North Indian Classical Music:
Shujaat Khan, sitar

Grammy Award nominee Shujaat Khan is one of the leading exponents of Indian classical music. On the occasion of India’s fiftieth anniversary of independence, he performed at New York’s Carnegie Hall and for the United Nations at Assembly Hall in Geneva, Switzerland. He also has appeared at Royal Albert Hall in London, Royce Hall in Los Angeles, and Congress Hall in Berlin. With the innovative Indo-Persian trio Ghazal, he earned a Grammy nomination in 2004 for the group’s third recording, Rain. This performance was recorded in concert at the Freer Gallery on April 30, 2010.


Raga: Shudh Kalyan
Tala: Madhayaptala/teental

Raga: Malkauns
Tala: Teental

Light classical: Bengali folk song

My Eyes, My Heart*
Composition by Kayhan Kalhor and Shujaat Khan
Lyric: "I have suffered since my eyes met yours. O my dear my heart calls out to you."

*A different version by the same artist can be heard on Ghazal: As Night Falls on the Silk Road, with Shujaat Khan, sitar; Kayhan Kalhor, kamenche; and Swapan Chaudhuri, tabla (Shanachie: 1998).


Shujaat Khan

Shujaat Husain Khan, sitar, is one of his generation’s leading exponents of North Indian classical music. He belongs to the lineage (or tradition) known as the Imdad Khan gharana, in which instrumental music is imitative of the human voice. He is the seventh in an unbroken line of musical masters in his family. Shujaat has developed his own style of Hindustani music, which takes a largely intuitive and spontaneous approach to rhythm.

Shujaat Khan is the son and disciple of the late master sitarist Ustad Vilayat Khan, who performed at the Freer Gallery in 1999. His musical pedigree also includes his grandfather, Ustad Inayat Khan; his great-grandfather, Ustad Imdad Khan; and his great-great-grandfather, Ustad Sahebdad Khan—all leading artists of their respective generations. At the age of three, Shujaat began practicing on a specially made miniature sitar and was giving public performances by the age of six. Since then he has performed at music festivals throughout India and has performed across Asia, Africa, North America, and Europe.

On the occasion of India’s fiftieth anniversary of independence, Shujaat Khan was a featured artist in musical celebrations at Carnegie Hall in New York, Paramount Theater in Seattle, and Meyers Symphony Theater in Dallas. As part of the same commemoration, the United Nations presented him in concert at Assembly Hall in Geneva. His many appearances include performances at the Royal Albert Hall in London, Royce Hall in Los Angeles, and Congress Hall in Berlin. In 1999, he was a featured soloist with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. He has served as a visiting artist at the Dartington School of Music in England, the University of Washington in Seattle, and the University of California at Los Angeles.

Shujaat Khan was part of the influential Indo-Persian trio Ghazal, whose third recording, Rain, was nominated for a Grammy Award in 2004. In 2009, named Ghazal’s first recording, Lost Songs of the Silk Road, one of the top 100 world music albums. He has more than fifty other releases on a variety of international labels.

Abhiman Kaushal, tabla

Abhiman Kaushal represents the Farukkabad and Lucknow styles of tabla. He was initiated into the art by his father, R. B. Kaushal, a disciple of the legendary Ustad Amir Hussain Khan. Abhiman continued his training under Ustad Sheikh Dawood of Hyderabad and the Ustad’s senior disciple, Pandit B. Nandkumar. Abhiman has accompanied most of the leading musicians, singers, and dancers of north India, and has appeared at venues around the world. He can be heard on the soundtracks for the National Geographic Society’s documentary Man Eaters of North India and the feature film Zoolander, and performed live for MTV’s Aerosmith icon show. In 2003, he was featured in the electronic dance-drama Ramayana 2k3 in Los Angeles and New York.


North Indian Classical Music

The system of Indian classical music known as raga sangeet can be traced back nearly two thousand years to its origin in the Vedic hymns of the Hindu temples. Unlike Western classical music, most Indian classical music is improvised, depending on the artistic facility and creative imagination of the performer. The Indian musical tradition is an oral one, taught directly to the student by the guru without the aid of a system of written notation.

Melody: Raga

The heart of Indian music is the raga: the melodic form upon which the artist improvises a performance. A raga is both a scientific and aesthetic melodic form, at the same time precise and subtle, with its own specific ascending and descending movements consisting of seven, six, or five notes per octave as well as particular stressed notes and melodic gestures.

