Saturday, May 5, 2012

1992 Mehfil - Munshi Raziuddin & Sons

We spent that year’s summer leave in Islamabad with my cousin Minni and Nusrat Ali Shah, her husband, a politician of some consequence in the Islamabad of that era.

Abu Mohammad (Munshi Raziuddin’s second son and one of the three principle singers in the troupe) had been told of our trip, and he called Islamabad. I told him that it would be a pity that we would not be coming to Karachi and, consequently, in keeping with tradition, we would not meet nor have a musical evening that year. Munshi Raziuddin sent word that they would not countenance such mutual deprivation, and they volunteered to come to Islamabad. And so they did, braving an exhausting overnight train journey from Karachi.

In yesteryear, the train journeys in Pakistan were an adventure. Trains like Tezgam (fleet footed), Khyber Mail, Chenab Express, Tezrao (speedy flow), and Bolan Mail connected the far flung corners of the country. The British-built train stations, whether large or small, boasted a characteristic colonial architecture that was functionally suited to the environment of the country, a holdover from the majesty of the Raj and a tribute to the common sense and aesthetics of the designing civil engineers. The sounds and smells of train stations are something that live with me to this day, and not least were the smells and taste of the food. The biryanee, whether served by the Pakistan Western Railway or the hawkers and vendors at train stations, remains one of the culinary legends of the subcontinent. However the years have not been kind—the railways have fallen apart and train journeys have become an excruciating experience for those unfortunate or mad enough to undertake this form of travel. Such were the travails that Munshi Raziuddin and the group undertook in their journey of love to be with us that day.

They arrived In Islamabad in the afternoon and arrangements were made for them to rest. Munshi Raziuddin, irrepressible as he was, instead spent a couple of hours in mirthful conversation describing the rigours of the train journey and catching up on matters personal, worldly and spiritual. The conversation and laughter would have gone on until the evening when the mehfil (concert) was to start, had I not implored him to sleep and get some rest.

The energy generated by the joyous afternoon reunion is testified by the test recording (Track 1). What was supposed to be a two-minute test piece went on for about 16 minutes. Starting with Chayya Nut, they wove together snippets of all my favourite raagas and cheez (musical items). These comprise a comprehensive performance in itself, and an exhilarating one. As far as I was concerned, the evening could have stopped there and I could have gone to bed, musically satiated.

That evening, Minni and Nusrat invited several Islamabad notables. The Islamabad crowd was a far cry from the rambunctious gatherings in Karachi. Here the people were affected, terribly conscious of their place in the political, bureaucratic and social pecking order—a very muted, stiff and self-conscious group. No wonder that Pakistan is in the terrible state that it is, with its destiny in the hands of this constipated lot! An indefatigable lady, a political type, who till this day is very much a fixture of the inner circles in Islamabad, provided a remarkable counterpoint. She rocked and rolled away with abandon, quite oblivious of the effect her ample endowments created on the stuffy gathering.

As is usual, the Manqabat is the point of departure for the mehfil and a short mystical/musical/contextual oral introduction is presented.  In the introduction that evening, Munshi Raziuddin did something unusual in going to a philosophical rather than musical plane. He recalled a reported instructional discussion between the Prophet of Islam and his regent and son-in-law, Hazrat Ali. In response to the Prophet’s question, Hazrat Ali states that the Qur’an would divinely guide decisions in his tenure of governance. The Prophet questions Ali as to what he would do if clear guidance were not found in the Qur’an. Ali states that he would follow the ahadis and traditions. Again, came the question, what if these did not provide clear instruction, to which Ali replies that he would exercise his own judgment and reason in the light of the divine guidance of the Qur’an and the precedents recorded in the ahadis.

I think this was Munshi Raziuddin’s answer to a question that I had posed him once, some years earlier, where we had debated the question of reason versus belief. In this recollection he implies that divine guidance, belief and reason have their respective and clear roles in worldly life. Divine guidance and belief establish boundaries within which reason is exercised in the conduct of public, social and private matters. Divine guidance and reason are two pillars supporting human conduct. One without the other is meaningless. Hazrat Ali’s life and example is the epitome of the power of combining the two in the quest for social justice and common human decency. I suppose Munshi Raziuddin also saw it fit to recall this perspective for the benefit of some of those who were Powers That Be in Islamabad…

All this points to the centrality of Ali’s worldview to the Sufi ethos. As a sufi, in a state of wajd (ecstasy) proclaimed:

Banay sufi jazbaat main behnay waaley! 
Qalandar bane ishq main jalnay walay! 
Qutub bane ranj o gham sehnay walay! 
Wali ban gaye Yaa Ali kehnay wale!!! 

