Rajdulari Ali Akbar Khan

After the sad demise of the Sarod maestro Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, everyone now knows that he is survived by his American wife Mary and eleven children from three marriages. Latest buzz is that Ali Akbar Khan’s burial became a bone of contention between his wife Mary and the daughter from his previous wife Rajdulari, Aneesa Chaudhuri. Mary intended to perform the last rites of the genius in San Francisco, but Aneesa had accused her of denying Khan Sahib‘s last wish to be buried beside the graves of his parents in Maihar, Madhya Pradesh in India. She also accused Mary of not hospitalising the maestro well in time. Khan Sahib died of renal failure at his San Anselmo home, California, on Friday, 19th June 2009.

It is no secret that Ustad Ali Akbar Khan was married early, in 1938 to his first wife Zubeida. Many of us however, do not know much of his second wife, Rajdulari. She apparently was a renowned vocalist of her time, who won several awards, including the first prize in an All India music competition in Allahabad.

Not many recordings of Rajdulari are availabe now. I happen to possess two very rare compositions sung by her. These exotic and sensual renditions represent the highest art of classical singing, and are further enhanced by the accompaniment of Ustad Ali Akbar Khan on the swarmandal and Mahapurush Misra on the tablas.

Rajdulari Ali Akbar Khan – Raga Kirwani :  (Download)

Rajdulari Ali Akbar Khan – Raga Imni Bilawal :  (Download)

The record label was Connoisseur Society, and the LP was released sometime in 1967. It definitely sounds extraordinary to me.

Comments are welcome.



  1. RG said,

    June 29, 2009 at 7:25 am

    From my association with him for a few years, mainly attending his classes and occasionally in social get together’s, I was convinced that large parts of his brain was devoted, at the lowest level, to melody and beat. He had trouble playing and teaching at the same time, none could keep up and at the same time he had to ‘surface’ to teach, that killed the flow. His concerts, once Alam started accompanying him on stage, lost some of the depth, again for the same reason, that he had to ‘surface’.

    Between 1995 and 2000, he mostly performed solo, and these concerts are truly spell binding. So much so that in one of them in Berkeley, once he finished the alap on Raga Shree, Swapan C., the tabla player took a few moments to compose himself before could start playing. He too was hypnotized.

    This same man, who could play equally with ease in 16 beats as well as many fractional beats, like his body carried the beat, had enormous difficulty in calculating the 10-15% tip after a restaurant meal. Like I said, his brain was music at the junctions, synapses and the connections. As an aside he, and his music , attracted women to him in droves, from all over the world, even in his seventies and beyond.

  2. July 9, 2009 at 3:49 am

    Thank you so much for sharing this fascinating information and exquisite music! I’ve always had an unanswered question in my mind: was Rajdulari a baiji/tawaif? I’m not clear about during what years they were married, but we all know that in the 1940s very few women from mainstream families were professional musicians. Was she indeed professional? She certainly sounds like it!

    My guru, his first-born son Aashish, doesn’t seem to know much about the background of his “chhoto ma.” But he and his direct siblings seem to have a good relationship with their half-siblings, whose mother Rajdulari was.

  3. Daniel said,

    March 17, 2010 at 4:55 am

    Any chance of better quality MP3s…?

  4. indianraga said,

    March 17, 2010 at 10:38 am

    No, the mp3s are encoded for smooth online streaming purpose only. Also lack of enough server space allows me only this much.

  5. james stevenson said,

    March 19, 2010 at 4:03 pm

    Thanks for the exquisite thumris. James

  6. james stevenson said,

    March 21, 2010 at 4:58 pm

    I asked Batuk Deewanji about Rajdulari and he mentioned some interesting things. He helped organise a program sometime in the late 40s in Bombay where she had sung dhrupad, khayal and thumri before her gurus, the elder Dagars. She was from Jaipur, probably from the tawaif community (he wasn’t sure of that though), and came to Jodhpur occasionally to broadcast on their radio station which is where she met AAK. She gave up singing in Bombay, and had 7 children with him, amongst whom the late Dhyanesh.

  7. indianraga said,

    March 21, 2010 at 5:05 pm

    Very useful information indeed. Thanks for sharing.

  8. March 22, 2010 at 9:48 am

    That is fascinating indeed. Aashish-da said she was from a jeweler’s family, which can easily line up with my hunch, as well-to-do jewelers often had mistresses who were tawaifs, with whom they had children. James, as far as I know, Dhyanesh’s mother was the same as Aashish’s, that is, Zubeida.

