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Biography, Autobiography, Journal and Anecdotes

Part I - Biography

Maula Bakhsh (1833-1896)

Maula Bakhsh the grandfather of Inayat Khan came from a family of Zamindars. Left an orphan he was brought up by his uncle little is known of his boyhood, except that he was a well built athletic boy good at wrestling and fond of riding and sociable and friendly towards all.

It was when he was about fifteen years of age that he befriended a holy pilgrim, a wandering ascetic, who was passing through the town an act that marked a turning point in his life. This dervish belonged to the sect of the Chishtis, that is to say he expressed his devotion to and meditation upon the divine by means of music; and after he had experienced the hospitable help and friendship of the boy, he said to him: "My soul longs for music, would you sing tome?" The boy answered: "I have no skill in singing, but I will sing what I can to you And after he had sung his song, the dervish thanked him saying I am a poor man and a pilgrim upon the face of the earth, nevertheless it is in my power to give you a treasure. I will baptize you with a new name – Maula Bakhsh – God-gifted, shall be your name and this name shall be known throughout this land of India and your music shall make it famous The boy listened attentively and received the blessing of the holy pilgrim with reverence and locked this saying in is heart. From that day he changed his name to Maula Bakhsh.

He appears, however, to have shown no marked alteration in his behavior, although his interest in music was heightened, until some three years later, when he came to a decision to study seriously.

His grandfather Anvar Khan had been a successful singer and the family generally had an inclination towards music, so, with his uncle's consent Maula Bakhsh set out to travel from place to place in order to hear different musicians and to instruct himself in their art.

Ghasit Khan was at that time one of the most accomplished singers of India and the most considered and talented in Gujerat.

It must be remembered that in India where science and art are considered sacred and hereditary possessions it is not usual for an artist to part with his knowledge to any chance pupil. An artist will consider his art in the same light as his family honor and will pass it on to his heir or failing an heir, will allow it to die with him. Moreover in India the great artist will not display his talent before large and mixed audiences; he reserves his art for a discriminating few.

Ghasit Khan was a wealthy man and though acclaimed in Gujerat as a master, he had never had a pupil. The young Maula Bakhsh, unknown though he was, without money, a beginner, leading a hand to mouth existence and on the very threshold of his career, felt an overwhelming desire to hear the music of this famous man and cast about in his mind how he should approach him. He hung about his house and as always, friendly and sociable, soon made friends with the porter; then he found, as he sat in the porter's little shelter, that from there he was able to hear every note, every variation of the Master's voice as he practiced and composed and improvised. And so, day after day Maula Bakhsh came to the porter's lodge and talked to him and amused him with stories and jokes until the opium-sodden servant would doze off, trusting to the boy to wake him should occasion arise, and then Maula Bakhsh would give himself up to listening to the voice that issued from the house. In this way, for many months Maula Bakhsh studied and each day after listening and noting all he heard, he would practice, modeling his own singing upon that of Ghasit Khan.

One day it happened as he was practicing industriously that Ghasit Khan passed his house and stopped to listen. It seemed to him that it was one of his own compositions that he heard and moreover, one that he had not as yet sung to anybody. He listened and his curiosity was so aroused that he entered the house where Maula Bakhsh lodged and spoke to the young singer. "Continue your singing," he said to him, but Maula Bakhsh was dumbfounded. "May I ask who your teacher is, young man?" "My teacher is great, truly," said Maula Bakhsh "but if I reveal his name to you, then indeed my hope of progressing further under him must be given up." "Whoever heard of such a teacher!" said Ghasit Khan impatiently, "what teacher forbids his pupil to speak of him?" "Since you urge it, I will tell you; it is yourself, you are my teacher." "I ? Why, I have never seen you before." Then Maula Bakhsh explained what he had done and as Ghasit Khan listened and stood there wondering at such perseverance and patience [An older version has it that Maula Bakhsh studied in this way for two years] the young musician continued: "But now what chiefly grieves me is the thought that when I leave – for now I cannot go on listening to you as I did before – I must say that it is from you that I have learned; for indeed I have most yet studied long enough nor gained enough of your knowledge to be worthy of being called the pupil of such a master as yourself."

It was this point of view that interested and pleased Ghasit Khan and he invited Maula Bakhsh to learn from him.

