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Indian musician goes back to roots

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Kolkata (UNI): For Ustad Aashish Khan tracing his roots and recognising it has made him adopt the ancestral title Debsharma. From now he will be known as Ustad Aashish K Debsharma. Talking to the reporters during his sojourn to the city, he said, "This is an attempt to recoginse the roots or going back to the roots. Present generation of our country are more Westerners than the Westerners themselves. This is my personal choice of using the title Debsharma." Asked if he had taken the permission of his father, the great sarod maestro Ali Akbar Khan, he said, "It is not a question of getting his permission. He never had any objection. Our family is liberal. We always worshipped Devi Saraswati and Goddess Kali. This is nothing new." "I am not removing Khan from my title altogether. It will remain my middle name. But I am adopting my ancestral title to recognise our original identity," Aashis said.

On whether the title Khan was a problem in the west nowadays, "I must say that there is a global movement and there are lot of problems if our skin colour is brown. We are always prospective terrorists. But my decison is not for that reason. For me its going back to the roots." He also added there was no need of reconversion, "as we are Hindus and had to take the title Sadhu Khan under unfavourable circumstances so there was no formal conversion to Islam and I dont need to convert again.

Historian Satyabrata Rai Chowdhury, a successor of the erstwhile Royal Family of Shibpur, Comillah, Bangladesh, has been personally intimate with the family of one of the greatest musical geniuses India has ever produced, the late Padmabibhusan Baba Alauddin Khan. He was founder of the Senia Maihar Gharana of Indian classical Music.

He does know, like may other eminent people of the intelligentsia of Bengal, that Baba Alauddin Khan, born in 1871, traced his lineage from a very high caste Hindu Brahmin family, and was a devotee of Maa Kali (the Goddess of power), Maa Saraswati (the Goddess of Learning), spiritual leader Sri Ramakrishna and Maa Sharada, Mr Chowdhury said.

Baba Alauddin Khan's successors are also no exception when it comes to their religious practice, so much so that his son Ali Akbar Khan's Calcutta residence at Ranikuthi is named as Maa Sharada Bhawan.

Baba Alauddin Khan's father, who was commonly known as Sadhu Khan, was originally Sadananda Debsharma. We all know that Debsharma, which means the almighty lord or Bhagawan himself, is a very distinguished honorary title rather than a mere surname, and it is very fondly used by high caste Hindu Brahmins.

Sadananda Debsharma, a master in the art of fighting with sticks and the chief guard of the great grandfather of speaker Maharaja Nabakishore Roy Chowdhury, killed an opponent in a clash between the southern Royals and the Royals of the middle of Shibpur, and escaped to "Mager Mulluk", the place where the Portuguese pirates lived in the border of India and the then Burma, and it was there that in order to hoodwink the British Police he changed his name to Sadhu Khan.

He was later brought back by Maharaja Nabakishore and was established at his native place of Bajainna Adi at Shibpur, but that is a different story altogether. However, then onwards they were recognised as Khans, and therefore, believed to be muslims.

Neverthless, form the present writer and also from the diaries of Maharaja Nabakishore Roy Chowdhuri and Baba Alauddin Khan, it is clear that his family was never converted into Islam.

Unfortunately, ignorant gossip-lovers left no stone unturned to spread all sorts of stories regarding their conversion into Islam.

However, the present writer and historical evidences keep no room for conflicting views in how the sacred thread bearer Sadananda Debsharma became Sadhu Khan.

Many are not aware of the fact that the word "Khan" does not necessarily mean Muslims. It is a Persian word meaning "a wise and learned man". The surname Khan is very common among the Hindus and the Christian as well.

Ustad Aashish gave his first public performance at the age of 13, with his grandfather, on the All India Radio "National Program", New Delhi, and in the same year, performed with his father and his grandfather at the "Tansen Music Conference", Calcutta. Besides his virtuosity as a traditional sarod maestro, Aashish is also a pioneer in the establishment of world music genre, as founder of the Indo-American musical group "Shanti" with distinguished tabla player Ustad Zakir Hussain in 1969 and 1970 and later, fusion group, "The Third Eye" and composed a Sarod Concerto in "raga" form.

With Pandit Ravi Shankar, he has worked on many musical products for both film and stage, including Oscar Winner Satyajit Ray's Apur Sangsar, Parash Pathar and Sir Richard Attenborough's film Gandhi.

He has also worked with Maurice Jarre on John Huston's film The Man Who Would be King, David Lean's A Passage to India, and composed the music for Tapan Sinha's films, Joturgriha and Aadmi Aurat.

In 1989, Khan was appointed to the prestigious post of the Composer and Conductor for the National Orchestra of All India Radio, succeeding Pandit Ravi Shankar.

Aashish has collaborated with such diverse western musicians as John Barham, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, Charles Lloyd, John Handy, Alice Coltrane, Emil Richards, Dallas Smith, Don Pope, Jorge Strunz, Ardeshir Farah, and the Philadelphia String Quartet.

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