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Mehdi Hassan

The Sultan of Ghazal and The Spirit of Sacred Music

Mehdi HassanMehdi Hassan as an artiste has earned the kind of acclaim that few in the light classical world have witnessed, but he attributes most of this to an unflinching faith in God and of course a deep respect for his art that has got him the fame and adulation

Mehdi Hassan is undoubtedly one of the most renowned ghazal singers in the world today. An artiste, who has set such towering standards in the light classical music, his career is used as a benchmark along which many young artistes model their own.

Background
Mehdi Hassan never had a formal education. His education was solely in the field of classical music that he had been studying since the age of eight. Born in a village called ‘Luna’ in Rajasthan (India), Mehdi Hassan trained under his father Ustad Azeem Khan and uncle Ustad Ismail Khan. He hails from a family that produced fifteen generations of musicians making him the ‘solva pusht’ (sixteenth generation) of artists, with an ancestry that boasts of ‘Darbari Ustads’ who were seasoned performers in the courts of several Maharajahs of Indore, Patna, Chhatarpur and Mysore.

Career
Mehdi Hassan produced his first public performance at the age of eight at the behest of the Maharaja of Baroda. Since then he has had nearly 25,000 records to his credit and has rendered nearly all forms of vocalism including classical, thumri, film music and of course the ghazal that he is most widely reputed for.

Residing in PakistanResiding in Pakistan, this artist has earned worldwide acclaim for several innovations made to the ghazal style. A significant one is the use of the ‘drut’ or fast rhythm in the ghazal as opposed to the traditional style of using the ‘vilambit’ or slow tempo. It was in 1952 that he sang classical vocal for Radio Karachi and in 1955 launched himself into the world of the ghazal. His deep, sonorous voice and superb vocal control while rendering challenging raga-based compositions have been his greatest strengths. This coupled with the fact that he brought forth the poetry of a ghazal with impeccable perfection are some of the other reasons for creating memorable pieces such as ‘ranjish hi sahi’, ‘baat karni mujhe mushkil’, ‘ghazab kiya tere wade pe’ and ‘gulon mein rang bhare’.

Mehdi Hassan as an artiste has earned the kind of acclaim that few in the light classical world have witnessed, but he attributes most of this to an unflinching faith in God and of course a deep respect for his art that has got him the fame and adulation.

Mehdi Hassan is undoubtedly one of the most renowned ghazal singers in the world today. An artiste, who has set such towering standards in the light classical music, his career is used as a benchmark along which many young artistes model their own.

Background
Ustad Azim KhanMehdi Hassan never had a formal education. His education was solely in the field of classical music that he had been studying since the age of eight. Born in a village called ‘Luna’ in Rajasthan (India), Mehdi Hassan trained under his father Ustad Azeem Khan and uncle Ustad Ismail Khan. He hails from a family that produced fifteen generations of musicians making him the ‘solva pusht’ (sixteenth generation) of artists, with an ancestry that boasts of ‘Darbari Ustads’ who were seasoned performers in the courts of several Maharajahs of Indore, Patna, Chhatarpur and Mysore.

Career
Mehdi Hassan produced his first public performance at the age of eight at the behest of the Maharaja of Baroda. Since then he has had nearly 25,000 records to his credit and has rendered nearly all forms of vocalism including classical, thumri, film music and of course the ghazal that he is most widely reputed for.

Residing in Pakistan, this artist has earned worldwide acclaim for several innovations made to the ghazal style. A significant one is the use of the ‘drut’ or fast rhythm in the ghazal as opposed to the traditional style of using the ‘vilambit’ or slow tempo. It was in 1952 that he sang classical vocal for Radio Karachi and in 1955 launched himself into the world of the ghazal. His deep, sonorous voice and superb vocal control while rendering challenging raga-based compositions have been his greatest strengths. This coupled with the fact that he brought forth the poetry of a ghazal with impeccable perfection are some of the other reasons for creating memorable pieces such as ‘ranjish hi sahi’, ‘baat karni mujhe mushkil’, ‘ghazab kiya tere wade pe’ and ‘gulon mein rang bhare’.

A celebrated maestro of Ghazal rendition, Mehdi Hassan's standing in the world of Ghazal Gayeki is next only to Begum Akhtar. Born in a little known town of Luna in Rajasthan, Mehdi Hassan inherited the art of music as it ran in the family.

His father, Ustad Azim Khan was an exceptional exponent of the Indian Classical Music of his time and, because of his talent, was in the service of the Maharaja of Jaipur. It was he who tutored Mehdi Hassan in Classical Music from an early age.