This anecdote illustrates many sides of the character of Maula Bakhsh, but suggests perhaps more than anything else that there was in him an irresistible personality, which in deed his life seems to prove, that neither misfortune nor difficulty ever was able to diminish. That the proud and reserved man should accept the tuition of this unknown lad was in itself a matter of surprise; and what a teacher did he prove himself!

There was nothing of his art which the master withheld from Maula Bakhsh, the only pupil he had ever accepted. When he died, Maula Bakhsh, who stayed with him until his death, was a living record of his accomplishments.

After the death of Ghasit Khan Maula Bakhsh traveled from court to court in what seemed to the young man a triumphal procession – for everywhere he met with praises and rewards, such as filled his ardent spirit with a contentment and joy in existence and the pursuit of his chosen art. At Mysore, the land in which he was destined to reap his greatest success in life, he settled for some time attached to the court. And while there, he came to know the daughter of the Rajbhakshi, the court chamberlain, who was expert in the music of the Karnatic. Maula Bakhsh an accomplished performer but as yet unlearned in the theory of music, became very anxious to study this ancient science of the Karnatic, pure as it was from any foreign influences of the Mogul schools. But the learned lady told him that her art belonged to the Brahmans alone, that it was their property, as sacred to them as their religion. "If you wish to learn", she said to him, "then you must learn when you are born a Brahman, you must wait until a future reincarnation." This answer seemed to him so hard and this point of view so inhuman, since he himself was such a devoted disciple of music, that Maula Bakhsh felt that he could not tolerate the atmosphere of the court any longer. And so once more he set out on his wanderings.

It was in Malabar that he met with Subramani Ayar, the most honored musician among the Brahmans of his time This Brahman took such care of his shastras, his manuscripts that he was never parted from them, not even at the time of ablutions As he bathed he would hold them now in his hand and now under his armpits So devout was he and so orthodox, that he felt compelled to purify himself with a bath if only the shadow of a non-Brahman fell upon him. Nevertheless he developed an attachment for Maula Bakhsh and taught him all he knew of his science besides the ancient classical music and Sanskrit songs and the harmonies of Tyagaraja and Dikshitar. Maula Bakhsh was not yet thirty when he returned to the Court of Mysore.

There he seems to have enjoyed the personal friendship of the monarch who wished to bestow upon him the highest marks of honor that it is possible to give in India, which is the Kalgi or gold circlet, the Sarpachi, a chaplet of pearls for the turban, the Chatri or gold canopy, which is held over the head by a footservant as the owner walks or rides, the Chamar or stick of honor which a servant carries before, and the Mashal, the torch that is carried before and lighted at night. But the Brahmans pointed out to the Maharaja that these honors should be reserved for one acknowledged to be without an equal in his art; and that there was no reason why Maula Bakhsh should he regarded as having attained that position. At the instance of the Brahmans therefore a contest of musicians, mainly Brahmans, took place and lasted ten months; and at the end of it Maula Bakhsh was acknowledged by the pandits i.e. the learned in music, to have surpassed all the other performers. And so he was duly honored by the Maharaja with these marks of distinction and the conferring of them was made the occasion of a stately procession.

It was about this time that Maula Bakhsh married the daughter of an ancient house.

It must be remembered that since the risings against the British, the survivors of the families of the Moguls had lived in hiding. They had chosen concealment not only through fear of the terrible political situation, but the contrast between their present and past fortunes was such a bitter one, that they naturally preferred to withdraw themselves from every kind of publicity and to escape the common gaze. This girl had been protected by two devoted adherents to her house, with whom Maula Bakhsh became acquainted and after his marriage he took these two loyal and devoted guardians as part of his household, and even after their death their families lived under his roof. His marriage was of great importance in his life. Although his wife maintained the strictest seclusion, her influence pervaded the household. Strangers spoke of the courtesy and charm with which they were received and which marked even the manners of the servants. This lady who held herself aloof even from visits from the ladies of Baroda, felt so deeply the tragedy of life as she knew it in the history and fate of her house, that she impressed her daughter, the mother of Inayat Khan, with her own attitude and feeling, and that same mystery that surrounded the mother seemed to envelop the daughter also. If they were conscious of their high birth they were conscious also of the obligations and duties that should attend it. No doubt the presence of the two guardians who knew her history heightened the atmosphere of mystery and tragedy that surrounded her, but so far as her grandchildren knew, her ancestry was never referred to in words and they never heard the full story of her life. Nevertheless her daughter's children were conscious of the fact that they were expected to hold themselves with dignity and to show courtesy and gentleness in manners and to maintain a high standard in life, even as if they were maintaining the noble traditions of an ancient and great line.

