78rpm vintage : Abdul Karim Khan

Music is an art that lives and dies in time, unless preserved by human memory or by technological reproduction. The recorded music of India, especially that recorded in the 78rpm format during the first five decades of the 20th century, presents a fascinating encounter between technology and music. While the records were an enabling medium in which music could be circulated and preserved, the limits of that technology, just over 3 minutes to a side in an ordinary 10-inch 78rpm disc, presented musicians with a challenge that was all the more difficult given the nature of Indian music. The vocalists took on the challenge, a remarkable achievement in view of the conflict between technology and creativity.

We are lucky to have a huge collection of recordings that date back to the beginnings of the 20th century. By mid 1908, it is estimated that there was upwards of 10,000 different recordings of the various styles of Indian music in the market. A large portion of this collection remains unheard by, and inaccessible to, contemporary audiences. Until the advent of vinyl around the 1940s, most gramophone records were pressed from shellac compounds. This use was common until the 1950s, and continued into the 1970s in some non-Western countries. Shellac is a resin scraped from the bark of the trees where the female lac insects deposit it to provide a sticky hold on the trunk. The insects suck the sap of the tree and excrete lac almost constantly. It takes about 100,000 insects to make 500 grams of shellac flakes.

Abdul Karim Khan (1872-1937) is regarded as one of the most important Hindustani classical singers, recorded on 78rpms, during the early 20th century. Abdul Karim Khan was born into a family of musicians in the village of Kirana in Haryana state in north-central India. The Kirana Gharana of singing extends to his ancestors but it is most commonly associated with his style because of his prolific teaching, performing and recording in the first part of the 20th century. Abdul Karim Khan was appointed as a court musician by the Raja of Baroda state in Northwest India. But when Abdul Karim Khan fell in love with one of the prince’s daughters, Tarabai Mane, who was his student at the time, the class difference between the royalty and musician-servants forced the two lovers to abscond in order to stay together. They landed further south, in Bombay, where Abdul Karim Khan taught, sang and, in 1905, recorded about thirty performances for the Gramophone Company. That same year, his daughter, the illustrious Hirabai Barodekar, was born.

Sarpada Khayal – Gopala Mori Karuna :  Download

Jogiya – Piya Ke Milan Ki Aas :  Download

Tyagaraja’s Kriti – Rama Nee Samanamevaru :  Download

Bhairavi Thumri – Jamuna Ke Teer Kanha :  Download

Abdul Karim Khan felt that a musician should no longer simply inhabit a court as a paid servant, and became an innovator in charging admission fee for classical concerts. Meanwhile, during the period of increasing modernization and the anti-colonial struggle lead by Mahatma Gandhi, Abdul Karim Khan refused to record again until the mid-30s, when he accepted offers from the British-owned Gramophone Company‘s primary competitor, German-based Odeon. From 1934 until 1936, just a year before his death, he recorded several dozen pieces. He died between a tour in 1937, on a railway station, by simply turning to the man next to him and saying “I’m going now”, then pulling down his turban and dying on the spot.

“Ustad Abdul Karim Khan’s recording of the composition Jamuna Ke Teer Kanha in Raga Bhairavi stands as one of the great masterpieces of music. When I first heard the recordings of Abdul Karim Khan I thought that perhaps it would be best if I gave up singing, get a cabin up in the mountains, stack it with a record player and recordings of Abdul Karim Khan, and just listen for the rest of my life.”
~ La Monte Young, American singer, composer and musician.




  1. Dr.S.K.Basu said,

    December 27, 2009 at 9:07 pm

    many thanks for presenting us Abdul Karim Khan. i had the opportunity of listening to his record in early child hood.His Jogiya and Bhairavi thumri is unparallel. I have a request to make. Is it possible to present some of the items of Shri Mantu Banerjee, the legendary Harmonium player in his time. His haveli is at Harish Mukherjee Rd, Bhawanipur, Kolkata. You may still get some of his recorded programs from there.

  2. lakshmi said,

    June 18, 2010 at 5:26 pm

    many many thanks for this… loved listening to some of the clips… in fact the entire range of vintage recordings is an excellent gateway to both listening and reserach… thanks again!

  3. moverjee said,

    September 4, 2010 at 3:53 pm

    Brilliant site!

  4. KKDHADHICH said,

    February 5, 2011 at 11:28 am

    the great job ………….

  5. zia waraich said,

    October 29, 2011 at 1:18 pm

    is it possible to buy these records or tapes

  6. sekhar said,

    April 25, 2012 at 12:22 pm

    want more vintage presentation.

  7. nazir khalid said,

    December 30, 2012 at 4:49 pm

    i liked it much. if i m helped out ,i want to know:1- are there two persons named Abdul haq? one the brother of khan sahib Abdul karim and other the father of Roshan Ara Begum? Are the same person? Was the mother of Roshan ara also the student of Khan sahib? 2- where i can find the detail about khan sahib’s wives and children?what was the real relation between khan sahib, abdul waheed khan and ghafooran ? regards.nazir khalid .lahore. Pakistan

  8. will said,

    January 15, 2013 at 6:01 am

    thanks for posting. however, the gramophone company recording you present here and others on that label were actually re-issues from decades earlier – his original recordings were, i believe, for the indigenous “ruby” label and for the German Odeon company. the reissue you have here dates from after the Columbia’s acquisition of Odeon and it’s catalogue (1940’s ?). Allegedly, the Ustad wanted (undersandably) to avoid recording for a British Company. I weep when i hear his recordings… check Ian Nagoski’s post on excavated shellac for corroboration on this. also, i am lead to believe that there is some confusion about the Ustad’s marriage as well, although it does seem to be the source of his splitting with his royal patron.

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