The concert proceeds with a series of manqabats and qaseedas, culminating with Baro Ghi Ke Diye Na, Aaj Bhadawa and Mere Bane ki Baat na Puchcho. These established the strongly devotional and mystical character of the mehfil.

Musically, in my opinion, the high point of the first part is the recital of Raaga Bahar Phool Rahi Sarson. Abu Mohammad’s galakari is quite brilliant in this one. Whereas this piece is normally rendered in Purbi couplets, they wove in Persian couplets one of which Munshi Raziuddin directed at me (3:20):

“Sahibzadeh Sahib…Na mohtajam ba gul gashtay chaman ay baaghban hargiz, Bahaar I sadhh chaman dar abid i jaana na mi gham (?)…”

Now, don’t ask me what this signifies, my ignorance prevents me from comprehending the true meaning and beauty of the poetry, but the sound of Persian is just so melodic! Could someone with the better education enlighten me with the meaning of this and its preceding couplets?

There is a lively rendition of a familiar Qawwali Khawaja Piya. This is a popular dhammal piece, but listen to the digression from about 07:05 to 07:54 where there is a switch of tempo and flirtation with khyaal style exposition. Transitions such as these are difficult and not for the faint of heart! What mastery and control over the musical expression! And then shortly afterwards they float off to Khausro’s world of ecstatic worship, to the world of dervishes, with Nami Danam chi Manzil Bood!

Nami danam chi manzil bood shab jaay ki man boodam;
Baharsu raqs-e bismil bood shab jaay ki man boodam.
Pari paikar nigaar-e sarw qadde laala rukhsare;
Sarapa aafat-e dil bood shab jaay ki man boodam.
Khuda khud meer-e majlis bood andar laamakan Khusrau;
Muhammad shamm-e mehfil bood shab jaay ki man boodam.

English Translation:

I wonder what was the place where I was last night,
All around me were half-slaughtered victims of love, tossing about in agony.
There was a nymph-like beloved with cypress-like form and tulip-like face,
Ruthlessly playing havoc with the hearts of the lovers.
God himself was the master of ceremonies in that heavenly court,
Oh Khusrau, where (the face of) the Prophet too was shedding light like a candle. [1]

The mid piece of the concert is a rendition of Sundhar in Tilak Kamod, a raaga that is eternal. By this time they were well settled in and there is a distinct calmness in the air. Listen to the tremulous voice of Munshi Raziuddin with evocative and unusual Hindi/Khari Boli bandishes. Munshi Raziuddin comes into his own, at several points, a tender and mellifluous voice, tremulous with age but strong in musicality and precise in enunciation. Every time I pay homage at his grave, I hear this voice as my parting impression and our farewell.

In deference to the Punjabi audience they sang the piece Ni Mein Jana Kheriyaan De Naal (O! I will not go with the Khers) by Waris Shah, the 18th century poet of the Great Punjabi Love Story Heer-Ranjha. Heer is married off by her family to someone from the village of Kher, and Ranjah, broken hearted, becomes a jogi. They are reunited when he wanders through Kher, and she escapes with Ranjah, the jogi, to return with him to her parents’ village. A few years previously when the group came to Vienna, I had asked them to include the piece Mein Nai Jana Jogi De Naal in their repertoire. There is a masterful rendition of this by Nusrat Fateh Ali which is a favourite. Rather than replicate Nusrat’s Dhamaal, they slowed the tempo, and blended it into their Gayaki style, and then Ayyaz, during the performance, sang a second movement, his innovation, with the phrase Veh Mein Nai Jana Khareyaan De Naal. How this came about is the subject of another anecdote that awaits a future post on this blog.

In the next track Nami danam chi manzil bood they blend Khusrau's Persian with a couple of Munshi Raziuddin's favourite Urdu couplets Voh kaun sa tha maqam e junoon khuda jane and kya kahoon, kisse kahoon, kaise khaoon, kyoonkar kahoon as well as with Hafiz's Mun malak boodam o ferdos e baraeen jayam bood, Adam avurd dareen deyr e kharaba badam (I was an angel and my dwelling was sublime Paradise, But Adam brought me into this seemingly flourished but ruined cloister).  Wah!  

