Ustad Liyakat Ali Khan: India’s Finest Sarangi Player

Known as ‘Sarangi Maestro’, Ustad Liyakat Ali Khan was born in Seekar near Jaipur in North-western India where he learnt Hindustani Classical Music. He hails from a family of musicians belonging to the Jaipur Seekar Gharana.

Liyakat Ali was initiated and groomed by his father, Abdul Kareem Khan Seekarwale, who taught him Vocal, Dilruba and Harmonium. Although under the strong influence of his elder brothers Ustad Muneer Khan and Ustad Rajab Ali Khan, he decided to pursue his musical career by playing Sarangi. Another reason Liyakat Ali choosed Sarangi over Harmonium is because he found Harmonium too rigid to maintain the extreme fluid movements of Hindustani Classical Music during accompaniment.

In between the year 1976—77, Ustad Liyakat Ali Khan started his musical career in Sarangi. The intensive training he had under his key family members has stood him in good stead, and he is presently regarded as one of the leading sarangi players of the all generations. He uses thicker non-traditional strings on his sarangi, which gives his music a deep and unique tone.

Following is the transcript from the recent interview with Sarangi Player ustad Liyakat Ali Khan by Sanchaita Ghoshal, one of the co-founders of Raagreet & highly acclaimed Hindustani classical singer.

  • What was your first performance like?

My first performance was in the Yuva Vani section of All India Radio. I first accompanied Pandit Gobind Prasad Jaipurwale in his concert in the year 1978-79.


  • What are the distinct musical qualities of the Seekar gharaana you belong to?

There are a few strong musical attributes of Seekar Gharana

a) The purity of the Raag (Raagdaari) is maintained.

b) Aesthetics of the Raag is focused upon and the notes are handled with great finesse.

c) The ‘Badhat’ or the movement and growth of the Raag is very systematic is emphasized on.

d) There are certain movements such as ‘Ultey Bal’ are very important features of Seekar Gharana. 


  • How would you describe your style of Hindustani Classical Music?

Having a strong individualistic style, I do not imitate anybody and follow the tradition of my Gharana which is extremely close to ‘Gayaki’ or the vocal styles.

  • What do you think of Hindustani Classical Music education in India?

The quality of education in Hindustani Classical Music is declining due to lack of patience, dedication and devotion on the part of the learners/ students. What they fail to understand is that Hindustani Classical is a performing art which requires years of learning and practice to give a fairly good level of performance.

  • How could classical music be popularized?

Firstly, there must be more visibility of the authentic music. Secondly, the pace of the Raag must be increased which would interest the younger generation, as there is taste for fast paced compositions today.

  • What is the future of classical music?

Hindustani Classical Music has survived and evolved for hundreds of years and will continue to do so. It is the motivation and dedication of the younger artists that will breathe life into the music. 

  • What do you think of today’s audience of classical music?

Although the attendance of the people in the concerts has lessened over the years, the audience that come are very receptive and good listeners. 


  • As a musician, do you feel it necessary to get acquainted with the music of other countries?

Yes, it is very essential to get acquainted with the music of other countries since the world is turning into ‘Global Village’. We, as musicians have a lot of interaction with musicians and music of other countries because of the diverse projects we work on. Notes are seven only the treatment is different worldwide.


  • What is the reaction of the western audience to our music?

The western audience is more respectful towards the Hindustani Classical Music and musicians. They appreciate authentic classical music and many westerners are learning it as well.

  • Don’t you feel that if good performers don’t take the lead to educate the audience and perform, there would be a loss to the art world and at the same time mediocrity, gimmickry in music would take over and be recognized as best?

Yes, it is important that senior masters take the lead in giving more information about the raag they would be performing for the audience present. This will gradually help in popularizing the music too.

  • Is there any particular feature of your singing that you believe you need to give to your students that might have been given to you by your own teachers?

I teach all my students with honesty and dedication, and I expect the same from my students in their approach towards music. I educate them by whatever I have learnt from my teachers and it lies in the ability of the student to extract the best out of me.


  • What is the greatest challenge for you as a performer of classical music?

There are major challenges such as lack of organized promotion of classical music because of which the attendance of audience is dwindling and it is not considered as a rewarding profession. It is a performing art and we need receptive audience for performance / and its survival.


  • What do you consider your most significant achievement?

My most significant achievement has been my distinctive approach within the traditions of the Gharana despite having accompanied so many different musicians for a long time.  


  • What is your opinion about Raagreet’s initiative in promoting Hindustani Classical Music?

The initiative of Raagreet in promoting Hindustani Classical Music has been applauded by the industry. Hindustani Music needs this approach and I wish them all the best.


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