Bhendi Bazaar blues

Rishi Majumder discovers the Bhendi Bazaar Gharana, Mumbai’s homegrown haven of classical Indian music

Photographer: Rana Chakraborty

Shubha Joshi
Shubha Joshi
   Gharanas, using the guru-shishya system to maintain musical ideology since time immemorial, acquired a new significance in the 19th century. Dwindling royal patronage forced musicians to migrate to urban centres; the names of our gharanas (Agra Gharana, Gwalior Gharana, Patiala Gharana, Indore Gharana etc) mark the identity of not only their music, but the hometown from which this music emerged. Yet while most gharanas are named after where their musicians migrated from, the Bhendi Bazaar Gharana, Mumbai’s only native classical music gharana, stands out for being named after where musicians migrated to. 


Meenaxi Mukherji
Meenaxi Mukherji
   The din of South Bombay (then Bombay City) was interrupted with music in 1870, when three brothers – Chajju Khan, Nazir Khan and Khadim Hussain Khan – left Bijnaur in Moradabad District, UP, to live with their brother, a merchant. Having trained under their father Dilawar Khan, they continued to learn: Dhrupad Damar Gayaki from Inayat Hussain Khan of Sahaswan Gharana. By 1890, their music had touched many a heart.
   While some called their style the Moradabad Gharana, the brothers being dubbed “Bhendi Bazaar Waale” by music-loving citizens, led to a re-christening. Some say the brothers didn’t stay in “Bhendi Bazaar” at all but in a residential area known as ‘behind the bazaar’, a phrase corrupted by local colloquialism to eventually become “Bhendi Bazaar”, thus giving the Gharana (and area?) its current moniker.
   The Bhendi Bazaar Gharana won acclaim through its second generation. One important name from this generation is Aman Ali Khan (Chajju Khan’s son) whose popularity in the 1940s led to the gharana’s gayaki (singing style) often being called Aman Ali Khan Gayaki. Another is Anjanibai Malpekar (who taught Kishori Amolkar) whose performances won the gharana nationwide recognition, even at a time when female singers were frowned upon by society.
   Stalwarts from the third generation (most of them have passed away) include Shiv Kumar Shukla, Pandurang Amberkar, Master Navrang, Ramesh Nadkarni and TD Janorikar. We’ve spoken to the current generation, which came after this. 
Shaila Piplapure

Shaila Piplapure

   While some critics claim the bandishes (compositions) of the gharana bear a resemblance to the Gwalior Gharana, the originality of its singing technique stands universally acclaimed, especially its improvisation with Meerkhand Gayaki, involving an intricate weaving of laya (rhythmic tonal pattern) and taana (sequences in fast tempo). “Our rendition of the laya resembles a wave,” explains exponent Shaila Piplapure, as opposed to a staccato. Another distinctive feature is the presentation of khayal (the rendition of a poem without accompaniment, followed by improvisations on the phrases). Sung in an open voice with the aakaar, it demands immense breath control. “There’s a lot of stress on pronunciation,” says Shubha Joshi, another renowned artist from the gharana. Joshi adds that the improvisation lent the students a versatility to adapt to semi-classical or even Hindi film music. While many of the gharana’s exponents have sung playback for the movies, the soundest testaments to this observation are Lata Mangeshkar and Manna Dey, who’ve trained under Aman Ali Khan. “Two significant achievements of the Bhendi Bazaar gharana are the inclusion of Carnatic ragas and the improvement it inspired in Hindu devotional music composition,” says renowned vocalist Meenaxi Mukherji.
   The question of continuity, foxing many a gharana today, sounds particularly ominous here. Why? Its stalwarts have often refrained from public performances, thus leaving the gharana largely unpublicised. Some have had the misfortune of an untimely death (Aman Ali Khan for one), leaving behind fewer disciples than the other gharanas. There is an organised effort by these disciples. Suhasini Kolatkar, for instance, has besides singing, taught, organized annual conferences and documented the gharana’s history. Piplapure and Joshi have taught too, and are willing to do so again. “Patience” however, is what every guru of today finds lacking in his or her shishya of generation next. Tradition demands that a disciple stay at his mentor’s house and give 10 to 12 years to be able to master this art enough to evolve it. But while the women in the profession often have to re-prioritize their career plans to look after spouse and child, the men have to do the same to be able to earn for their spouses and children. “Giving too many singing lessons ruins the teacher’s voice. Many talented male singers have sacrificed their vocal health to make ends meet,” says
Joshi, a lady who has chosen to remain unmarried so
that she may be able to dedicate her life solely to music.
   But not everyone is like her. The same ‘patience’ is lacking in today’s young listener, who has little time to cultivate a taste in music whose spiritual significance he cannot comprehend. While CDs of this music do today travel as far as France, this makes one wonder where the sales of this gharana’s music (and that of the others) will lie tomorrow. ‘Amar’ ironically was the pen name Aman Ali Khan used while composing his bandishes. Sadly compositions, even those created by a genius, cannot survive by themselves. Classical music needs a culture of singers and patrons to keep its impressive reservoir of music immortal. But India as they say is moving fast, to say nothing of our overheated metropolis.



  1. Dr.Mukund Padhye · May 20, 2010

    Please help me in locating Mr.Ramesh Nadkarni who was a journalist and Editor of a leading Newspaper.I wish to contact him for his excellent articles on Late Pt.Kumar Gandharva during

    • rishimajumder · October 25, 2011

      which newspaper. will ask around…

  2. Ramit Mitra · July 18, 2011

    Hi Mr. Majumder,

    I am trying to trace out one person whose picture you have put in your blog here, Meenaxi Mukjherji. Can you help me in securing either an Email ID or Phone no of Mrs. Mukherji? I am currently in Perth, Australia and it will be a great thing to hear from you,

    Thanking you,

    Ramit Mitra

    • rishimajumder · October 25, 2011


      This was very long ago… and have lost most contacts. But let me try and get it for you. Will mail you either way… give me a week but…

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