Khan, Vilayat

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KHAN, VILAYAT (1924–2004), classical North Indian musician Vilayat Hussain Khan's virtuosic sitar playing and international tours have helped to define Indian classical music, both in India and abroad, in the second half of the twentieth century. His family's musical tradition often describes itself as the Imdad Khan gharānā, after his renowned grandfather, although they also trace their lineage to the even more celebrated musician Tan Sen. Vilayat Khan studied with his father, Inayat Khan, until his death in 1938; he then continued his studies with his mother and her father, Bande Hasan Khan. The family tradition has emphasized the sitar and the surbahār, but Vilayat Khan's unique background (he had both instrumental and vocal teachers) has led him to integrate vocal devices and idioms into his performances. Indeed, a sitar performance by Vilayat Khan is likely to have a section in which he sings the principal melody. This gāyakīang (singing style) approach to playing the sitar and surbahār marks both his performances and those of his brother, Imrat Khan, and now continues in the playing style of Vilayat Khan's son, Shujaat Khan.

Vilayat Khan's style of playing and his demeanor on stage hark back to the courtly origins of India's modern classical music. When Satyajit Ray sought someone to compose music and to direct the music sequences for his film about an aging aristocratic zamindar (Jalsa Ghar; The music room), he chose Vilayat Khan. Khan's recordings of the rāgs Yaman, Bhairavī, and Jaijaivanti are iconographic for many musicians; the recording of his duets with shahnā'ī virtuoso Bismillah Khan may be one of the most popular recordings of North Indian classical music. Also noteworthy are his illustrative examples for Jairazbhoy's The Rāgs of North Indian Music (1971) which serve as rāga references for many music scholars.

Gordon Thompson


Jairazbhoy, Nazir. The Rāgs of North Indian Music. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1971.

Miner, Allyn. Sitar and Sarod in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries. Wilhelmshaven, Germany: F. Noetzel, 1993.