When decades of ‘Riyaaz’ unite with the artist’s soul, it creates divine music. Listeners recognize the effect of pure music, when a slim and celebrated musician Asad Ali Khan plays his oversized musical instrument rudra veena with his brand beenkari style. He closes his eyes and a vertical wrinkle appears between his eyebrows. His face becomes sweaty. When he moves his fingers swiftly like an eagle swooping in the sky over those frets, the musical instrument becomes live to create a literally meditative melody.
He gets so much involved into the playing his rudra veena that the mesmerized audience feels as if the raga personifies there on the dais. This is the supreme achievement for which every singer/musician endeavors his/her entire life. The rudra veena is a large plucked string instrument and one of the important types of veena. Rudra means Lord Shiva and thus rudra vina exactly means “the veena dear to Shiva”. It is an antique instrument seldom played today.
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Rudra veena is a difficult art form, which Asad Ali Khan had mastered with extreme dedication. In the 7th generation of rudra veena players, he was born in 1937 in Alwar. His ancestors were court musicians in Rampur and Jaipur. He was brought up in a musical surrounding and was taught the beenkar gharana (stylistic school of rudra veena playing) of Jaipur and vocals for fifteen years. He learnt one of the oldest Indian instruments rudra veena from his court musician father Sadiq Ali Khan in Alwar. Guru was very strict and the instrument was difficult to master, such were the days of his exacting learning. Dhrupad is also played on the rudra veena. This instrument has an intricate rules and so playing it is as if worshipping. In Asad Aliji’s words “The musician needs to live an austere life that can make him master of a pure art form.” The Hindu has portrayed him as ‘the best living rudra veena player in India’, who played rudra veena in dhrupad style. He was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 2008, with the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1977. He was described as the best living rudra veena player in India by The Hindu and lived in Delhi.
He was one of a small number of rudra veena players and the last surviving master of the Khandar school (one of the four ofdhrupad). He had his concerts in Australia, the United States, Afghanistan, and Italy with many other European countries. He also taught music in the U.S.
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He worked for All India Radio. With that, for 17 years, he was the the sitar tutor in the Faculty of Music and Fine Arts at the University of Delhi. After his retirement also, he guided privately. As he had more foreign students than Indians, he would always condemn the lack of enthusiasm to learn the rudra veena in Indians. Lifelong, he was engaged in silently saving the playing of the rudra veena, which he understood to be created by Lord Shiva. This isolated musician never married and died on the 14 June 2011.
Ustad Asad Ali Khan – Rudra Veena – Rudra Vina – Dhrupad – Raga Shri, Amsterdam 27th April 2003