Purity of sound

February 9, 2020

Ghulam Hasan Shaggan always gave a thorough demonstration of a full throated application of the sur

While our classical forms expressed the ethos they were a product of, they simultaneously displayed an imminence of the other world. It is difficult to really pinpoint, what this other worldliness meant or its form – yet it was always present.

It was so much so in the lyrics, for they were at best incidental to the entire enterprise of musical expression, where the emphasis is on the exploration of sound, or a certain primal pattern attributed to that sound. It was a preoccupation with sound in its entirety, and to seek the relevance of an outside meaning, is considered a distraction and trivalisation of a serious quest.

It is incredibly difficult to say what exactly it actually was, yet it resonated with various theories about the evolution of creation and the principal role that sound has played in it. Music was to realise the immensity and overwhelming nature of such an elementary force, or perhaps to relive its immensely overpowering experience.

This preoccupation with the immersive quality of sound which of course had a very strong mystical dimension, was not apparent in the kind of resurgence the qawwali or the sufi music saw in 1980s onwards. It is these days seen as a project or an assertive part of the agenda that is seen to be a spiritual counter and a solace to the turmoil that is fed by issues like inequality, gender discrimination, racial disparity and ethnic variations, all expressed through the policies of nation states.

The resurgence of this form – whose origins may have been totally besotted by the immense power of sound, was repackaged for contemporary times. It was like offering an alternative to the malaise that characterized the world or the way the experience was being conditioned, by over-sensitisation to worldly concerns. It was held as a prescription to the ailments and the deficiencies that bedevil life. It has been seen as a deliberate counter to the sensibility more occupied with achieving certain ends.

The end of music – and musicians – traditionally was to discover and live with the throbbing realisation of what it meant to be part of that vital energy. It had nothing to do with it being presented as an antidote or an answer to what was ailing humankind. It was not stated, pointed at directly, but offered a larger backdrop against which the ins-and-outs of human destiny were played.

Somehow it was perceived to be greater than the sum of the parts that realized itself in the reliving of the primal force in a world that increasingly become obsessed with issues and the overriding desire to find solutions to it. There have been many names given to it –naad, ahat, saroosh, saut or the music of the spheres that engaged the total being of the person rather than providing a means to tackle a certain issue or a problem.

A dying way of looking at music in contemporary times, the intonation too is becoming less and less obvious and the number of such performers is dwindling.

Ghulam Hasan Shaggan – whose barsi was on February 3 – always gave a thorough demonstration of the purity of sound and a full throated application of the sur. Only when he sang to small audiences, initiated into classical music, did he enjoy the freedom to focus on the peculiarities of a certain raga including its pakar, chalan and application of the shrutis. His repertoire was also very large and at times popular demand for very familiar ragas limited the display of that repertoire.

Descendent of one of the most outstanding lineage of musicians Ustad Shaggan grew up in Amritsar among a galaxy of rubabi musicians, the most outstanding among whom was his own father Bhai Lal Muhammed who in turn was the son of Bhai Atta, a shagird of Bhaskar Rao, the exceptionally gifted kheyal singer of his times. He belonged to the Kapurthala Gharana while his gaiki was that of Gwalior. The combination made an outstanding musician to ensure the development of the dominant form with myriad influences assimilated to create an ang. Bhai Atta Muhammed was Mian Banne Khan’s first shagird from the Punjab who introduced the kheyal gaiki in the Punjab after a difficult apprenticeship with the legendary Haddo Khan of Gwalior. The first ustad of Bhai Lal Muhammed was his father Bhai Atta Muhammed. His second ustad was Mian Mehboob Ali of Kapurthala who in turn was the shagird of Mian Nisar Ali Beenkar, a shagird of Behram Khan. As Bhai Lal was also the shagird of Bhaskar Rao who in turn was the shagird of four ustads, Said Muhammed Barodewala, Ustad Nathan Khan Agrewale, Ustad Allah Dia Khan of Kolhapur and Bande Ali Khan of Kirana his music drew directly on six sources.

The most important characteristic of Ustad Shaggan’s gaiki was the total reliance on the centrality of the human voice. The riyaz was both a source of self-control and a disciplined grind supposed to bring the required command over the notes so these could be used with varying intensity according to the demand of the raga. The use of shrutis was thus essential in creating the evocative mood of the raga and Ustad Shaggan did just that. Then it was the command over the rhythmic cycle and the interplay between the various cycles during the course of a single performance. It emphasized the mathematical relationship between the various rhythmic cycles and its marriage to the melody of the raga to bring forth the required aesthetic or rus.

Purity of sound: Ghulam Hasan Shaggan gave thorough performance of full-throated application of sur