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Monday, November 10, 2014

...Of The Reluctant Sufi - Asadullah Khan Ghalib

4. Maulana Abdur Rehman Jami (RA)

یہ مسائلِ تصوف ، یہ تیرا بیان غالبؔ
تجھے ہم ولی سمجھتے جو نہ بادہ خوار ہوتا

“Ghalib, you write so well upon these mystic themes of Love Divine,
We would have counted you a saint, were it not for your love of wine.”

Professors Ralph Russell and Khurshid ul Islam narrate from Altaf Hussain Hali’s Yadgar-e-Ghalib (Memoir of Ghalib) that when King Bahadur Shah Zafar heard Ghalib recite the above verse, he commented, “No,my friend, even so we should never have counted you a Saint.” Ghalib retorted, “Your Majesty counts me one even now, and only speaks like this lest my Sainthood should go to my head."

The only surviving photograph of Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib

Just as there is no doubting the stature that Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib (27 December 1797-15 February 1869) holds in the annals of Urdu and Farsi poetry, there is also no doubting the fact that amongst all the major Urdu poets of the Classical period (barring possibly Khwaja Meer Dard), Ghalib's poetry is arguably the richest wellspring of mystical thought and metaphysical idiom.While this thought is more perfectly elaborated in his Farsi poetry, Ghalib's Urdu verse also displays flashes of preternatural insight and understanding of the mystical aspect of Love. Ghalib's kalaam contains numerous examples of disdain towards organized religion and the trappings of religiosity and self-righteousness, while at the same time utilizing uncanny simile and metaphor to offer glimpses of his deeply held "Wahdat-ul-Wujoodi" beliefs. As an example, one of my favorite Farsi poems of Ghalib's, which would not look out of place in the Divans of Khusrau, Saadi, Hafez or any of the other overtly mystical Farsi poets...

چون عکسِ پُل بہ سیل، بذوقِ بلا برقص
جارا نگاہ داروہم از خود جدا برقص

نبُوَد وفائ عہد، دمی خوش غنیمت است
از شاہداں بنازشِ عہدِ وفا برقص

ذوقی است جستجو چہ زنی دم زِ قطعِ راہ
رفتار گم کن و بَصدائے درا برقص

سر سبز بودہ و بہ چمنہا چمیدہ ایم
اے شعلہ، درگدازِ خس و خاکِ ما برقص

ہم بر نوائے چغد طریقِ سماع گیر
ہم در ہوائے جنبشِ بالِ ہما برقص

در عشق انساط بپایان نمی رسد
چوں گردباد خاک شو و در ہوا برقص

فرسودہ رسمہائے عزیزان فرو گذار
در سور نوحہ خوان و بہ بزمِ عزا برقص

چون خشمِ صالحان و ولاے منافقان
در نفسِ خود مباش ولے برملا برقص

از سوختن الم، زِ شگفتن طرب مَجو
بے ہودہ درکنار سموم و صبا، برقص

غالبؔ بدیں نشاط کہ وابسطہ ای، کہ ای
بر خویشتن ببال و بہ بندِ بلا برقص

The selections of recordings for this post took a long time to assemble, for the simple reason that Ghalib isn't a part of many Qawwals' repertoires. But the few recordings that I have heard, especially by the senior Qawwals of the 20th century, manage to do justice to his kalaam and ensure that whatever this selection lacks in quantity, it more than makes up for in quality.

1. Dil Hi To Hai, Na Sang-o-Khisht - Aziz Ahmed Warsi Qawwal
Aziz Ahmed Khan Warsi traced his lineage to one Muhammad Siddique Khan, a nephew of Tanras Khan and a singer in the court of the last Mughal. He is therefore perfectly suited to singing this lament, considering Ghalib himself was a poet attached to the court of Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last Mughal. Warsi Sb's staccato harmonium and his perfect talaffuz have always enchanted me, especially in his performances of ghazals by the "Asaateza". He sings this ghazal with an effortless ease, opting not to intrude on its simplicity with unnecessary girahs and takraars and letting the verses speak for themselves.

2. Har Ek Baat Pe Kehte Ho Tum Ke Tu Kya Hai - Muhammad Ahmed Warsi Qawwal
Muhammad Ahmed Warsi belongs to Rampur and is probably my favorite Qawwal from India currently performing. He imbues his performances with a subtle languor and restraint, preferring to linger on bol's and notes and letting the kalaam flow at a meandering, mellifluous pace. An almost old-world "Purbi" charm pervades this recording, as Warsi Sb prefaces the ghazal with choice romantic couplets. He shares his semi-namesake Aziz Ahmed Warsi's unique harmonium playing technique, punctuating key phrases in the kalam with short, sharp jabs at the keys, propelling both the melody and the rhythm forward. In a simple, unassuming performance, even the flubs in the girahbandi become endearing, while the short taankari suits the mood of the kalaam perfectly.

3. Dil Se Teri Nigah Jigar Tak Utar Gyi - Rahat Fateh Ali Khan
This recording is taken from a selection of Ghalib's kalam that Rahat Fateh Ali Khan performed on Pakistan Television. The performances were later released commercially and form an interesting album to say the least. I am ambivalent about the performances which, although a commendable effort in terms of presenting Ghalib's kalaam in a newer context, didn't quite provide the kalaam with musical arrangements that suited the mood of the verses. This performance however stands out in my opinion. The melody is beautiful, Rahat employs excellent girah-bandi and his bol-baant is  wonderful. The ghazal is a wonderful amalgam of Ghalib's romantic idiom and his penchant for describing the passage of time and the ravages of age in deceptively simple terms. Rahat is allowed ample opportunity for takraars and his by now trademark frenetic sargams, occasionally providing echoes of his late Uncle. This is a refreshing, lively performance that reminds listeners that underneath Rahat's pop-heavy Bollywood performances hides an excellent Qawwal capable of crafting superb performances.