And then this standard, yet ever so neat, poetic transition into Yaad Hai Kuchch bhi Hamari Kanhaiya, a Hindi Bhajjan, via Momin Khan Momin's Voh jo ham mein tum mein qaraar thaa tumhein yaad ho ke na yaad ho, Vahi yaani vaadaa nibaah ka tumhein yaad ho ke na yaad ho (That peace which existed between you and I, whether you remember it or not, That promise of loyalty, whether you remember it or not).  What an apt transition from one kalam into another completely dissimilar one; leading the listener from a contemplation of some outwordly manzil (station) of junoon (excitement) to the theme of yaad (remembrance)!

In developing Kanhaiyya, they construct an ornament of verses drawn from different poets that explore the emotions of yaad, intezaar (longing), and judai/furaq (separation). The first verse is Iqbal's couplet Bagh-e-bahisht se mujhe hukm-e-safar diya tha kyon, Kaar-e-jahan daraaz hai, ab mera intezar kar (Why did You order me to journey out of Paradise, The affairs of this world occupy me, You must now wait for me); an unknown Purbi poet's Sona lenay Pi gaye aur kabse gaye pardes, Sona mila na Pi mila, moray chandi ho gaye kes (My beloved left in search of gold, Neither he nor the gold was found, [in forlorn waiting] my hair turned white); Khusrau's Purbi verse Jo mein jaanti bichrat hain saiyan, ghongta mein aag laga dayti ... (Had I known my beloved was departing, I would have burned my veil); and another one of Munshi Razi's oft-recited verses Mora haat deikh baraham yeh bata key yaar milayga kab, Tere mon se nikle khuda kare keh abhi abhi is hi haal mein (O Brahman read my hand and tell me when I will meet my beloved, May you utter with God's will that [I will meet him] now and in this very state of being).

In all of Sufi mystical poetry, there are several levels of meaning. Taken literally, the poetry can be interpreted as the yearning for a temporal beloved. Beautiful as the love poetry is, its full power lies in the discovery of deeper meaning. At one level the poetry expresses the love that the Sufi poet (for example Khusrau) has for his spiritual guide (Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya) as the connection to God. In the ultimate, it expresses the direct desire for communion between the Sufi and the Creator, the desire for the Sufi to be united with the Creator, the ultimate beloved. Hence temporal life is expressed as separation from the Eternal and passage from the temporal world to the Eternal a joyous reunion with the Creator, for which the Sufi thirsts whilst in the temporal world.

The taraana in Raaga Zeelaf is yet again embellished with embedded verses:  Bahaan churahe jahat ho so nibal jan kar mohe, Phir dame say jao ge tab marad badoon gi tohe and Hazrat Usman Harooni's Biya jana tamasha kun key dar ambohey ja bazan, Basad saman e ruswaee sarey bazar mi raqsam. (Come Beloved! See the spectacle that in the crowd of the intrepid and daring, With a hundred ignominies in the heart of the market, I dance!)

The fluency of these poetic and musical transitions display a mastery that never ceases to amaze me.  Together in these three tracks, in the space of just a few minutes, they manage a tour d’horizon of all the major linguistic and poetic forms of North West India!

Their Tarana in Raga Zeelaf on this occasion was a very special expression of a center piece in their repertoire. This Taraana is only surpassed by what Ayyaz sang, but I did not record, on another occasion. Their second trip to Vienna was organized with a friend and Indophile, Andy Malleta. Andy owns a large apartment building in town, with an ample central courtyard, in which he organized an oriental musical festival. He erected a shamiana in the courtyard with a farshi (floor) seating arrangement, diyas and the works--a beautiful setting. Abu Mohammad and Ayyaz opened the festival, to be followed the next day by some Korean shamans who sang, and so on. Anyways, before the actual performance, Ayyaz and I sat in a room, by ourselves, and Ayyaz by way of Ryaaz, began to recite a succession of taranas with the Tanpura as his only accompaniment. The intimacy of the moment and his intensity were such that I do not know which of us was the more transported. He sang for about half an hour and one walked out of that interlude with the head in the clouds. They sang beautifully that night and were featured on Austrian television.

They conclude with a Qaseeda devoted to the Prophet’s grandson, Hazrat Imam Hussain, the younger son of Hazrat Ali, and Bibi Fatima, the only surviving child of the Prophet. I have a better performance of this piece, where they went from Qawwali to the Marsiyah form--that too will have to await another post on this blog. However this short expose may introduce the reader to the Imam Hussain epic which is the Islamic passion play of supreme sacrifice while speaking Truth to Brute Power.

