July 14, 2024

Late Ustad Allarakha

Our people on the Hills

We are proud to write and publish this article about Late Ustad Allarakha who resided in Shimla House at Nepean Sea Road in our neighbourhood. His mastery over ‘Tabla’ created waves all over the world and brought glory to Indian Classical Music and our country. His wrists, palms and fingers produced magic on the ‘Tabla’. Ustad was awarded the Padma Shri in 1977 and Sangeet Natak Academy Award in 1982, two great honours for an Indian.

More fortunate to write this article as the Ustad Allarakha Institute of Music which was founded by the late Ustad himself celebrated ‘Guru Poornima’ at the Y.B. Chavan Auditorium, Mumbai on 16th July, where musicians and artists paid flowing tribute to late Abbaji (as he was affectionately known) with their exemplary performances.

Ustad Allarakha Qureshi was born on April 29, 1919, at Phagwal village of Jammu into a Muslim Dogra family. As a young boy of 12 years he found the instrument ‘Tabla’ fascinating while visiting his uncle in Gurdaspur. His inclination towards Indian classical music made him go to Lahore for further learning as he found little scope of learning in his home town. Allarakha studied at the Punjab School of Classical Music (Gharana) where he became a student of Ustad Mian Khadarbaksh. He learnt Indian classical singing from Ustad Ashiq Ali Khan of Patiala Gharana. His discipline and dedication were amazing; he cultivated his skills with hours and hours of hard work and practice, his love for the instrument made him grow up to be a great Tabla player. He earned the title ‘Ustad’ which is an honourable title given to an expert in Indian classical singing and instrumental playing and to recognize their master performances.

Ustad Allarakha was also associated with a theatre company  in Pathankot for some time. In 1930, Allarakha worked at the radio station in Lahore. He moved to Delhi in 1936, to work with All India Radio. In 1940, he moved to Bombay and worked again on All India Radio as a vocalist! He was also the station’s first ever Tabla solo player. He even composed music for Hindi films from 1943 to 1958 and sang songs and acted in a few films under the name AR Qureshi. He was the first tabla player to compose film music.

The pair of Ustad Allarakha and Sitar maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar brought Hindustani classical music to international audiences. Their partnership reached legendary heights with performances at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 and the Woodstock Festival in 1969. The two performed together in a lot of international festivals and elevated the respect and popularity of Indian music instrument playing as an art form.

Ustad Allarakha found fans not only in India but abroad as well. He popularized the art of tabla playing all over the globe, elevating the status and respect of his instrument. Famous American percussionist, Mickey Hart, was his huge fan and collaborated with him for the famous album ‘Rolling Thunder’ in 1972. Ustad Allarakha inspired George Harrison from The Beatles as well and both performed together for a concert in 1971. He once collaborated with jazz drummer Buddy Rich for an album, ‘Rich à la Rakha’ in 1968. Some of his greatest works have been in the form of albums Improvisations – ‘West Meets East – Album 3’ (with Ravi Shankar, Yehudi Menuhin, Jean Pierre Rampel, Martine Gelliot), (on Angel records) (1976), ‘Master Drummers’ with Zakir Hussain (1991), ‘Tabla Duet, Chhanda Dhara’ (1994), ‘Ultimate in Taal-vidya’, (Magnasound/ OMI) (1996).

Ustad Allarakha was married to Bavi Begum and has three sons, Zakir Hussain, Fazal Qureshi and Taufiq Qureshi and two daughters Khurshid Aulia and Razia. His daughter Razia in his later years was like a constant companion to her father. She died after a routine cataract surgery and Ustad Allarakha could not cope with the shock of her death and immediately slipped into a coma and passed away within 24 hours on 3rd February, 2000.

Ustad Allarakha’s three sons and grandson are accomplished musicians. His other daughter Kurshid Aulia is in London.

His elder son Zakir Hussain grew up to be another legend and continued his father’s legacy. Zakir Hussain has also been honoured with the Padma Shri, Padma Bhushan and the Sangeet Natak Academy. He is widely recognized as the greatest living tabla player.


His other son Ustad Fazal Qureshi is an accomplished tabla player in his own right, he also runs the Ustad Allarakha Institute of Music which was founded by the Late Ustad himself in 1985.

Taufiq Qureshi, the youngest son, is a renowned percussionist and composer. Taufiq and his son Shikhar Naad have devised a unique approach for playing the African percussion instrument, Djembe, in the context of Indian rhythmic compositions.

Late Ustad Allarakha is referred to as ‘Abbaji’ in his institute. At one point, ‘Abbaji’ had decided to dedicate most of his time to teaching. He wanted to share the knowledge, which he had gained through immense difficulties and hardship. ‘Abbaji’ started teaching from his home in Shimla House. Now the Institute’s classes are held in a large room in the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Swimming Pool complex at Shivaji Park, Mahim.

Many of Institute’s students live in USA have established themselves as teachers and performers. Some of Abbaji’s students are excellent performers, including Yogesh Shamshir, Aditya Kalyanpur and Anuradha Pal.

The Ustad was proud of his roots and in an interview he said that when he played outside India, his aim was to teach the Western world about the beauty of Indian classical music.

When asked to say a few words at his 80th birthday celebration, he played the Tabla instead and said “This is the language I know”.

Abbaji, you will continue to live on in the hearts of all Indians as a legend!!


(By Editorial Committee of ‘The Voice of Malabar Hills’)