The Creator of “Gayaki Ang”

Ustad Vilayat Khan

Music speaks straight to the spirit.

Good music simply captures, irrespective of the language.

Ustad Vilayat Khan

Too much tradition makes for dead wood.

But I don’t want so much progress as to lose my identity.

Ustad Vilayat Khan

Ustad Vilayat Khan Foundation, Inc. (UVKF)

is a not for profit organization based in New Jersey.The organization has been established in the recent past to continue the philanthropic legacy of late Ustad Vilayat Khan, the legendary Indian sitarist, who, at his time, was considered to be one of the very top musicians of the world.

Ustad Vilayat Khan

The word creator is at once colossal, fine, pristine and pure. Ustad Vilayat Khan is an embodiment of all of these. And much more.

A proponent of Imdadkhani Gharana and creator of Gayaki Ang, Ustad Vilayat Khan feathered out of a plumage of extraordinary musicians heralding from the court of the Mughals.

On August 28th, 1922, Vilayat Khan was born in GauripurBritish India to Enayat Khan, saluted as a leading sitar and surbahar (bass sitar) player of his time, as had been his grandfather, Imdad Khan, before him, a famous rudra vina player.

Fatherless early in his life, yet cushioned by a girdle of relentless music, young Vilayat blossomed under the governance of his uncle, sitar and surbahar maestro Wahid Khan, his maternal grandfather, singer Bande Hassan Khan, his mother, Bashiran Begum, who had studied the practice procedure of his forefathers and his uncle Zinde Hassan who looked after his riyaz (practice).

Folklore goes that as a boy, Vilayat wanted to be a singer; but his mother, herself from a family of vocalists, felt that he possessed a genetic compulsion, he must not disobey. Sitar thus became his heartbeat.


Vilayat Khan performed at All Bengal Music Conference, as his first concert, organized by Bhupen Ghosh in Kolkata with Ahmed Jan Thirakwa on table, Media headlines screamed as “Electrifying Sitar” in Bombay during his subsequent concert organized by Vikramaditya Sangeet Parishad, Mumbai (1944). Thus was started a voyage of boundless melody, swinging from the very traditional to the very novel. While he dwelled on the orthodox ragas like Yaman, Shree, Todi, Darbari and Bhairavi and re-interpreted others like Bhankar and Jaijaivanti, the irrepressible creator in him invented the likes of  Enayatkhani Kanada, Sanjh Saravali, Kalavanti, Mand Bhairav. The world rejoiced and reveled at every rendition the maestro offered.

Even sitar, the instrument itself shaped and reshaped under his creative will as he worked closely with the famous sitar-makers Kanailal & Hiren Roy, to further develop the instrument. Novelty beckoned this legend at every step as undesirous of the tanpura drone, he soaked the ensuing silence with strokes to his chikari strings.

Music in Ustad Vilayat Khan’s heart, forever begged for more.


Before his exhausted lungs tired him down, Vilayat Khan had recorded for over 65 years, broadcasting on All-India Radio since almost as far back. In breathless repertoire he toured across the planet and was probably the first Indian musician to play in England after independence (1951). In the 1990s, his recording career reached a climax of sorts with a series of ambitious CDs for India Archive Music in New York, some traditional, some controversial, some fascinatingly eccentric. He composed and conducted the score for three feature films – Satyajit Ray’s Jalsaghar in Bengal (for which he won a Silver Medal at the 1st Moscow International Film Festival), Merchant-Ivory Productions’ The Guru in English, and Madhusudan Kumar’s Kadambari in Hindi. Towards the end of his life, he also performed and recorded sporadically on the surbahar.


He was awarded with the decorations of  “Bharat Sitar Samrat” by the Artistes Association of India and “Aftab-e-Sitar” (Sun of the Sitar) from President of India Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed.

Yet, it’s the man behind the sitar that quite often surpassed the musician. A compulsive lover of humanity, Ustad Vilayat Khan touched millions with his love, boundless and instantaneous. Thus the horse riding, pool playing, ballroom dancing socialite who loved sports cars, dressed in haute couture and collected antique European crockery, surrendered seamlessly to the luxury of simplicity. Oscillations of a true genius.

Ustad Vilayat Khan died of lung cancer at the Jaslok Hospital in Mumbai on March 13th, 2004.  He gave the earth seventy five years of heaven.

And embraced eternity.