Classical Super Group: Pandit Jasraj, Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia and Ustad Zakir Hussain


This is about as ‘super’ a ‘super group’ you can conjure. Pandit Jasraj, Pandit Hari Prasad Chaurasia and Ustad Zakir Hussain, on the same stage at the same night, creating magic that is simply unbelievable.

Opening with the popular melodious raga Bihag, especially popular in north India and even more especially by Bengali artists, Pandit Jasraj enraptures the concert hall from the opening note. His voice flows effortlessly, like the Saraswati River, only above ground and very real. There is no rush here. The simple unfolding of the mystery with Ustad Zakir Hussain sahib turning his drums into a sonic annotation. Each of Panditji’s syllable’s is met with a beat (so understated, so intuitive, so suggestive) that seems preordained.

After the opening raga and a bhajan interlude, this dynamic duo is joined by the bansuri maestro from Allahabad, Pandit Hari Prasad Chaurasia. Again, as you’d expect from such All-Star artistes, his contribution is nothing short of elegant. The runs on the bamboo flute are mellow and heavenly, leading and darting between the singer’s words, often times leaving Jasraj himself breathless.

This is volume 1 or a double CD set which we send your way with all good blessings and wishes for the end of 2014!

Jasraj Chaurasia Hussain Jasraj Chaurasia Hussain_0001

Jasraj Chaurasia Hussain_0002

Track Listing:

  1. Raga Bihag (pt 1)
  2. Raga Bihag (pt 2)
  3. Bhajan Kafi
  4. Raga Bhairav


Inner Journey: Daler Mehndi

Lord Ram

Lord Ram

There have been a lot of religious celebrations in India of late. A couple weeks ago was Janamasthami, the birthday of Lord Krishna and this weekend the Hindu world marked the birthday of the elephant headed wise One, Lord Ganesha.

So today Harmonium shares a Hindu-gospel album! Daler Mehndi is a Sikh singer (but born in Bihar, not Punjab) who rocketed to popularity in the early 1990s. With a full voice and an exuberant personality he was for some years the dominant pop star (outside of the filmi music world) in north India. Combining bhangra and western beats with sometimes masale-wale lyrics his tapes and CDs were popular with Punjabi and Hindi speakers from Islamabad to Kolkatta. In recent years he has recorded a number of ‘patriotic’ songs as well as notched up some huge super hits (Rang de Basanti) and dedicated a considerable amount of energy and money to environmental and social causes.

Daler Mehndi

Daler Mehndi

Here, in this traditional religiously-themed outing, Mehndi, sings of his devotion to Ram, the most accessible and widely used name for God in northern India. All four tracks are essentially the same in structure and pace. Though the album suggests the tracks represent various moods and times of worship, this is in fact one single track. It is repetitious, but on purpose. The desire is to induce a trance-like or meditative state of mind in the listener. To bring her/him into the presence of the Lord, focus the mind and soul on nothing but Ram.

This is not a record for Saturday nights or getting pumped for a big evening out. Rather, it is an aid to taking that inner journey.

Hai Ram!

Daler Mehndi Daler Mehndi_0001

Track Listing:

01 Mere Ram (Moksha Dwar)

02 Mere Ram (Morning Prayer)

03 Mere Ram (Kabeer Prophesies)

04 Mere Ram (Evening Repose)


From the Archives: Mohammad Rafi

Another look back to December 2011 from the archives


Jhulelal, Sindhi Community Diety

Mohammad Rafi was one of the holy trinity of Indian playback singers that genuinely formed the soundtrack to India’s first thirty years of Independence. From the late 40’s to the late 70’s Rafi’s voice along with those of Lata Mangeshkar and Kishore Kumar filled not only every cinema but bounced off every narrow gali, blasted from every café and barbershop and wedding celebration across India. And beyond, to Russia, the Middle East and Africa.

 imgres-3Born near Amritsar but raised in Lahore Rafi was an improbable superstar. His family was not a traditional musical one and though he began singing publicly at a young age it was not until he moved to Bombay in the early 1940s that he received training from some of the greats of Indian khayal including Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan. But what he lacked in pedigree he made up for in capability.  His first film work was in 1944. Four years later he was invited by the first PM of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, to sing at his home.

