures and discussions of Inayat Khan.

Biographical Books:

Biography of Pir-O-Murshid Inayat Khan, East-West Publications, 1979.

A Pearl in Wine: Essays on the Life, Music and Sufism of Hazrat Inayat Khan, Omega Publications, 2001

Books by, or about, Inayat Khan:

Inayat Khan books from Amazon.Com (a complete Inayat Khan index)

Inayat Khan books from IndiaClub  (set of 14 paperback volumes)

Inayat Khan books from Omega Publications  (Inayat Khan Index)


Inayat Khan singing Allahu Akbar

Inayat Khan singing Surat Mullar

The Sung Zikr of Inayat Khan

https://wahiduddin.net/hik/hik_music_bio.htm  .... brief summary of Inayat's musical background written by Susheela Mishra.

In 1909, Hazrat Inayat Khan made a series of musical recordings in India. In 1994, a CD version of the recordings was produced by EMI. (EMI CD NF 1 50129/30 Inayat Khan, The Complete Recordings of 1909)

That CD may be available at:

There is also a brief 1925 radio program recording of the voice of Hazrat Inayat Khan in the archives of the Sufi Movement (HSD7)