Saturday, June 28, 2008

Ustad Nathoo Khan - Sarangi Maestro

"Nathoo Khan was arguably the best sarangi nawaz in the subcontinent in his time. I do not know his antecedents and lineage, but he was one of the artistes brought over to Radio Pakistan, Karachi, from All India Radio, by the Grand Old Man of Broadcasting, Z. A. Bukhari. Nathoo Khan was a malang, and his performances would reflect the must in his spirit. He would twitch and jerk along with every turn of musical phrase, creating a unity of body, soul and instrument—something that is achieved only by musicians like Zakir Hussain and Chaurasia these days.

 "Nathoo Khan was a permanent fixture at Radio Pakistan Karachi, lounging around the garden of the premises when he wasn't performing as accompanist, soloist or even time-segment filler. PTV in the earlier years (around 1965 or '66) did a documentary on him, showing him in his meager home, where he talked about his music and played his collection of various stringed instruments, all of which he handled with effortless mastery. It was one of the most memorable documentaries done by the stalwarts of PTV Karachi.

"In order to get him his well-overdue recognition and improve his means, Omar Kureishi had him appointed to the PIA Arts Academy where he directed and composed a few orchestrals—not very memorable, most of it was the insipid music destined to be churned out over the airplane public address, to enhance the stupor of passengers. However he did compose a score for a dance ensemble that performed on stage in Karachi in quite a grand event. That was before breathing was deemed to be un-Islamic in Pakistan. Omar wrote a piece on Nathoo Khan, in his reminiscent Dawn columns, 'The Past is Another Country' recalling a trip of the PIA Arts Academy to Geneva. They stayed at the Intercontinental, Geneva. Nathoo Khan's rather unkempt and threadbare appearance led the hotel staff to think that he was a menial, and they offered to feed him in the hotel kitchen. Omar, who was leading the delegation, went ballistic. Nathoo Khan ate at the regular restaurant and went on to enthrall the audiences.

"The sarangi is one of the most complex instruments. While it has only three main strings, some thirty five to forty resonant strings provide it a unique timbre, and the older the sarangi, the better. Quite literally, a sarangi is considered coming into full song when it has been seasoned and played over a hundred years or so. The finger work is particularly difficult. Originally, masters of khyaal looked down on the sarangi and the sarangi-nawaz, as it was usual instrumental accompaniment to female singers, most of whom were courtesans. However around the thirties the tonal range of the sarangi was increasingly appreciated and made it the accompanying instrument of choice for the great masters of vocal Indian classical music. Nowadays the harmonium is more popular as it is much easier to play, and not as sensitive to variations in humidity and temperature. I dislike the harmonium. It is flat, noisy and tends to dominate the voice rather than augment it.

"In the late eighties I attempted to collect Nathoo Khan's music in homage to his memory. It is a sign of our times and our assault on our cultural heritage that there was not a single recording that seemed to have survived in the Radio Pakistan archives. There must have been hundreds of hours of his music in that place. No one in PTV remembered the documentary that, like the audiotapes, was rerecorded over.

"The rendition of Tilak Kamod was copied from an original reel-to-reel tape recording at a concert at the home of Isaac (he went only by that name, none of his many friends remembered the other) one of Karachi's great aesthetes. The performance conjures the memory of the manic restlessness of the Ustaad as he tries to squeeze out the last possibility offered by the raaga. The jhala is particularly exhilarating as the Ustaad draws plaintive elongations of particular phrases.

"Nathoo Khan died penurious with no musical successor." [1]

(More information on Ustad Nathu Khan's musical linage and biography.)

[1] Text taken from "Notes on the Music" by Asif Mamu.

Review of Ustad Nathu Khan's Tilak Kamod
by Dr. Kashyap Dave
25 October 2008

Dr. Kashyap Dave
sarangi expert and teacher
Ustad Nathu Khan is my favourite Pakistani sarangi player apart from Ustad Hamid Hussain and Ustad Zahoori Khan.

