Ustad Ahmed Jan Thirakwa was the most acknowledged Tabla player of the 20th century. His career in music lasted for nearly eight years.
He was born in 1881, Moradabad, Uttar Pradesh. His father Ustad Hussain Baksh (Sarangi-Nawaz) had three sons Mia Jan Khan, Ahmed Jan khan and Mohammed Jan Khan. Ustad Mai Jan Khan (Sarangi) was responsible for the meticulous upbringing of his brother. Ahmed Jan’s maternal grandfather was Baba Kalandar Baksh a highly respected Tabla player of his time, whose brothers Ilahi Baksh, Rahim Baksh and Karim Baksh were also reputed Tabla players of Moradabad, Uttar Pradesh. Ahmed Jan’s paternal uncle Sher Khan and maternal uncles Faiyaz Khan, Baswa Khan and Fazli Khan were also renowned Tabla players and composers. They belonged to the Farukhabad gharana of Tabla.
At an early age, Ahmed Jan was brought to Bombay by his father and brother Mai Jan and placed under the tutelage of the stalwart Ustad Munir Khan. The training continued for 25 years. In the latter years of his tutelage under Ustad Munir Khan, Ahmed Jan Khan also received intensive training from his paternal and maternal uncles.
He gained expertise in Farukhabad, Ajarada and Delhi Baaj (style) of Tabla. He played the Delhi Baaj (style) so superbly that it brought in memories of Ustad Natthu Khan, the last great stalwart of Delhi Baaj of Tabla. He excelled in vocal music also and possessed many traditional vocal compositions.
Because of his restless nature, his guru’s father Ustad Kale Khan gave him the name ‘Thirakwa’ (from the verb ‘thirakna’) in childhood. The nick-name stuck to him throughtout his life. For about ten years, Ahmed Jan Khan was one of the star musicians of the Marathi music-theatre company of the legendary singer-actor Bal Gandharva. Later, he joined the Rampur Darbar as a state-musician on a personal invitation by Nawab Raza Ali Khan (who ruled from 1930-1947). He remained in Rampur till the end of the princely rule in 1947. While in Rampur, he was at liberty to give public performance elsewhere also. Meanwhile, the Ustad participated in innumerable Dangals (competitive concerts), where he always came out with flying colours.
After 1947, for some time he taught at the Bhatkhande College of Music, Lucknow. From 1971 till his demise he taught at the National Centre for Performing Arts, Bombay.
Ustad Ahmed Jan Thirakwa was an outstanding soloist. He had an extraordinary repertoire of Tabla compositions which he presented in a very artistic, grand and robust manner. As an accompanist, he had the rare capacity to bring out the best in the main artistes, be it vocal, instrumental or dance. Because of his immense skill combined with his high artistic maturity, he was known as the ‘Mount Everest of Tabla’.
He accompanied several great vocalists like Ustads Alla Bande and Zakruddin Khan (Dhrupad), Rajab Ali Khan, Alladiya Khan, Faiyaz Khan, Mushtaq Hussain Khan, Pandit Bhaskar Rao Bakhle, besides Ustad-s Imdad Khan (Sitar), Inayat Khan (Sitar), Allauddin Khan (Sarod), Hafid Ali Khan (Sarod), Pandit Acchan Maharaj (Kathak), Gauhar Jan (vocal) and Malka Jan (vocal). He encouraged junior musicians like Pt. Ravi Shankar, Ustad Vilayat Khan, Bismillah Khan, Latafat Hussain Khan and Rais Khan by accompanying them frequently in concerts. This rich musical career enabled him to master the art of improvision in all its aesthetic beauty.
Age did not affect his engery, memoy or proficiency. Till his last days, he was youthful an aspired to improve like any ambitious young man. He died on 12th January, 1976 in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. He was a role model to several musicians.
Awards: He was honoured with the Padma Bhushan Award and the Central Sangeet Natak Akademi Award (1954). A documentary film on his life was made by Films Divisions, Govt. of India, in 1972.
Disciples:Ustad Chand Khan, Pandit Nikhil Ghosh, Pandit Lalji Gokhale and Pandit Prem Vallabh are his famous disciples, through whom his tradition continues even today.