4. Mazze Jahan Ke Apni Nazar Main Khaak Nahi - Bakhshi Salamat Qawwal & Party
I shall not endeavor to describe this recording, suffice to say that it is one of the most perfect Qawwali performances I have ever heard or ever expect to hear and holds a very very special place in my heart.

5. Jahan Tera Naqshe Qadam Dekhte Hain - Ustad Fateh Ali - Mubarak Ali Qawwal
Segueing from Rahat to his grandfather and grand-uncles, and from Bakhshi Salamat Qawwal to their Ustads, the next selection is from Ustad Fateh Ali Khan - Mubarak Ali Khan Qawwal's triumphant 1958 public performance in Bombay (Mumbai). The entire performance is phenomenal, but this short performance of Ghalib's wonderful ghazal is wonderful in itself. Fateh Ali Khan's voice is imbued with a unique electricity and elasticity and he declaims the kalaam rather than singing it. Salamat Ali Khan's harmonium takes centre stage, Mubarak Ali Khan's taans are short but crisp and the takraars are lively and energetic. The recording is slightly high-pitched, probably owing to an incorrect transfer from tape-reels, and this recording error lends a wonderful punch to the performance. The last minute-and-a-half is especially brilliant as the Ustads build a takraar on the final verse of the ghazal and then embellish the takraar as only they could.

6. Dehr Main Naqshe Vafaa, Waj'he Tasalli Na Hua - Manzoor Ahmed Niazi Qawwal Aur Hamnavaa
Zaheer Alam Kidvai Sb has been quietly unveiling an absolute audiovisual treasure over the last three years. Comprising of recordings from his personal archive, these releases - under his Ragni Recordings label - are phenomenal to say the least, comprising poetry and prose, ghazal, folk, classical and Qawwali of the highest order. In this recording that Kidvai Sb has kindly allowed me to post, the original "Barri" Manzoor Ahmed Niazi Qawwal party - Munshi Raziuddin Ahmed, Manzoor Ahmed Niazi, Bahauddin Khan and Iftekhar Ahmed Nizami - sing one of Ghalib's lesser known Urdu ghazals. As is obvious from the start, only Delhi-walas can properly do justice to Ghalib's Dehlavi Urdu. Each member of this amazing Qawwal party lends his own unique richness to the performance. Munshi Raziuddin's wonderful delivery - complete with his emotive "hae- hae" compliments the kalaam's innate sense of plaintive sorrow, with Manzoor Ahmed Niazi's unique voice perfectly conveying the poet's resignation and surrender. The taankaari is provided by Iftekhar Ahmed Nizami and Bahauddin Khan, with a couple of young voices - probably belonging to the current leaders of the Qawwal Bacchay troupes - in the chorus. This is a ghazal with a unique rhyme scheme, with the 'radeef' rhyming in the written text but alternating between the sounds of the " ی " and the " یٰ " when sung. The Qawwals take this rhythmic incongruity in stride, effortlessly disguising the changes in the radeef. As with the Fateh Ali- Mubarak Ali piece, the delivery of the last verse - the 'maqta' - of this ghazal is wonderful, with Munshi Raziuddin turning the first words of the verse into an almost strangled last gasp. Beautiful !


  1. I am unable to pay these songs. Their box opens but nothing happens after that. Any ideas what I supposed to do?

    1. I'm not sure why that is happening. There's a drop-down arrow in the top right of the embedded box, next to "Options". You can select the Download option from there and then play them once they're downloaded.

  2. Musab Bhai..very well done...this is a lovely take on the man who in urdu has only Meer to compete with. I cant wait to see what you will come up with next! One request on the farsi Kalaam ...would you attempt a transliteration as well as a translation when possible...quite a number of people would benefit from both.
    Personally I have run around quite a bit to find a book that does all 3 versions of Ghalib's farsi kalaam and haven't had much success.

  3. Musab Bhai ... Jeeyo!

  4. Beyond amazing. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Thank you soooooooooooooooo much for posting all these treasures. I would be extremely interested in the Qawwali CDs which Zaheer Alam Kidvai Sb has published over the last years, especially the ones by Manzoor Ahmed Niazi Qawwal Aur Hamnavaa. I tried already 3 or 4 times to send an email to them at peaceniche.org, but it always came back as undeliverable. How can one get these recordings? I'm based in Germany. I made a list of 19 CDs and sets of CDs which I would like to order. I would be extremely grateful if there would be a way to obtain these.
    I'm soooooooooooooo fond of Manzoor Ahmed Niazi Qawwal. One of their LPs was my very first Qawwali LP. I bought it in England in the late 1970s and have posted it on my blog: http://oriental-traditional-music.blogspot.com/2013/04/manzoor-ahmad-khan-niazi-qawwal-1922.html

    1. Tawfiq thanks a lot for your appreciation. Your blog is one of my favorite places on the internet. I think I know a rather roundabout solution to your problem. Could you get in touch with me via email at musablaliATgmailDOTcom , I'll explain in detail there.

  6. musab bhai bohtkhoob yar.. amazing... may God Bless You always