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Maseet Sen

by Steve Landsberg

Listen to Maseetkhani composition in Mian ki Malhar
Maseet Sen made the sitar into a classical instrument with its own repertoire of compositions based on the dhrupad tradition. His compositions and those styled after the form he created are known as Maseetkhani. These compositions are renowned for their purity and all of them are precise illustrations of the ragas they are based upon. If one has any question about a raga's melodic configuration, one may find the answer in the composition. Until the time of Maseet Sen--about the middle to the end of the eighteenth century-- sitar had not been thought of as a solo instrument. Veena had dominated the instrumental music scene. As soon as sitar players began to demonstrate their virtuosity, sitar began to eclipse the veena as the instrument of choice. Today there is hardly a veena player remaining. Maseet Sen was a direct descendant of the legendary Mia Tansen and son of Rajras Khan. Maseet Sen started a lineage of sitar playing that was transmitted to his son Bahadur Sen and then to his grandson, Rahim Sen.Rahim Sen passed the tradition on to his son Amrit Sen who gave it to Barkatullah Khan, a disciple but perhaps not a son. Nowadays there are still some musicians who claim to be Senias. Although one may be a student or disciple of a Senia, one is not truly a Senia unless one holds the blood lineage that begins with Tansen. Neither Ashiq Ali Khan nor his son Mushtaq Ali Khan were Senias. They did, however, maintain the Senia heritage. They knew the original compositions of Maseet Sen and his descendants. They maintained the purity of the style that included gatkari (improvisation based on the composition), toras (patterned melodic phrasing), fikra(spontaneously improvised movements), and mukra(improvisation based on the initial phrase of the composition). Unlike the modern sitar that has nineteen or twenty frets, the Senia sitar had only seventeen frets. You may now listen to a Maseetkhani composition that was composed by Maseet Sen, transmitted orally through seven generations, and ultimately played and recorded now by Mushtaq Ali Khan in the raga Mian ki Malhar. This is an example of a Maseetkhani composition which is completely based upon the dhrupad tradition and has four parts: stayee (the primary support), antara (the complimentary voice), sanchari (the wandering voice), and abhog (the concluding enjoyment which binds the whole composition together).

Maseet Sen