There are 72 basic melas, or parent scales, on which all ragas are based. Subtle differences—in the order of notes, the omission of a dissonant note, an emphasis on a particular note, and the use of micro-tones and other effects—distinguish one raga from another. Each raga also is characterized by its own particular rasa, or principal mood, and is associated with a particular time of day or season of the year. A raga is also the projection of an artist's inner spirit, a manifestation of his or her most profound feelings and sensibilities. The musician must breathe life into each raga while unfolding and expanding it, so that each note shimmers and pulsates with life and the raga is revealed for its vibrant, incandescent beauty. In this way, virtually every human emotion can be musically expressed and experienced.

Rhythm: Tala

Next to be considered are the talas, or rhythmic cycles of a raga. These cycles typically range from three to sixteen beats per cycle, with one tala lasting108 beats. The ways beats are grouped, divided, or stressed—and the stress on the first beat ("sum")—are the tala's most important features. Different talas with the same number of beats may stress different individual beats. For example, one tala may divide ten beats as 2-3-2-3, another as 3-3-4, and a third as 3-4-3. Within the framework of the fixed beats, the drummer can improvise to the same extent as the solo artist. One of the most exciting moments for a seasoned listener occurs when both musicians, after their individual improvisations, come back together precisely on the sum, the main beat.

— adapted from notes by Ravi Shankar


Since Indian music is spiritual in origin, it is devotional in performance. The traditional north Indian recital begins with the alap section—the stately and serene exploration of the chosen raga. After this slow, introspective, heartfelt beginning, the musician moves on to the jor, where a rhythmic pulse enters and some of the innumerable variations on the raga's basic theme are elaborated. The alap and jor evolve into the gat, the fixed composition of the raga. Here the drums enter into the structure of the gat and its time cycle, the tala. A gat can be in any tala, and in a slow, medium, or fast tempo. The musician improvises on a variety of tans (musical phrases in different speeds) and todas (combinations of plucked passages). The gat, which can range from four to sixteen bars, is the vehicle the artist must return to after improvisation. While Indian musicians have complete freedom to improvise as they wish, they may do so only within the format of the raga and tala.

The step-by-step acceleration of the rhythm in the gat finally culminates in the jhala, the final movement and climax of the raga. Here the music becomes increasingly playful and exciting. Sawal-jawab, the dazzling interplay and rapid exchange between soloist and tabla, has the power to enthrall and amaze listeners as it brings the raga to its conclusion. Following a raga, and to conclude a recital, the soloist may choose to play a thumri or dhun. These semi-classical genres are much freer and are completely romantic, sensual, and erotic.

— adapted from notes by Ravi Shankar

The South Asian and Himalayan Art Collection at the National Museum of Asian Art

The Freer and Sackler Galleries hold a renowned collection of Indian and Himalayan art. Our unparalleled collection of Mughal paintings has been built up insightfully over the past nine decades; these works are enhanced by the Sackler’s 1986 acquisition of the renowned Vever collection and strong complementary collections of northern Indian painting and Iranian arts of the book. Our early Buddhist sculpture, including the earliest representation of the Buddha in an American museum (second to third century), is of foundational importance to our collections of later Buddhist art from the Himalayas and East Asia. Exquisite Hindu temple sculpture from the Chola dynasty (tenth to fourteenth century) includes the bronze Queen Sembiyan Mahadevi as the Goddess Parvati (the Freer Parvati). Also in the collections are exquisite paintings made for the Mughal and Rajput courts of north India (sixteenth to nineteenth century), including the Freer Ramayana, an illustrated manuscript of the great Hindu epic painted for a Mughal nobleman. The Galleries also house a significant collection of twelfth- to nineteenth-century Buddhist art from Nepal and Tibet, including a larger-than-life Nepalese wooden bodhisattva and a Tibetan thangka, as well as Company School works (drawings and paintings by Indian artists for British patrons from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries). Finally, the Sackler is home to the most comprehensive museum collection of photography by Raghubir Singh, and our Archives house almost 1,000 nineteenth-century photographs.


The concert presented in this podcast was made possible in part through the generous support of Doris Weiner and family, Marion and Ashok Deshmukh, Arun and Rama Deva, Hart and Nancy Fessenden, Ranvir and Adarsh Trehan, Ashok and Stuti Kaveeshwar, Kenneth and Joyce Robbins, and the late Margaret and George Haldeman.

Podcast coordinated by Michael Wilpers, concert manager, and Liz Cheng, web designer. Concert recording by Andy Finch, audio-visual; audio engineering by SuMo Productions. Photographs by Neil Greentree, photographer. Artwork consulting by Debra Diamond, curator. Editing by Joelle Seligson, editor. Research by Moonsil Lee, intern.

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