  9. indianraga said,

    March 22, 2010 at 9:40 pm

    Thank you Amie for further info.

  10. james stevenson said,

    March 27, 2010 at 4:35 pm

    amie, maybe, but deewanji’s memory is very sharp. James

  11. March 28, 2010 at 4:37 am

    James, I guess I can ask Aashishda and check Dhyaneshda’s daughter Shahana Gupta’s new book on Baba Allauddin Khan. Another reason that makes me think Dhyaneshda’s mother was Baba AAK’s first wife, Zubeida, is that Dhyaneshda lived with Zubeida probably most of his life. A question to ask is: when did Rajdulariji and Baba AAK get together? Dhyaneshda was born around 1944.
    Will look into it more. Amie


    October 2, 2010 at 4:45 pm

    Rajdulari Devi Khan hailed from a rich and cultured jewelry business family.She was a genius and a great classical artiste of top rankings who had the privilege of performing all over the world with great artistes incl. Ustas ALI AKBAR.She gradually reduced performing concerts after her marriage to USTAD ALI AKBAR for the sake of her family.BEGUM AKHTAR was very fond of her and had stated that RAJDULARI will always be remembered for her ‘thumris’ and ‘dhrupad’. Due to her very indian-homely and cultured family background,Rajdulari Khan preferred to sacrifice her music career and stay away from limelight for the sake of USTAD ALI AKBAR KHAN and their four children.She was not only a great musician but a wonderful wife and mother.

  13. lajo gupta said,

    October 4, 2010 at 12:16 pm

    My mother is from one of the most respected Oswal Jain families of Jaipur Rajasthan. Her father Mehtab Chand was a welll known jeweler often referred to as “The King of Rubies and Emeralds” because of his knowledge of precious stones. He was also a poet in Faarsi and Urdu going by the name “Paarsa”. He cultivated the company of renowned musicians and poets and their home was a favored gathering spot for the cultural elite of those times. Surrounded by such an atmosphere, Ma naturally gravitated to music and chose to study Dhrupad with Shri Moinuddin Dagar. In fact, such was her talent that she won several music contests of the time and at one, because she lacked a Pakhawaj player, my grandfather Baba Alauddin Khan blessed her and granted her the privilege of accompanying her on Pakhawaj. Ma met Baba in Jodhpur where she had gone to perform for the royal court. They fell in love and married in spite of the tremendous resistance by my maternal grandparents and relatives. I am one of the four children they created between them and the oldest.
    From the very beginning, my Ma and Boro Ma crafted a sisterly relationship that resulted in the nine siblings bonding to a point that we are as one.
    As for Ma’s profession …. while she could she accompanied Baba on concert tours and was with him in the early years of his sojourn in the US. After that, her ill health kept her confined to home with a few concerts in between.
    I’ve quit wondering why there are these allegations of my mother being a courtesan/tawaif/baijee. These stem from a basic ignorance of the lady’s background and an even deeper ignorance of the culture of her times.

  14. indianraga said,

    October 4, 2010 at 5:18 pm

    I am happy you dropped by, Lajo Gupta ji. This helps in clearing the air around Rajdulari Ali Akbar Khan. Much of the speculation is due to lack of much info about her on the web. I totally agree with you that she was a fabulous artiste of immense calibre and people should exercise restraint before jumping to any unfair conclusion.

    I also offer to write a full post on her if you send me her biography and a few music recordings.

  15. lajo gupta said,

    October 4, 2010 at 10:37 pm

    Thank you so much Indian Raga! I will send you her full biography as soon as I am able to get back home.

  16. October 4, 2010 at 11:17 pm

    Many thanks for sharing this most valuable information, Lajoji. Please accept my sincere apologies for putting my incorrect speculations about your respected mother and making you uncomfortable. I do want to clarify, however, that my thoughts and speculations are in no way intended as accusations or with any disrespect whatsoever. On the contrary, I have spent the last 15 years researching and advocating for tawaifs/baijis as accomplished artists who continue to deserve respect for their contributions to Hindustani music. In the case of your mother, I admit to ignorance, never to disrespect; my intention was to uncover the truth. I was tremendously impressed by the musical sample we were provided with here and pointed out that very, very few women of Rajdulariji’s generation who were not baijis/tawaifs had the opportunity to cultivate their musical talent to the extent that she did. Nevertheless, I fully understand your discomfort and respectfully apologize once again. I am so grateful to be privy to detailed information about such an exceptional, albeit undiscovered, woman musician. Please accept pranam from this shagird of your elder brother.

