It begins with a river.
From high peaks in Afghanistan and Tibet two river, one blue and majestic, the other the colour of grey mud, snake their way down to the plains of Punjab. At a small town known today as Attock these two rivers, twisting and churning, crash together. For some time they run side by side like hurt lovers, rubbing shoulders yet keeping a safe distance. With each bend one jostles the other, pushing and testing the limits but not wanting to give in return. The conflict continues for long stretches, each struggling for dominance, but in the end the one destroys the other. The water falls quiet and swoops grandly over the plan, moving with purpose toward the ocean. From the clash of these two mountain torrents a new and truly great river is created.
The Indus River that is born in such violence is the mighty waterway that gave rise to an ancient civilisation more than four thousand years ago in the fertile lands of what is now western India and southern Pakistan. Indian civilisation is not the oldest on earth. Sophisticated human settlements have been found in Egypt and Mesopotamia that pre-date those of the Indus Valley. But for long centuries these civilisations disappeared from the scene and when they re-emerged they were something new and different. The cultural accomplishments of their earlier incarnations were forgotten until rediscovered in modern times. The civilisation that developed in the watershed of the Indus River, however, is the most continuous culture humans have ever known. Not only the roots of what has become Hinduism but much of what the world identifies as distinctly ‘Indian’ are clearly traceable through the millennia to the great Indus Valley cities of Harappa and Moenjendaro (now in Pakistan).
Continuity does not imply stagnation or uniformity. The culture of the sub continent has changed almost continuously and is mixed up with the ways, philosophies and languages of all the neighbouring regions; each raider bringing in his saddlebag something to leave behind, each mass migration of people adding a new layer of complexity.
The lands watered by this river came to be referred to in ancient Sanskrit texts as Sindhu. Persians who much later colonised what now Pakistan called this country Hindush, exchanging the ‘s’ for a softer ‘h’. Greek geographers, borrowing from the Persians, spoke of a river called the Indos and called the country through which it flowed, India. Arabs knew of a place where the people worshipped a plethora of gods; they called this place Hind and its inhabitants Hindus. By the 10th century, when Central Asian chieftains began to turn their attention and armies to the task of taking possession of the land fabled for its treasures and exotic ways, the country was known as Hindustan.
And from that land has sprung many beautiful gardens of culture and art, among the foremost, being Hindustani music. Ashraf Sharif Khan Poonchwala, the son of Ustad Mohammad Sharif Khan Poonchwala is in the line of exceptional musicians who have cherished the music and understood with the ear of the soul, as well as the ear of the body, what these beautiful melodies and compositions are trying to say to us. He is the ninth generation of his family’s musical maestros. South Asian (Hindustani) classical music is the result of a unique synthesis of Hindu and Muslim traditions transcending the distinctions of caste, creed, religion and language. Music, and this music, is one of the ways through the present difficulties. With full honour and appreciation that this is a distinctive voice from a particular culture with the full flavour of its homeland, the music is rooted so deeply, it is able to grow high and wide and become a universal experience as well. (Liner notes).
01 Gujri Todi
02 Jai Jai Vanti