Under the specialist training of his father, Mehdi Hassan could rapidly master, at a tender age, a range of styles of vocal music including Dhrupad, Khayal, Thumri and Dadra.

He began his professional career as a radio artist of classical music and later on switched over to Ghazal Gayeki. This branching out brought in incredible success and popularity to him and soon enough he became the Sultan of Ghazal Gayeki .

Mehdi Hassan : TestimoryMehdi Hassan's velvety voice coupled with his relaxed and poised style of rendition creates a magic charm and a listener is transferred to an ethereal plane. He is very meticulous in choosing Ghazals and expressing the correct intonation of the diction. Since he has a dependable Classical Music background he can intertwine his Gayeki in highly specialized ragas and yet make his rendition popular among all section of Ghazal lovers.

Mehdi Hassan : Testimory

Mehdi Hassan is probably the most complete ghazal singer ever. An outstanding vocalist, Mehdi Hassan has been a big name in Pakistan since the 50s singing various film and non-film ghazals. In 1952, he sang classical music on Radio Karachi and in 1955 launched himself into the musical rendition of ghazal, an art which has become his main forte. His chief characteristic is the relaxed and assured style of his presentations.

His deep husky voice respondent with pathos is one of the most moving experiences for music lovers. He has tremendous control over all the technical ragas which he renders in his ghazals with incomparable dexterity. His ever-popular ghazals include among others "Ranjish hi Sahi", "Baat karni mujhe mushkil", "Ghazab kiya tere waade pe" and "gulon mein rang bhare". He has won the respect of all his fans and contemporaries alike.

Jagjit Singh, in his "Ghazal ka Safar" candidly declares "Hamare is safar mein sab se behtreen fankar wohi (Mehdibhai) hain". Mehdi Hassan continues to enthrall his fans with his magic and his concerts are always eagerly awaited by music lovers.

What Is Ghazal

What Is GhazalThis is a brief note on the evolution of ghazal from a poetic form into a genre of light classical music. The beginnings of this evolution can be traced to the early 20th century. Many of its early exponents were classically trained singers who specialized in Khayaal and Thumri style of singing. However, unlike classical music which to this day is perceived as elitist, ghazals have become popular with the common man. The magical combination of beautiful lyrics and dulcet voices have enabled ghazals and ghazal singers to leave an indelible mark on the hearts and souls of ghazal listeners everywhere.

The popularity of the ghazal can be attributed to a few stalwart names in the field of ghazals today. Jagjit and Chitra Singh, with the release of their album "The Unforgettables", pulled ghazals back from the very brink of extinction. Like a breath of fresh air, ghazals swept through the Indian music scene, with ample encouragement and support being provided by the great maestros from across the border - Ghulam Ali and Mehdi Hassan. Pankaj Udhas played a big role in making ghazals popular by selecting ghazals with simple words and catchy tunes. Whether this was good or bad, only history can tell. It did have the adverse effect of diluting the ghazal gaayaki style embodied by Begum Akhtar and other ghazal singers of that era.

GhazalGhazal has come a long way and so have ghazal singers. The number of ghazal singers has grown exponentially in the past decade or so. Yet few have been able to leave a lasting impression on the ghazal scene. The old names endure - Begum Akhtar, K.L.Saigal, Mehdi Hassan, Ghulam Ali, Jagjit Singh, Talat Mahmood. Unfortunately, the recent years have seen a steady decline in the standard of ghazal singers and ghazal 'gaayaki'. Often, geets are passed off as ghazals and an uninformed/ignorant audience accepts this without qualms (for the most part). Serious followers of ghazals spurn the 'modern' ghazal singers like Anup Jalota who have made ghazal singing a farce. Ghazal singing is an art, albeit a dying one. In the words of Mallika-e-Ghazal Begum Akhtar - "Gazal sahii Dhang se gaa_ii jaaye to us kaa nashaa sar cha.Dh ke bolataa hai" ("If a ghazal is sung in the proper way, it can be very intoxicating"). This 'nashaa' is seen less and less nowadays as anyone and everyone tries to cash in the poularity of ghazals.

One can only hope and pray that the golden age of ghazals will return, bringing with it a fresh perspective, enthusiasm and talented artistes who will take ghazal singing to new heights without having to resort to cheap gimmicks or sacrificing the traditional ways.

Ghazal Poetry

There are numerous good poets in the world
( Yet ) it is said that Ghalib's style of expression has it's own charm

Ghalib is perhaps the only Urdu poet who is acclaimed as one of the greatest poets of the world not only by the Orientalists but also by the Western critics. It was he who liberated the genre of ghazal from the beaten track of pseudo romantic themes that would mostly revolve around the sufferings and torments of a lover and his constant grievances against the infidel/ indifferent and cruel attitude of his beloved. Such themes were first made popular first by Arabic and subsequently by Persian poetry.

