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Amjad Ali Khan: One of the finest sarod exponents of all time

By HT School,

Khan is the recipient of all the three Padma awards.

A documentary film on Amjad Ali Khan, directed by the renowned lyricist and filmmaker Gulzar, won a Filmfare Award in 1990. Illustration: Biswajit Debnath

One of the undisputed masters of the music world, he is the sixth generation in the legendary line of the Senia Bangash School. Recipient of all the three Padma awards, he gave his first performance aged 6, has regaled audiences across the world and is popularly addressed as the Sarod Samrat.
Amjad Ali Khan was born on October 9, 1945 in Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh. His father Hafiz Ali Khan was a musician in the court of the royal family of Gwalior. Hafiz Ali received training from the descendants of Miyan Tansen, one of India’s greatest musicians. Amjad Ali was the youngest son in his family. His first tutor was his father and he started giving performances from an early age. His passion for music and love for the instrument won him fame as one of the greatest sarod players.

Early education

He continued to learn from his father until 1957, when his family moved to Delhi. It was then that Hafiz’s friends made him understand the importance of formal education and urged him to introduce his son to traditional schooling. Going by the advice of well-wishers, Amjad was enrolled as a day scholar in Modern School, where he continued till 1963.


His first major performance came at the age of 18 when he mesmerised the audience at a concert in the United States. Since then, the sarod maestro has never looked back. Apart from working with the best Indian artistes, he has collaborated with many foreign bands as well. What makes Khan stand out from the rest of sarod players is his ability to teach how to play the instrument. This not only ensures the continuation of his legacy, but also helps thousands of aspiring players to learn the instrument. After working at the University of New Mexico as a visiting professor, he taught at Stanford.


Khan has made immense contribution to the field of classical music. He plays the sarod using his finger nails instead of fingertips, which is one of his many experiments with the string instrument. This way of playing the instrument gives a clear ringing sound and is also the most difficult technique to apply.

Nowadays, many sarod players are implementing this technique, changing the way the instrument sounded for decades.

An innovative genius, he has also composed many ragas of his own. Some of them include Kiran Ranjani, Haripriya Kanada, Shivanjali, Shyam Shri, Suhag Bhairav, Lalit Dhwani, Amiri Todi, Jawahar Manjari and Bapukauns.


Khan is the first North Indian musician to have performed in honour of Saint Thyagaraja at the Thiruvaiyur shrine in Tamil Nadu. Apart from his many students, his sons Amaan Ali Khan and Ayaan Ali Khan, are exceptional sarod players as well. They are the seventh generation sarod players in their family. Amjad Ali Khan’s ancestral home in Gwalior has been converted into a musical centre.

Awards and recognition

Khan has won numerous accolades including a Grammy nomination, the Crystal Award by the World Economic Forum, the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award and also been conferred all the three Padma Awards. Besides this, he is also recipient of the prestigious Tansen Samman. In 2001, he became the second recipient of this award, given by Madhya Pradesh government and the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012 by Delhi government.

Interesting Facts

Two books have been written on Ustad Amjad Ali Khan. The first one, titled World of Amjad Ali Khan, was published in 1995, while the second, Abba — God’s Greatest Gift to Us, was penned by his sons Amaan and Ayaan. This book was published in 2002. A documentary film on Amjad Ali Khan, directed by the renowned lyricist and filmmaker Gulzar, won a Filmfare Award in 1990.

His ancestors invented the sarod but it was modified from an instrument called rabab in order to express the ‘very subtle nuances of singing’. In an interview with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, Khan said that there was always a reason when instruments were created — what the veena could not express, the sitar did. What the rabab could not express, the sarod did.

Amjad Ali Khan has been conferred the honorary citizenship of several states in the United States. Massachusetts even declared April 20th as Amjad Ali Khan Day, showing how much love he has received in the country.



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