Ustad Abdul Karim Khan is considered one of the greatest Hindustani musicians
of the 20th century. He was born on the 11th of November, 1872 in the town of Kiraana, in Punjab
. It is after this town that the Kirana gharana
, which he founded, is named. Here he began his vocal
training at a young age from his father, Kale Khan, and his uncle, Abdullah Khan. He also received guidance from another uncle, Ustad Nanhe Khan who was a court-musician at Hyderabad
In 1890, having completed his training, he left home with his brother Abdul Haq for the Baroda court in Gujarat, where they were appointed court musicians. Here he taught Tarabai Mane, the King's neice. She fell in love with him, resulting in his flight from Baroda along with Tarabai and Abdul Haq. In Bombay, Abdul Karim and Tarabai were married. From there, the three proceeded to Hubli and Dharwad in Karnataka. It was around this period that Abdul Karim gained a notable pupil, Rambhau Kundgolkar, also known as Savai Gandharva, who went on to become the guru of the llustrious Bhimsen Joshi.
One of Abdul Karim Khan's contemporaries, the sarangi player Ustad Hyder Bux, was a court musician at Mysore, the capital of Karnataka. Hyder Bux introduced Abdul Karim Khan to the Mysore court, where he was exposed to Carnatic musicians and developed a fascination with the Carnatic ragas and methods of rendering them. It was from this experience that he introduced many Carnatic ragas into Hindustani music including Kharaharapriya, Saveri, and Anand Bhairavi. It was also here that he was honored with the title of Sangeet Ratna (jewel of music).
Khan-saheb was never much for staying in one place, and by 1913, he was in Pune and had established a school of music, the Arya Sangeet Vidyalaya, there. Here Abdul Karim imparted musical instruction to anyone who could learn, regardless of family background or financial status. In 1917, a branch of the institution was founded in in Bombay. However, financial problems manifested and in two or three years the entire institution was shut down.
At this point, he, his wife, and his children finally settled down in Miraj, in south Maharashtra. Of his children with Tarabai, two went on to become famous exponents of the Kirana gharana in their own right: Hirabai Barodekar and Sureshbabu Mane. In 1922, however, Tarabai left Abdul Karim Khan, for unknown reasons. The separation was a big jolt for him, and while his singing before was fast and lively, after this point his singing becomes more soulful and introspective. He later married another disciple of his, Bannubai Latkar, with whom he had another daughter who became an exponent of Kirana gharana: Roshanara Begum.
Although his base of operations continued to be in Miraj, he travelled far and wide giving concerts, particularly in South India, where prior to him there had been no appreciation for Hindustani music. In 1937, Abdul Karim Khan went on a concert tour of Madras Presidency. On his way from Madras Station to Pondicherry, he felt very unwell and decided to disembark from his train for a while to get some rest. He sang some prayers in Darbari Kanada, a night-time raga, and lied down to his own infinite night.
Khan Saheb Abdul Karim Khan lived in the age of 78rpm records, where each side was only a few minutes long -- nowhere near enough to record a decent exposition of a raga. However, he, like most of his contemporaries, had recorded a few such records; a collection of the better selections is available in EMI/RPG Records' Chairman's Choice series. The recording quality is poor, and there is none of the slow, methodical expsition of a raga so vital to Kirana gharana, but Abdul Karim Khan's mellifluous voice and perfect command of his music make it well worth listening to.