GhalibGhazal is an Arabic term that literally means conversing with women. However, as a literary term ghazal is a distinctive genre of Arabic, Persian and Urdu poetry that has a typical form with penultimate and ultimate words of each line rhyming with the corresponding words of the second line of the opening couplet that is called Matla' that literally means the opening. In subsequent couplets this format of rhyming is observed in the second line only. Thematically speaking, each couplet of ghazal conveys a thought in toto. Thus, a ghazal may contain as many ideas/ thoughts as the number of couplets. The last couplet of ghazal is called Maqta' which signifies the end of Ghazal and in that a poet customarily uses his nom de plume.

Since Urdu poetry, throughout eighteenth and for a considerable period of nineteenth centuries flourished under the overriding influence of Persian poetry, the themes, motifs, metaphors and axioms fashioned by the Persian masters were, more often than not, would be expressed in Urdu ghazals as well. Ghalib's greatness lies in the fact that he brought about a thematic revolution in the genre of ghazal and enriched it with philosophical insight and freethinking. He was aware of his extra-ordinary contribution to Urdu poetry; though he was denied due recognition in his life time, he himself was confident that the future generations would unquestionably acknowledge him as a genius. History has proved him right.

Ghalib : Family Background

Ghalib has left behind the record of his lineage in various letters and write ups. As per his own account his ancestors were members of the Aibak clan of Turkish origin whose ties could be traced to Toor ibn Fareedon who at one time ruled over Iran. Ghalib's grandfather, Qaqan Beg Khan arrived in India from Samarkand, in the second half of eighteenth century when Shah Alam II was the king. After serving Moin-ul-Mulk, the Governor of Punjab, for a while he Nawab Ahmad Baksh Khan managed to reach the Delhi Court where the king appointed him a commander of fifty horsemen. In addition to this the estate of Pahasu (Dist. Bulanshahar) was allotted to him to meet the expenses of the troops under his command. Qaqan Beg's mother tongue was Turkish and by profession he was a soldier.

The position offered to him by the king was not, in his own estimation, suitable to his stature as a military commander. He, therefore, could not stay long with the imperial service. When a better offer came his way from Maharaja of Jaipur, he took it and settled his family in Agra. The detail account of Qaqan Beg's family is not available, as Ghalib himself does not
inform much on this count. It is, nonetheless, believed that he had many sons of whom only two names, Nasrullah Beg Khan and Abdullah Beg Khan, reached us. The latter was the father of our much-loved poet, Ghalib. Both of them were military commanders by profession. Ghalib, in one of his letters write about his father:

"Abdullah Beg Khan, my father, first went to Lucknow and entered the
service of Nawab Asaf -ud-Dawlah. A short while later he proceeded to Hyderabad and served
Nawab Nizam Ali Khan at the head of 300-400 cavalry. He stayed there for many years. This post he
lost as a result of some internecine quarrel. Greatly perturbed at this, he now headed for Alwar, took service with Rao Raja Bakhtawar Singh and was killed there in some uprising and was buried
in Rajgarh."

Nawab Ahmad Baksh KhanGhalib was barely four year old( he was born on December 27, 1797 )at the time of the tragic demise of his father. Ghalib's mother was the daughter of an aristocrat, Ghulam Husain Khan, who had served as a commander in the Mughal army. Ghalib's parents had three children, one daughter and two sons. The daughter was older than Ghalib; his younger brother was two years his junior. Ghalib's uncle, Nasrullah Beg Khan, looked after the family, in the aftermath of the demise of Ghalib's father. Nasrullah Beg was an affluent man. He began his military career by joining the Maratha army and steadily moved upward to become the Governor of Agra Fort. When the British Commander, Lord Lake, reached Agra in 1803, Nasrullah Beg surrendered the Fort at the insistence of his brother-in-law, Nawab Ahmad Baksh Khan.

