After he lost his father at the age of eleven, having had only 5 or 6 years training, the most eminent amongst his father’s disciples denied him the training of his gharana. Years before he had already recorded his first 78 for the Megaphone label at age 8.
He left Calcutta in his early teens in search of training and a career and can therefore be denoted as a largely self-taught musician. He later studied also the Surbahar under his father's brother, Ustad Waheed Khan.
Besides his extraordinary career as instrumentalist – he is estimated to have released between 70 and 100 commercial recordings during his career spanning six decades – he composed and conducted the score for three feature films. The music for “Jalsaghar” won a national award.
He was awarded the Padma Shri in 1964 and Padma Bhushan award in 1968 but refused to accept them, declaring the committee musically incompetent to judge him.
In 2000 he was awarded the Padma Vibhushan and refused again. The only titles he accepted were the special decorations of "Bharat Sitar Samrat" by the Artistes Association of India and "Aftab-e-Sitar" (Sun of the Sitar) from President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed.
He passed away in 2004 from lung cancer.