Maula Bakhsh was now enjoying a period of great prosperity. Several ruling princes invited him to their Courts and he at last accepted the invitation of the Maharaja Khanda Rao of Baroda.

Arrived at Baroda, he found, however to his disappointment that the Maharaja was less interested in music than in the tact that he had attached the greatest singer of the day to his Court. And Maula Bakhsh had to face the opposition of the courtiers, who could not brook the fact that this singer expected to be treated on an equality with themselves, and the Maharaja on his side was disappointed in Maula Bakhsh who did not feed his vanity with the subservience which he expected from those around him. At the Court ceremonials and at the processions of state Maula Bakhsh would appear with the marks of honor that he had received – the gold canopy held above his head, the stick of honor carried before him and wearing the chaplet of pearls and circlet of gold. The Court officials having pointed out that this musician gave himself almost royal rank, the Maharaja sent an ironical word to him, saying: "If you wear crown and sceptre, what shall Rajas wear?" And Maula Bakhsh answered with a quotation from the Sanskrit:

"Sva deshe pujita rajah,
Sva grame pujita prabhu,
Sva grahe pujita murkha
Vidvana sanvatra pujayat."

"The king is honored in his country,
a chief is honored in his district,
a fool is honored in his home but a
genius is honored everywhere."

"Your Highness, my kingdom is everywhere," was the answer that Maula Bakhsh sent.

And now it remained for Maula Bakhsh to prove that he was a genius, for the Maharaja who had called him to the Court on account of his fame, now wished to humble him; and so a musical congress was arranged to which the celebrities of India were bidden. There came Kanhai, the acknowledged master of dance and rhythmical movement, and Ali Hussain, the great vina player, and Nasir Khan, a master of rhythm and pakhawaj player, and Khadim Hussain, the great singer. And Maula Bakhsh competed with each and showed himself superior to each one in turn. The upshot of it was that Maula Bakhsh was accused of hypnotizing his opponents and of hypnotizing his audience – and finding that the Maharaja was prepared to give credence to such a suggestion, he left Baroda and at the request of Sir Salar Jung Prime Minister to the Nizam, he settled for a time at the Court of Hyderabad.

But the ordeal that he had lately passed through, had made such an Impression upon him that it marked a turning point in his career. The congress had opened his eyes to the greatness of Indian music and also to its defects. Each performer had shown a highly developed art, but not one had been conversant with its theory and science and one and all had sacrificed system and order to fantasy. He himself was naturally gifted with what is called in India the quality of lava, that is the sense of time and rhythm. He possessed a natural tenor voice of an extraordinary lyrical beauty, tender and appealing, and to his natural gifts were added the skill acquired through many years of patient work and training. Yet he saw that it would have been difficult, perhaps impossible for him to have held his own against so many specialists, if it had not been for his knowledge of Karnatic music, of the system preserved by Southern India. His position was thus perhaps unique and his music reflected the skill of the North together with the depth of the South.

Kanhai was a great dramatic artist of such talent that his every movement seemed instinct with meaning. His very hands seemed to speak. Undoubtedly a master of this ancient Eastern branch of musical art, he was yet unable to compare with Maula Bakhsh in his knowledge of that psychology, of that theory of drama, so carefully taught in the Karnatic school. Nasir Khan, who alone of the competitors on this occasion became his lifelong friend, was also defective in technique and so it was with the others. He saw how one-sided was the work of these different artists. It was brought home to him with renewed force that the art of the North, which bears the stamp of Persian and Arabian music and also of the music of ancient Greece, full of grace and beauty as it is, rich in charm and fantasy, is yet inferior in many ways to the more austere music of the South, which has ever been held sacred and as a part of religion.

At Hyderabad Maula Bakhsh spent months that were fruitful in work and experience; and after the death of the Maharaja Khanda Rao he returned to Baroda. The new Maharaja Malha Rao very soon incurred the displeasure of the British.