  17. lajo gupta said,

    October 5, 2010 at 12:21 am

    Dear Amie,
    I know that your comments were more out of curiosity than conviction. I am sorry if my remarks seemed pointed at you. They were not, in all honesty. They seemed however to underscore the conjecture that has even been listed in serious books about other members of our very large family and that have probably been taken seriously by innocent students. My venting was at that conjecture in the hope of perhaps pointing folks in the right direction.
    Like you, I rever our Baijis who have contributed such riches to the world of music and to the tehzeeb and sensitivity one associates with the educated and the cultured.
    Thank you for being on this journey of discovery. You have a sister in me and I shall cherish our friendhip forever! BTW. I was with Dada in LA this weekend. And if you look at the twelve of us siblings, you’ll note how rhythmically we have been created! LOL. Think Dhin Dhin Na, Dha Tun Na. Dhin (Boy) Dhin(boy), Na (girl) and Dha (boy) Tun(boy) Na (girl) Now count twelve beats and look at us – 5 from my Boro Ma – i.e. Aashish Da, Dhyanesh Da Didi, Pranesh Da, Amaresh Da. 4 from my Ma (Lajwanti, Rajesh, Dinesh, Aneesa) and 3 from Mary (Alam, Manek, Madina) See Baba’s other creations? The link remains unbroken.
    Love, Laughter and blessings
    Lajo Didi

  18. dharen chadha said,

    October 25, 2010 at 8:37 pm

    Absolutely exquisite. Thank you for this.

  19. jay pillay said,

    June 10, 2011 at 6:21 am

    I am always left stunned at Rajdulari’s exquisite melodic facility. Many people always acknowledge the maestro Ali Akbar, as they should, but forget about the amazing musicality of Rajdulari. Her expression of rasa is deep and moving. Thanks to her for bringing so much beauty into this world.

    As an aside, I once played tanpur along with his student Ken Zuckerman for Ali Akbar at Middlebury College in Vermont. He told me how much he loved and respected my teacher T. Viswanathan. Ali Akbar’s concert was unbelievably good and my students were weeping without knowing why. I told them that’s what happens when their souls touch rasa. I wish I had the honor of being at Rajdulari’s concerts too.

  20. Patricia Rees said,

    December 8, 2011 at 11:28 pm

    I had this album but I left it in Australia 1972 thinking I’d be able to replace it easily – didn’t think i’d ever hear this again… bless you for sharing it.

  21. lajo gupta said,

    December 9, 2011 at 1:00 pm

    Ofcourse it was a bone of contention, but does it truly matter? ! My sister merely repeated what our father had told us all over the phone several times …. and in that moment of grief – when we were all so torn, reason lost out to the fog of tears.

    Ever heard of the six stages of grief? This ‘contention’ between a family is part of that!

    But to even think for a moment that it has separated any of us from the other is pure juicy conjecture on the part of the interested. My three moms and the twelve of us and ours are one in Baba, in Music and in the legacy of Dadu Baba Allauddin Khan,

  22. December 9, 2011 at 10:09 pm

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful music and details about Rajdulari. The singing is wonderful as is Khansahib on swaramandala. Ever the sensitive artist, he is playing just the right notes and passages to create the perfect canvas for the singer!
    I am always saddened to hear about “contention”, mindful that I am really outside the inner circle of this rich and complex family. My view is from the lowly position of a devoted disciple of maestro Khan who, like other geniuses, seemed often at the center of mystery, curiosity and contradiction.
    I will leave the conjecture and concern to those who were dear and near to him personally. As a mere student, I am content to sing and play, blessed in the light of his rapturous music.

  23. December 10, 2011 at 12:27 am

    My dear, respected Lajodi, I would venture to say that your family constitutes a full wave in the ‘Naad Samudra’!


  24. kcpingle said,

    December 10, 2011 at 6:10 am

    The LongPlay recording of hers was also superb !
    Thanks to Lajo that I could hear that !

  25. lajo gupta said,

    December 13, 2011 at 3:12 am

    Love you my Guru behen! Bless you!

  26. Shamim Formoso said,

    December 12, 2012 at 9:32 pm

    Dearest Lajo Didi, over 35 years ago, I had spent time over a month in Colaba with Ma, Baba (visiting from CA), and all of you. You may not remember me but I have the fondest memories of our times together. I am from Ahmedabad. I did stay in contact with Baba for years since. I have followed your face book time to time. I finally decided to write to you in the hope to simply express my gratitude for what Baba and your family have given me: a gift of music I can always lean on. I am ever so grateful for that.

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