From then on film work increased with Rafi recording thousands of songs for the Bollywood musical directors. Some, such as O.P Nayyar, Naushad and Shankar-Jaikishan used Rafi almost exclusively at various stages in their own glorious careers.

I’ve posted some of Rafi sahib’s film work before and more will come. But tonight’s post is a record of devotional and spiritual music sung in Sindhi.  As such it is a delightful detour away from the filmi world with which he is almost always associated. 

The lyrics of these songs comes from some of Sindh’s great folk and mystical poets: Bulleh Shah, Shah Latif and Dharamdas. The music is composed by one of Sindh’s most beloved patriots Dr Ram Panjwani. He’s pictured on the front of the album with Rafi.

DADA-RAM-PANJWANIPanjwani was born in Larkana, the same district that was the stomping ground of Pakistan’s great Bhutto political dynasty.  At Independence he, with hundreds of thousands other Hindu Sindhis, fled to India.  Pajwani (who was a writer, musician and activist) became a great organiser of the displaced Sindhis in Bombay and across India. To assist him he used the Sindhis’ community god, Jhulelal as a cultural touchstone to give them hope and solace in their ‘exile’.

The (very crudely paraphrased) story of Jhulelal is a tale of deux–ex-machina.  In the early days of Muslim penetration of India the Hindu residents of Thatta in Sindh had the misfortune of being ruled by a Muslim ruler, Mirkshah, who was aggressive about converting the local population….by force if necessary.  Given 40 days to agree to abandon their faith and convert to Islam, the people of Thatta beseeched their gods for a way out. On the 40th day a local woman became pregnant and eventually gave birth to a boy child. From the infant’s mouth flowed the Indus River and on the river riding a fish was an old man with a long beard.

The child/man was able to convince the Mirkshah’s vizier that he was indeed a spiritual being and eventually when confronted with Jhulelal’s powers Mirkshah himself relented and let the people keep their Hindu faith. 

When Jhulelal, also known as Uderolal, died Muslims insisted upon erecting a mini ‘kaba’ in his honor. The Hindus insisted upon a temple. Fighting ensued. Suddenly from on high a voice was heard, “ Behold! You shall make my shrine acceptable to both Hindus and Muslims. Let one face be a temple and the other a dargah (Sufi shrine).”

The story is rich with Sindhi syncretic thinking. Indeed, the vast countryside of what is now Pakistan was for centuries the home of a highly syncretic culture and religious practice. Sufi poetry is appreciated by Hindu Sindhis as much as Muslims and Jhulelal is so revered by Sindhis of all persuasions, the phrase “Jhulelal beera hee paar” is a standard greeting between Sindhis wherever they are in the world.

And of especial interest to the Washerman’s Dog is the frequent reference to Jhulelal in that great Sufi qawwali Dama Dam Mast Qalandar.

So it is with great pleasure tonight I post Hindu and Muslim spirituals from Sindh sung by a Muslim set to music composed by a Hindu who revered the tolerant diety of Sindh who wanted his resting place to be half Hindu half Muslim.

The Wonder That Was Sindh! 

rafi sindhi front Rafi in Sindhi back 1393 

            Track Listing:

01 Kahdi Karyan Mahmani (Sachal)

02 Badal Aaaya Bahar Miyan (Bhojal)

03 Jeko Sabhai Siyaka Satte (Roshan)

04 Hee Aashikan Ja Insaf (Dharmdas)

05 Tu Aheen Sahib (Sachal)

06 Dardan Ji Mari (Shah)

07 Kiya Janey Dum Koi (Bulleh Shah)

08 Kalangi Wara Lal (Ram)

Royal Gems: Malika Pukhraj and Tahira Syed



Malika Pukhraj and Tahira Syed were a mother-daughter singing team from Pakistan.  Together their careers, independently and together, bridge a generation of South Asian musical culture.


Malika Pukhraj

Malika Pukhraj

Malika Pukhraj, whose wonderfully evocative name means, Queen Topaz was born at a time when India’s rajas, nawabs and maharanas, the courtly elite of a poor country, reflected in the glory of the artists they patronised and promoted. Malika was admitted into the rich and esteemed circle of the Maharaja of Kashmir, Hari Singh, with whom she developed a strong intimate (not to say physical) relationship.  Later she moved to Lahore, in the new nation of Pakistan where she was regarded as one of the very greatest artistes of her generation.