The British then appointed him as a commander and also allotted him the two distrcts of Sonk and Sunsa, which once belonged to the principality of Indore. However, Ghalib was not fortunate enough to live under the shelter of such an influential and powerful patron for long. Nasrullah Beg Khan died in an accident in 1806,when Ghalib was only nine year old. This was a difficult time for Ghalib and his family members. However, Nawab Ahmad Baksh Khan showed mercy on the hapless family and took Ghalib and his younger brother under his protection. After a while the British rulers also granted a pension of Rs. 10000 per anum to the survivors of Nasrullah Beg. Strangely the patron of Ghalib, Nawab Ahmad Baksh played dirty and not only got the amount of the pension reduced to Rs. 5000 but also inserted the name of some Khwaja Haji as the major beneficiary in the amount of the pension. Ghalib's share was merely Rs. 700 p.a. which were paid to him without break till April 1857; it was discontinued for three years in the aftermath of the upheaval of 1857. Ghalib's mother also belonged to an aristocratic family and as per the Islamic law had inherited a considerable share in her father's property. Consequently, so long as she lived, Ghalib never faced financial crunch.

Education : Ghalib was sent to a school in Agra that was run by a
reputed teacher of the time , Shaikh Moazzam. Under his tutorship Ghalib
learned all the necessary subjects that were part of the then prevalent
curriculam of the school education. The major thrust of the learning in those days was towards mastering Persian language and literature along with some knowledge of Arabic. Ghalib had flair for Persian language that was further perfected by a Zoroastrian teacher of Irani origin, Abdus Samad, who stayed with Ghalib for two years, first in Agra and later on in Delhi when Ghalib shifted his base there. The exact reason for his decision to move to Delhi cannot be ascertained but it can be deduced that this was because of the persuasion of his wife's relatives. Ghalib, at the age of 13 married, Umrao Begum, daughter of Ilahi Baksh Khan, Nawab of Firozepur Jhirka and Loharu. Since most of the relatives of Ghalib's father in law lived in Delhi, they might have influenced Ghalib to settle in Delhi.

Initiation as a poet : Ghalib started writing poetry at an early age. As per some record he began composing ghazals, both in Urdu and Persian, at the age of 11 years. In the beginning he would try to imitate the style of Persian poets like Shaukat Bukhari, Aseer and Bedil. Since these poets are recognized because of their abstract and obscure style, Ghalib's early poetry is also very complicated and at places almost incomprehensible. As a result of it his poetry came under attack by the critics of the time. He had a couple of admirers too. One such admirer was Nawab Husam-ud-Dawlah, a pupil of the renowned poet Meer. It is believed that once Husam-ud-Dawlah showed some ghazals of Ghalib to Meer who, at that time was in Lucknow and in his old age, leading a life of a recluse. On seeing the ghazals of Ghalib, Meer is believed to have remarked, "if a competent mentor could be found to guide the young boy he would become a great poet; otherwise he was doomed to write meaningless prattle." Though Ghalib never had any mentor to guide him how to write poetry, his own talent and the honest advice of some of his friends of Delhi proved to be the genuine guiding force to make him a great poet.

Ghalib's poeticGhalib's poetic contribution in Persian is five times larger than the one in Urdu. His reputation as one of the greatest poets of the world, however, rests mostly on his Urdu poetry. As per his own statement he began writing poetry first in Urdu and later on drifted to write more frequently in Persian. Initially, as has already been pointed out, Ghalib was under the influence of Persian symbolists poets that had made his poetry obscure and excessively Persianised. On reaching Delhi and on the suggestion of his close friends he realized that Persian style was not appropriate for Urdu poetry. He himself admits this in the following couplet :

TARZ-E-BEDIL MEIn REEKHTAA LIKHNAA
ASADULLAH KHAn ! QAYAAMAT HAI
[Writing Urdu poetry in the style of Bedil
O Asadullah Khan, is well nigh impossible!]

In consequence, he revised his Urdu Deewaan at the instance of a close friend [as per a source it was Fazl-e-Haq Khairabadi, the renowned theologian and freedom fighter who helped Ghalib in editing his Deewaan ] and crossed out most of the verses that were not in tune with the genius of Urdu. This self-correction made Ghalib extremely popular, as a poet , among the scholars and literary critics. When the Urdu Deewaan was first published in 1841, the reigning Mughal monarch, Bahadur Shah Zafar, [himself a poet] was also very much impressed by Ghalib's poetry and on the demise of his ustaad [mentor], Zauq in 1854, appointed Ghalib as his tutor. Ghalib's overwhelming popularity and outstanding position as a poet is not for nothing. Prior to him Urdu poetry was deeply rooted in inane romantic ideas. Ghalib was the first liberal-intellectual poet of India. He, of course, through his ghazals, also urged people to shun religious bigotry and conventional prejudices. He was a sceptic to the core and refused to believe in the infallibility of the age-old sources of wisdom. He was a genius who could encompass the complicated philosophical and mystical topics in a couplet. Ghalib's astonishing intellect is on display in most of his ghazals. Ghalib died on February 15, 1869.

 

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