All in all, the Islamabad evening was one in which the audience did not inspire the musicians, but the musical force of the Qawwals was such that they were able to pull the audience to a higher and more refined level of poetic and musical appreciation. This was something that Munshi Raziuddin held as sacrosanct in his effort, to pull his audience to his plane rather than descend to the common temperament. On my enquiring as to how he managed this, he told me that he would constantly survey his audience, seeking resonances in individuals and would “enlist” the support of one or two who seemed to appreciate the music, then turn his attention to another and then another, fine tuning the music and poetry to create a string of enthusiasts in his audience. This is not just a matter of technique, it lies at the heart of the Sufi experience, the contact with an individual, then another, yet another until there is an inexplicable transmission of shared sentiment to a whole community, the audience at a mehfil, or a following of a sage.

This has been learned by his sons to great effect. I have heard them sing classical khyaal mehfils while also hearing them create the atmosphere of a Mehfil-i-Samaa and they even have totally secularized the Qawwali form to recite Sufiana kalam at a mandir!

This, I would suggest, is the essence of Qawwali. It inspires the spirituality existent in every faith, and creates a sense of connection with the eternal. I have asserted elsewhere that the Islamic influence in the subcontinent was not so much the doing of conquerors and kings. It certainly was not inspired by the merciless harangue of the mullah. Indo-Islamic civilization grew and thrived primarily as a result of the message of love, universal brotherhood, justice, humanity and peace conveyed by the various Auliyas and Sufi saints. Qawwali was one means of conveying this message. Humbleness, personal example and compassion were another. One can testify with heartwarming conviction that, despite the madness of this present time, at least one of those traditions is alive and thriving. May the Almighty always will it that way.—Asif Mamu

1. The poem and the translation both are taken from the site and is added here with the permission of the site owner. Mr Yousuf Saeed holds the copyright of this poem

Vol I
1. Riyaaz (Raagas Chaya Nat, Bilawal, Suha, Malkauns, Nand)
2. Qaul - Man Kunto Maula
3. Baro Ghee Ke Diyena Bhaile Aamana Ke Lallana - Aaj Badhawa

Vol II
1. Haryala Bana Ladala - Mere Bane Ki Baat Na Puchcho
2. Phool Rahin Sarsoon (Raaga Bahar)
3. Piya Piya - Tarana (Raaga Suha)
4. Khwaja Piya Piya - Nami Danam Ke Akhir Chun Dam-e-Deedar Mi Raqsam

1. Chaap Tilak
2. Baji Lagi Tan Man Dhan - Chaap Tilak - Dam Hamadam Ali Ali
3. Mun Bajras Har Dum Ali Ali
4. Ali Ghar Deyo Badhai
5. Paniya Bharan Nahi De - Mangal Karan Sundhar (Raaga Tilak Kamod)

Vol IV
1. Ni Mein Jana Kheriyaan De Naal
2. Nami Danam Che Manzil Bood - Kanaiyyah - Tarana Zeelaf - Aye Dilbagir Daman-e-Sultan-e-Auliya


Anonymous said...

brilliant post! i had lost hopes of any more mehfils being shared here.. thank you..

Tawfiq said...

Wonderful, wonderful! So great to have finally another wonderful mehfil from your blog. Thank you.

Tawfiq said...

Can it be that there is one track missing: Vol. III - 3. Mun Bajras Har Dum Ali Ali?

Gandhi's Chela said...

Amazing collection. have been listening nearly every day and cant get enough. We really appreciate you providing us the opportunity to listen to Munshi ji.

I really have to ask you, is there a way one can have this recording in a CD etc. Will be a great collection to have.

spilledbytes said...

Hello Sirs,

I must admit this blog is among the most brilliant things I have come across in my search for music and reminiscences on the Internet. I have been treated to a treasure - and will follow up on all your older posts over the next few days.

I want to get in touch with you with regards to a book I am writing. Please let me know where I can reach you at. My email id is

Ever grateful for this music you have shared.


Anonymous said...

I heard a lot of your recordings on youtube, just got around to your blog. MashAllah old memories have come back and I have gone a drift in your posts reminds me of the Mehfils at our house.. Thank you for the wonderful recordings. Mehfil-e-samas are just not the same anymore.

Anonymous said...

thank you, thank you for this beautiful music. god bless you.