It happened that the daughter of the British Resident was interested in music and she began to take lessons from Maula Bakhsh who thus made acquaintance with the Resident, and a friendship sprang up between them. In the eyes of Maula Bakhsh, the ruling prince was not only foolish but evil; but he made every effort to assist him and to keep him on his throne from a sense of that loyalty which is expressed in the phrase "true to salt". He obtained a promise from the Resident that the British would not molest the prince if he altered his ways and to this effect Maula Bakhsh continually advised and warned him. In this way a responsibility of State fell on him. But this position became gradually untenable, not only on account of the blindness and folly of the prince but because of the suspicion which was spread about by the obsequious courtiers, that he was actually in the service of the British. And he became disheartened at the construction put on his efforts to guide this young man.

He left Baroda and took the opportunity to travel to many parts of India, to make known his ambition about the future of Indian music and the system of notation which he was evolving, in which he hoped to combine the theory and practice of the North with that of the South.

For all this time Maula Bakhsh with much patience and thought was thinking out methods of reform. With great perseverance he was endeavouring to perfect a system of notation which should he acceptable to all India. At Calcutta he was the guest of Maharaja Jotindra Mohan Tagore and that family, so capable of artistic devotion and expression was keenly interested in his enthusiasm and ambition. Surendra Mohan Tagore, who was later to prove himself so great in the world of music, was not a little inspired by the genius of Maula Bakhsh.

About this time he was introduced to the Viceroy and he prepared himself for this occasion by diligently studying Western music. He was anxious to prove to the English that the musical art of India was indeed an art; and he felt that the only means of making Eastern art intelligible to an alien ear, was by studying the Western principles. Thus he took every means that he could, to raise his art in the eyes of those with who he came into contact and to kindle enthusiasm for it.

Two incidents which took place at this period of his life stand out as having had a great influence on him. On one occasion he visited Vajad Ali Shah, the imprisoned king of Oudh, a visit that proved a revelation, for the king was himself a composer, a connoisseur of music; steeped in his love for it, he showed the greatest appreciation and understanding as Maula Bakhsh sang and played and discussed with him. And the idea came to Maula Bakhsh that music could become as potent a force for the destruction of man as for his elevation. The king, when in power, had been a great patron of music and had named the musicians attached to his court "arbabi-nishat", that is to say the "companions of pleasure" and here, so it seemed to Maula Bakhsh the king had at once struck the false note which was to prove not only his undoing but the degradation of the art which he professed to honor. To link music with the amusement of life must, it seemed to him, result in a degeneration and the idea began to strengthen in hi mind that music should be regarded as an essential part of education.

Another occasion that gave him much food for thought was when at the invitation of the Maharaja Ram Singh of Jeypur, he met the Guni Jan Khana, or the staff of the talented of Jeypur. At this association, which had been formed by the Maharaja, he was warmly welcomed and it gave him a great pleasure to be able to meet there many artists from all parts of the vast empire of India, who had made a mark both as composers and performers. But he could not help regretting that no association of the kind existed for teaching and for advancing musical education generally.

He returned to Baroda after Malha Rao had been deposed. From that time dates his close friendship with Sir T. Madhari Rao, who deserves the credit of having prepared the young Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad for his brilliant career and for having laid the foundation of the future successful reign. This brilliant young ruler recognized talent of whatever kind. It was his distinction that he was always ready to help and foster reforms, social and educational; and it was he who at last made it possible for Maula Bakhsh to realize the dream of his life, for he founded the Academy of Music at Baroda and appointed Maula Bakhsh its first director.

Thereafter, Maula Bakhsh devoted the remainder of his life to the formation of the Academy and to the organization of the courses of instruction. His younger son Alaoddin went to London to the Royal Academy of Music, where he studied for five years and obtained the degree of Doctor of Music and thus carried out his conviction that it is necessary for the musicians of the East to learn Western art if they would interpret their art to a foreigner. His eldest son Murtaza Khan took up the study of Eastern music and followed in his father's footsteps so closely as to take, so to speak, the very form and mold of his father's genius. Representatives of every musical school were welcomed at the Academy and instruction was not refused to any caste or creed and was open to boys and girls alike. He strove to spread the idea that the know ledge, which hitherto had been considered a hereditary possession, should be collected and given out again freely and generously. He wished to spread his conviction that music should form the basis of the education of every child; not that he wished to make all musicians, but because of the influence which music exerts upon the character, upon the rhythm of thought, upon movement and gait and action and speech.