Tahira Syed

Tahira Syed

Tahira Syed, was taught music by her mother and has developed into a much loved singer of folk, light classical and some film songs.   This collection, with a new cover from the Harmonium pukka music karkhana, is  true treat. Both  sing songs they made famous as well as the iconic title, Abhi to main Jawan hoon (For I am Yet Young), for which Queen Topaz is most famous.


Here is a synopsis of her life from The Hindu newspaper in India.

MALIKA PUKHRAJ was the unrivalled queen of verse in the court of Maharaja Hari Singh of the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir. She sought employment as a court singer at the young age of nine and negotiated court life until its intrigues compelled her to leave her benefactor whom she respected dearly.

Once in Lahore, Malika Pukhraj continued to give private concerts and emerged as one of the top singers of the sub-continent. She adhered to strict norms of no alcohol at her `mehfils’ and was far ahead of her times in her professionalism. She maintained her independence and attended concerts on her own. It is believed that even the Maharaja of Patiala took dictation from her and changed his flamboyant style to accord her the pride of place in his `darbar.’

Malika Pukhraj died at Islamabad on February 4 this year at the age of 90, but her enticing `nazm’ recitations and `ghazal’ renditions in the conventional couplet form that have been recorded live on. She breathed warmth into her lyrics. She was persuasive and articulate in modulating each note and embellished her poetry with great energy. The harmonious existence of poetry and music was in keeping with the sub-continental tradition of Bhakti and Sufi poetry. She started to recite `Nohas’ and `Marsiyas’ at the age of five. Although she belonged to a puritanical family, as a rasika she straddled two different worlds, singing bhajans in the court of Raja Hari Singh, and was also appreciative of good music, poetry, food and dress. She had grown up with Voh kahte hain ranjish ki baatein bhula do (“they say forget the world of pain”). Her recitation transported her listeners to the romantic world of make-believe, the pain of unrequited love and the fragrance of perfumed gardens frequented by the bulbul. She was trained in music by Ustad Ali Baksh, the esteemed father of Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, and Allah Baksh. She received training in the classical dance form which complemented Thumri, from Ustad Mamman Khan.

Malika Pukhraj left the greatest poetry alone so that her music would not flounder under its heavy weight. She worked upon this idea from Thumri where the poetry of the text is deliberately suggestive and the listener chooses from a multiplicity of meanings. In a similar fashion, great poets like Ghalib Mir and Momin owed nothing to music — the ghazal was itself a self-sufficient literary form, which needed no props from the world of music. The ghazal addressing the beloved was never meant to be sung or even recited in tarannum, lest it should take away from its word structure and disturb the flow of the line.

Her inimitable style brought forth a repertoire where poetry and music blended. Hafeez Jalandhari’s Abhi to main jawan hoon (“I am still youthful”) continues to ring with the youth and vitality of her voice. Besides singing Hafeez Jalandhari’s poems, her rendition included Lo phir basant aay and Quli Qutub’s Piya baaj piyale piya jaye na and Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s Mere qatil mere dildar mere paas raho. In her music, she never lost sight of the meaning of poetry and in the flow and ebb of the voice she kept to the dynamics of the couplet. In her gayaki, to the sweetness of Purabi and Avadhi were added the rich nuances of Urdu poetry.

Her music created a yearning for things long ago and echoed the earthly sounds of the folk music as well as the sophistication of the princely courts. In recognition of her contribution to music, she received the Presidential Pride of Performance Award in 1980, and the Legend of Voice Award from the All India Radio.

She is remembered in the valley as an icon and Lahore is still nostalgic with the resonance of her gayaki. Continuing in her style is her daughter, Tahira Sayed.

jawan hoon

Track Listing:

01 Abhi To Main Jawan Hoon

02 Tere Ishq Ki Inteha

03 Wo Batein Teri

04 Yeh Alaam Shauq

05 Ab ke Jadeed Wafa

06 Jag Soz-e-Ishq

07 Har ek Jalwa

08 Lo Phir Basant

09 Kab Yaar Main Tera

10 Badban Khulne Se

11 Kab Tak Dil

12 Jo Guzari

13 Jhanjar Pabhdi na