I would like to divide my review under the following headings:

1. Instrument
2. Instrumentalist
3. Performance
    a. Technicalities
    b. Justice to the raag


Ustadji is using a medium sized Meruth-made sarangi with a narrow sound box, the wood of the sarangi being porous with light weight. The skin (madhAv) is made out of pakki khaal; hence it is white/faint yellow coloured with lots of visible dots. (Pakki khaal is that part of the goat skin which comes from the back or the sides of the animal. This skin is hairy (hence the dots), strong, and thin at the same time. It is preferred to kachi khaal (which comes from the belly) and it maintains tension owing to natural rigidity and is less subject to changes in atmospheric moisture due to its inherent dryness. These qualities allow for minimum fluctuation of notes in the tuned sarangi.)

The main playing gut strings are relatively thin compared to what Ustadji used in subsequent years. The number of sympathetic strings used here are finer, their gauge being either 30 or 32. The bow is relatively small sized and tied with horse hair (rather than with nylon) and Ustadji plays it using its edge, rather than its full width.

The sarangi is in the process of setting - maybe the skin was recently changed or Ustadji has recently adjusted the taawiz (the two small flat bridges near the crown). Here he has kept the jawaaris of the taawiz 'open' to allow the vibrating sympathetic strings to strike the flat bridges and give off a peculiarly nice and persistent sound. In later years he used to keep them 'closed' (which prevents the vibrating sympathetic strings from striking the flat bridges and so encourages only the sound coming out of the chamber).


Undoubtedly this recording is from Ustadji's younger days, and his energy flows forth from all sides. The fingers are thin and he wants to convey everything in his control within a short span of time (and he does so very successfully). However, age related maturity is still evolving, though he is not restless at anytime and delivers a great exhibition of various technical aspects.


a. Technicalities

The performance demonstrates his extraordinary command over ALL the aspects of sarangi playing, including:

- Variation in application of force, by making it low or high as per the requirement of the composition and its sentiment,

- Variety in bowing patterns, by using its full length, and cutting, or advancing with mild stoppage, etc,

- Diversity in left hand techniques, through utilizing fingering, gutta, gamaks (forward, reverse), jumps, and ghissa,

- Combination of techniques with both hands, by playing notes with the left hand and bowing with the right hand, as demanded by the lyrics, at many places, to give the composition a vocal as well as an instrumental touch.

In short, he has made his sarangi 'PLAY' (tantkAri ang) as well as 'SING' ('gAyki ang) with equal command!

Dr. Kashyap Dave hails from Ahmedabad, India.  In his early years, he was trained in vocal Indian Classical Music.  In later years, after establishing himself in medical practice as a physician, he turned to the sarangi and for 12 years studied under Ustad Sultan Khan, world-renowned sarangi maestro.  Dr. Kashyap splits his spare time among a variety of interests, including listening to the choicest vocal, sarangi, and been recordings; fixing automobiles; and restoring old sarangis, constantly striving for the best available tones from the instruments.  We are extremely grateful to him for taking the time to write this review at our request.

Dr. Kashayp offers online lessons in sarangi, dilruba, and vocal music.  His students reside in different parts of the globe.  It always pleases him to see their dedication and enthusiasm, which he considers "an encouraging sign of the craving that exists for our cultural heritage."  Dr. Kashyap's Sarangi Lessons.


DrKashyap said...

Dear gentleman.

Many thanks for posting such rare gem. I am a shagird of ustad sultan khan. This is the best of nathu khan's I have ever heard, so far as the diversity in technique is concerned. Also, only the stalwarts like him can dare going upto the miya malhar & really saving the tilak kamod from becoming miya malhar.He was a portable university in himself.

Any idea who used to play sarangi in pak movies , esp in mauseqar?

Any gems from ustad zahoori khan ?

thanks again

-Dr. Kashyap (

Alexa said...

This is amazing. Thank you.

Anirban and Sujata said...

Such a rare combination of pathos and technical virtuosity. Thank you very for sharing. If you have any other recordings that you would be kind to share, we would be very grateful.