He introduced into the School of Music, the study of the great poets, of Kabir, of Nianak and of Sundar, feeling that the beauty of their words and thoughts must animate the minds of the students and inspire them with a sense of the divine in life and so form a fitting accompaniment to instruction in the divine art.

The interest of the Maharaja Gaekwad in social and educational reform drew the best minds of India to Baroda and the house of Maula Bakhsh became a meeting-place for philosophers and poets as well as musicians. Maula Bakhsh had never lost that gift of sociability to which he owed his well found name.

Although he was friendly and accessible to all, his life was marked throughout by that same independence of spirit which he had displayed at the Court of Khanda Rao.

There is a story told by friends with whom Maula Bakhsh lodged at Hyderabad. He returned late one night to their house after playing at the Court and the servant who had waited to attend him, helped him down from the elephant on which he was riding, and taking his vina from him, asked what it was and said how much he wished that he could hear it played. Maula Bakhsh displayed the instrument to the servant, answering all his ignorant questions and although wearied out, played and sang to him. The next day the host having heard the story through the servants asked him: "O, Maula Bakhsh, how did you rest last night?" and Maula Bakhsh recounted how he had played again and again at the request of the company at the Court and that on coming home and seeing the curiosity of this poor servant who in comparison with the wealth of the Court had so little in life, he had been touched by his ignorance and poverty and felt that to refuse to play to him would be even as refusing to play to God. And so he had sat and played to him through the night, explaining all that he could to him.

The death of Maula Bakhsh in 1896 was a blow to many hearts and at his funeral gathered Hindus and Muslims alike. Himself brought up an orthodox Muslim and one who never missed one of the five daily times of prayers, he was a freethinker, of broad views that recognized beauty in all religions and a great number of his pupils were Brahmans. His was a life of success and the circle of his family and friends was a happy one. From his earliest years he had enjoyed success and recognition; in age he was recognized not only by his own people but by the British, by whom he was asked to play at the Delhi Darbar. Of a commanding presence, endowed with remarkable gifts, a man of upright character, he had a tremendous sense of the value of life, of the dignity of the human being, of the beauty of the world.

It was always said in Baroda that "the best horse in Baroda is certain to be Maula Bakhsh's horse", and such a detail as this, shows how his standard of excellence applied to all things. But if he wished for beauty, his was no selfish and exclusive nature and throughout his life he was devoted in service to his fellow-beings and to India. After his death, once a camel-driver spoke to one of his sons in terms of such sorrow that it seemed he must be a great friend of Maula Bakhsh but no, he had only spoken to him once and then Maula Bakhsh had talked to him on music in terms of such perfect equality with no hint of the attitude of patronage, but with such immense interest that the man had never forgotten it. It would be possible to give many stories of this kind of him. It was this sense of the dignity of the human being, combined with his sense of the value and beauty of life, that gives the keynote of his career.

As he grew older he developed a greater sensibility to the deeper emotions, as with every year his interest in music grew and with it his understanding of life. When he was aged it was often seen that as he played or sang or listened to others, he would be caught up by some feeling or thought of exquisite emotion and tears would fall from his eyes. To his students he showed the same tenderness of heart in his sympathy and interest and friendship.

The last years of his life were filled with a new interest in his hopes of his eldest grandson Inayat. There seemed a special connection between these two, as close as that which exists between an old plant and the shoot that springs from its roots. It was as if the hungering and thirsting child drew into himself the whole soul of his adored grandfather and as if the grandfather fostered and watched the child in the belief that here was the most complete fruit of an existence spent in the pursuit of the ideal.

The great musicians before Maula Bakhsh left songs that were handed down by tradition. He was perhaps the first artist to leave to India an inheritance that can be judged on its own merits by coming ages, in his many published compositions, in the system of notation which he strove to perfect, so that it might be an acceptable one for all India and which has inspired much fresh work along this line, also in the ideals which are enshrined in the first founded Academy of Music of India.