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Ustad Aashish Khan Debsharma (Devanāgarī आशिष खान देबशर्मा) (born December 05, 1939) (popularly known as Ustad Aashish Khan) is an eminent Bengali Indian classical musician, known for his virtuosity on the Sarode. Widely regarded as one of the best living Sarode maestros, he was nominated for the prestigious Grammy Award in 2006 in the 'Best World Music' category for his album "Golden Strings of the Sarode". Besides being a high-profile concert performer, he is a musical guru and Professor of Indian classical music at the California Institute of the Arts in USA.

Family & Life

Ustad Aashish Khan is a representative of a family of great classical musicians of India. His grandfather Ustad Alauddin Khan, a singular phenomenon in the twentieth century Indian classical music, and founder of the "Senia Maihar Gharana" or "Senia Maihar School" of Indian classical music; was called with reverence as "Baba" (Father) by his fellow maestros and students. His father Ustad Ali Akbar Khan is a living legend in Sarode and is considered a 'national treasure' of both India and the USA. His aunt Annapurna Devi is a legendary Surbahar maestro and former wife and trainer of Sitar legend Ravi Shankar.

Ustad Aashish Khan was born at Maihar, a small princely state of British India, where his revered grandfather Ustad Alauddin Khan was a royal court musician at the time. His mother the late Zubeida Begum was Ustad Ali Akbar Khan's first wife. He was initiated into North Indian classical music at the age of five by his grandfather. His taalim (training/studies) later continued under the guidance of his father Ustad Ali Akbar Khan and his aunt, Annapurna Devi. He is one of the most notable disciples of his grandfather Ustad Alauddin Khan, and the foremost disciple of both his father Ali Akbar Khan and aunt Annapurna Devi. Though the music school they represent is popularly known as "Senia Maihar Gharana"; it is essentially the traditional "Senia Gharana".

The founder of this "Senia Gharana" or "Senia School" is believed to be the legendary court musician of Mughal Emperor Akbar Mian Tansen. And the "Senia Gharana" is undoubtedly the one and only root of all styles of Indian classical music. "Senia Maihar Gharana" follows the traditional "Beenkar" and "Rababiya" pattern of the "Dhruvapada" style of the original "Senia Gharana". However, followers of the "Senia Maihar School" tradition have principally been responsible for a renaissance in Indian classical instrumental music in the twentieth century, notably when Pandit Ravi Shankar and Ustad Ali Akbar Khan vowed to preach the legacies of Indian classical music outside India.

Music & Accomplishments

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Ustad Aashish Khan grew up in Maihar and Calcutta performing classical music among distinguished circles of connoisseurs. He gave his debut 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. Since then he has performed at major venues of classical music and world music both in the Indian subcontinent and abroad with great applause.

Besides his virtuosity as a traditional Sarode maestro, Ustad Aashish Khan 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 later, the fusion group, "The Third Eye". He has composed a Sarode concerto in "raga" form. Ustad Aashish Khan is also one of India's most adventurous experimenters. "Shanti", which preceded John McLaughlin's "Shakti", featured him playing the acoustic Sarode sometimes through a fender guitar amplifier with a vibrato effect.

With his uncle Pandit Ravi Shankar, he has worked on many musical products for both film and stage, including Oscar Winner Satyajit Ray's Apur Sansar, Parash Pathar and Sir Richard Attenborough's film Gandhi. He 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, Ustad Aashish Khan was appointed to the prestigious post of the Composer and Conductor for the National Orchestra of All India Radio, New Delhi, India, succeeding musical stalwarts like Sitarist Pandit Ravi Shankar, and flautist Pandit Pannalal Ghosh.


Ustad Aashish Khan has pioneered in the art of collaborating Indian classical music with western music, and world music. He is thus remembered by the music fraternity as one of the foremost representatives of Indian classical music in the Western world. He 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. Ustad Aashish Khan is currently co-leading "Shringar" with Andrew McLean and other notable New Orleans musicians such as Tim Green and Jason Marsalis. Shringar is the first foray of any classical Indian musician into the music culture of New Orleans, widely considered the Mecca of Jazz. His recordings include Wonderwall Music, Young Master of the Sarode, California Concert, Sarode and Piano Jugalbandi, Shanti, Live at the Royal Festival Hall London, Homage, Inner Voyage, Monsoon Ragas, The Sound of Mughal Court, and his latest collaboration, Jugalbandi Sarode & Sarangi Duet, with Ustad Sultan Khan.


He is the recipient of several distinguished honours in recognition of his excellence in Indian classical music and world music as well. He has been awarded, among many, India's highest award for performing arts, i.e., the Sangeet Natak Akademi award in 2005. In 2006, he was nominated for the Grammy awards in the 'Best World Music' category. He is one of the very few celebrated Indian musicians who have been nominated for this prestigious award (other Grammy nominees and/or winners include Sitar maestro Ravi Shankar, Sarode maestro Ali Akbar Khan, and Guitarist Vishwa Mohan Bhatt; all are from "Senia Maihar Gharana").


Ustad Aashish Khan is a respected musical guru (teacher), currently serving the faculty at the California Institute of the Arts, Los Angeles, USA. He has formerly taught at the faculties of the Ali Akbar College of Music in San Rafael, California, and the University of Washington, Seattle. While pursuing a busy career as a concert artist and composer, he teaches students throughout the USA, Canada, Europe, and Africa, as well as India. Many of his students have established themselves as stage performers in India and abroad. Notable mention among them would be of Sarode players Rick Henderson, Aditya Verma, Ranajit Sengupta, Sitar player Amie Maciszewski, Santoor player Dishari Chakraborty.

He presently divides his time principally between Calcutta, and California, where most of his students and disciples are located.


In September 2006, He announced at a press conference in Calcutta that since his forefathers were Hindu Brahmins of East Bengal, and held the surname "Debsharma", he would also wish to use his forefathers' surname to help people understand the root of his great musical lineage. He also stated that his family were never officially converted into Islam, before the conversion of the Mongels/Mughals the Great Khans once were the sourge of Islam.

He depended on fact that his grandfather the late Ustad Alauddin Khan himself said in his biography (Aamar Katha, Bengali), published by Ananda Publishers, Calcutta) that his forefathers were indeed Hindus and holders of the surname "Debsharma". He also said that his name (Aashish), his brothers' names (Dhyanesh, Pranesh, Amaresh) were all given by their grandfather Alauddin; and all these are essentially Hindu names.

Anyway, his father Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, who is 85 years old, and has to undergo dialysis sessions thrice a week in California, opposed Ustad Aashish Khan's statements in an open letter to the "Times of India". Though public display of religious beliefs was never important to their family, it can be noted here, however, that this Khan family has been worshiping Hindu gods and goddesses for generations (both Alauddin, Ali Akbar, and others). This family's association with the Hindu goddess Maa Sharda in the Sharda Temple of Maihar has been known to all for generations.

External links

Notes & References

  • [1] Moment Records, of Tabla Virtuoso Ustad Zakir Hussain.
  • [2]

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