Ustad Rais Khan (Urdu: رئیس خان‎; 25 November 1939 – 6 May 2017) was a Pakistani sitarist. At his peak he was regarded as one of the greatest sitar players of all time.[1][2] He continued performing till his last days.[3] He moved from India to Pakistan in 1986, where he took up Pakistani citizenship.[4] In 2017, Khan was awarded Pakistan's third highest civilian honour, the Sitara-i-Imtiaz.[5]

Rais Khan
استاد رئیس خان
Ustad Rais Khan.jpg
Khan performing in 2013
Background information
Born(1939-11-25)25 November 1939
Indore, Madhya Pradesh, India
Died6 May 2017(2017-05-06) (aged 77)
Karachi, Pakistan
GenresHindustani classical music
Years active1948 – 2017
Pride of Performance Recipient
Ustad Rais Khan.jpg
Presented byPervez Musharraf, President of Pakistan

Personal lifeEdit

Rais Khan was born on 25 November 1939 in Indore, Indore State, British India, to an Urdu-speaking Pashtun family.[6][7] He grew up in Bombay. His training began at a very young age, on a small coconut shell sitar.[8] In 1986 he moved to Pakistan, seven years after marrying his fourth wife – a Pakistani singer named Bilqees Khanum. In 1979, the two met for the first time in a programme by the Sabri Brothers in Karachi. They have two sons together - Farhan Khan and Huzoor Hasnain Khan.[6] Rais Khan has four sons:[9] Sohail Khan, Cezanne Khan, Farhan Khan and Huzoor Hasnain Khan.[10]


Rais Khan belonged to the Mewati gharana (classical music lineage), which is connected to Indore gharana[11][6] and the "beenkar baz gayaki ang" (singing style combined with rudra veena approaches) carried out by Rais Khan's father Mohammed Khan, a rudra veena player and a sitarist.[6] "Belonging to the Mewati gharana which goes back to the Mughal period, it produced famous singers Haddoo, Hasso and Nathu Khan, and later singers such as Bare Ghulam Ali Khan, as well as sitarists and sarod players."[6]

"The famous Indian sitar player Ustad Vilayat Khan is his maternal uncle who came to live with them when Vilayat's father died. Rais Khan denies there is any friction between them, contrary to the rumours that exist even today. He praises Ravi Shankar, said to be a rival too, as a brilliant musician who has introduced the sitar to the world."[6]

Despite his extensive meend work and the gandhar pancham sitar style he used, Rais Khan's alapi, gatkari and gamaki work was different in approach, pacing, and even technique, from the Etawah style. Amongst the khayal and dhrupad doyens, Rais Khan's gharana had the classical music lineage containing the masters Haddu Khan, Hassu Khan, Nathan Khan,[6] Bande Ali Khan, Babu Khan, Wazir Khan, Waheed Khan, Murad Khan, Latif Khan, Majid Khan, Nazeer Khan, Amanat Khan and Rajab Ali Khan of Dewas.[12]

As Rais Khan's mother was a singer and his father was a beenkar (veena player), a unique combination of khyal (the most popular classical vocal style), dhrupad (the older and more orthodox classical form) and thumri (lyrical semi-classical form) – 'angs' (approaches) developed in his playing.[13][6]

He gave his first public concert at Sunderbai Hall in the presence of the then Governor of Bombay Sir Maharaja Singh.[14][10] In 1955, Khan was chosen to represent India in the International Youth Festival in Warsaw, where 111 countries took part in the string instrument conference.[6] He has also performed at the Kennedy Center. While in India, he played film music for Lata Mangeshkar, Mohammed Rafi and Asha Bhosle.[6] In India, he played a key role by his association with film composers like Madan Mohan which resulted in many super-hit songs.[9] He had toured extensively throughout the world.[10]

He was also a vocalist and was the first sitar player to record the super-hit song "Ghungroo Toot Gaye" for BBC London in 1978 as an instrumental song with the sitar.[6] This song was originally written by Qateel Shifai, music by Nisar Bazmi for a Pakistani film Naz (1969).[15] Like his uncle Vilayat Khan, whose music had exercised considerable influence on him, he often sang and demonstrated compositions on the sitar. Rais and Bismillah Khan (shehnai player) used to collaborate and perform together in live concerts as a duo,[9] like the one at India Gate in New Delhi on 23 November 2001.[16]

For sometime, Rais Khan stopped performing, but returned in the 1980s and was invited by Ali Akbar Khan to perform in California.

