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A glimpse at the work of Inayat Khan, a pioneering Indian musician in the West



A glimpse at the work of Inayat Khan, a pioneering Indian musician in the West
Aneesh Pradhan



Been player and vocalist Inayat Khan (1882-1927), more popularly known as Sufi or Hazrat Inayat Khan or Inayat Khan Pathan, was the grandson and disciple of Maula Bakhsh (1833-1896).

In 1910, Inayat Khan and his brothers travelled to the US, where they joined the Ruth St. Denis dance company the next year. The brothers performed as The Royal Musicians of Hindustan, with the dancer Mata Hari in France. Between 1910 and 1926, Inayat Khan performed all over the US and Europe. In 1920, he established the headquarters of the International Sufi Movement in Geneva.

Here is a biopic on Inayat Khan.


Though Inayat Khan is arguably better known for his Sufi teachings, this music was recorded on 78 rpms and is still available.

Though Inayat Khan is arguably better known for his Sufi teachings, this music was recorded on 78 rpms and is still available.

Here is a collection of several such tracks:


It begins with a composition in raag Maand set to Dadra, a cycle of six counts or matras. The song-text seems to be a mixture of Braj, Gujarati and Marwari words.

The second track features a drut or fast-paced khayal in the raag Paraj set to Teentaal, a sixteen matra cycle. He employs sargam or solfège in varying speeds as he develops this raag, a seasonal melody sung in spring.

The next piece is a qasida, a poetic form, based on the raag Sindhura. This is followed by a Momin ghazal in the same raag. The rendition is quite unlike the ghazal rendition that we are now familiar with. Inayat Khan uses taans or quick melodic passages as a device for improvisation.

Karana Fakiri Phir Kya Dilgiri was written by the saint-poet Meerabai, but Inayat Khan has used the first line of the piece as a refrain to write subsequent verses. His name appears in the final verse, as is the case with texts that are written in the traditional mould.

The next piece is in the raag Bhairavi. The first one is set to the 16-matra Sitarkhani or Addha taal. The second one is a hori, a composition that describes imagery associated with holi as played by Krishna. The composition is set to the 14-matra Deepchandi.

The self-composed dhrupad in raag Khamaj that follows is quite unlike dhrupad renditions that are normally heard today. It is set to a medium-paced Chautal, a cycle of 12 matras. Inayat Khan employs basic rhythmic variation by singing the first line in double and quadruple tempi.

This is succeeded by a composition in raag Yaman Kalyan, set to Teentaal, and a Sindhi composition set to Teentaal. The poetic form that follows is loosely based on raag Pilu and is set to Sitarkhani.

The qasida in raag Jogiya is set to Deepchandi.

The final piece is composed in the raag Bhairavi. Described as a “Parsi Popetti” song, the composition ushers in the Parsi New Year.

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