Rais Khan sometimes performed with his son Farhan,[9] as he did in a 2009 performance for Pakistan Television (PTV) produced TV show Virsa- Heritage Revived, accompanied by Tari Khan on tabla. In 2012, he performed at the Nehru Centre in Mumbai.[17] In 2014, he performed "Hans Dhuni" and "Mein Sufi Hoon" (with Abida Parveen) in season 7 of Coke Studio Pakistan.[18]

Death and legacyEdit

After a prolonged illness, Rais Khan died on 6 May 2017 in Karachi at the age of 77.[19][18] In 2012, one major Pakistani English-language newspaper commented about his declining health, "He proudly says that his decades old habit of smoking 115 cigarettes a day, which is the reason for his declining health, came to an abrupt end four years ago when the doctor ordered him to stop."[6]

On his death, Urdu writer Anwar Maqsood remarked that “God had given him a rare gift. His fingers had that rare touch.”[9] In a tweet, Indian singer Lata Mangeshkar called Khan “sitar ke jaadugar” (lit. magician of sitar).[7]

His son Farhan Khan is also a sitarist.[6]



  1. ^ Adnan, Ally (2 May 2014). "Indus Raag". The Friday Times. Retrieved 31 December 2018. One of the greatest sitar players of all times, Rais Khan is hands-down the most melodic sitar player in the world today.
  2. ^ Kumar, Kuldeep (13 January 2012). "A tale of two recitals". The Hindu. Retrieved 31 December 2018. Rais Khan who in his heyday was considered among the most skilful sitar players in the country.
  3. ^ "Eid ul Fitr Schedule 2016" (PDF). Pakistan Television Corporation. Retrieved 31 December 2018.
  4. ^ Shehzad, Mohammad (7 June 2017). "Music: The narcissim of Rais Khan". Dawn. Retrieved 1 November 2020. Probably, this could have been another reason (besides his Pakistani wife Bilquis Khanum’s inability to acclimate to Bombay) for him to migrate to Pakistan and accept Pakistani citizenship.
  5. ^ a b "President confers 145 civil awards". Pakistan Observer. Associated Press of Pakistan. 24 March 2017. Retrieved 31 December 2018.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m "Profile: The string maestro". Dawn. 18 November 2012. Retrieved 31 December 2018.
  7. ^ a b "Sitar legend Ustad Raees Khan passes away". Samaa TV. 7 May 2017. Retrieved 7 May 2017.
  8. ^ "'Today, music is about cloning' (interview with Rais Khan)". The Hindu. 29 October 2005. Archived from the original on 27 September 2011. Retrieved 31 December 2018.
  9. ^ a b c d e Salman, Peerzada (7 May 2017). "OBITUARY: The sitar has fallen silent". Dawn. Retrieved 31 December 2018.
  10. ^ a b c d Lodhi, Adnan (7 May 2017). "Renowned sitarist Ustad Raees Khan passes away". The Express Tribune. Retrieved 31 December 2018.
  11. ^ Hamilton, James Sadler (1994). Sitar Music in Calcutta: An Ethnomusicological Study. Motilal Banarsidass Publisher. pp. 26–28. ISBN 9788120812109. Retrieved 8 May 2017.
  12. ^ Amit Adiecha – "History of Sitar," and the CD "Melodious Sitar of Rais Khan" – Chhanda Dhara 1993
  13. ^ Manuel, Peter Lamarche (1989). Ṭhumrī in Historical and Stylistic Perspectives. Motilal Banarsidass. ISBN 9788120806733. Retrieved 7 May 2017.
  14. ^ Rais Khan profile Retrieved 31 December 2018
  15. ^ "Pakistani film database 1969". Retrieved 31 December 2018.
  16. ^ "A superb recital by sitar maestro". The News International. 30 March 2009. Archived from the original on 12 June 2018. Retrieved 31 December 2018.
  17. ^ Surekha, S (20 January 2012). "Strike a chord with 'chocolate' Ustad". Mid-Day. Retrieved 31 December 2018.
  18. ^ a b c "Sitar maestro Ustad Raees Khan passes away". Geo News. 7 May 2017. Retrieved 31 December 2018.
  19. ^ "Pakistani sitar maestro Ustad Raees Khan dead at 77". Firstpost. Indo-Asian News Service. 7 May 2017. Retrieved 31 December 2018.