The girl who would one day be known as Roshan Ara Begum was born in Calcutta, the great cultural capital of Bengal, in or around 1916. Her real name was Wahid-un-Nissa. Her mother Chanda Begum was in those days a well-known singer, who early on spotted in her daughter the singing talent. Consequently, the young Wahid-un-Nissa was sent to one Mumtaz Hussein and then to one Laddan Khan for vocal training. The child was precocious, but even then it took 10 full years of rigorous practice before she was ready for the stage.
In those days Calcutta was the center of artistic life in North India, owing to its status as the first British-colonial city in the land. This is where some of the first Indian films were made; this is also where HMV’s first recordings of Indian vocalists took place. (The first Indian singer ever to be recorded was a famous courtesan by the name of Gauhar Jaan Calcutta-wali.)
It was in this busy and bustling Calcutta that the young Roshan Ara Begum made her singing debut. At once she was noticed: her incredible command of raags and the lightning-fast speed with which she rendered them marked her out as a discernibly accomplished singer. And at such a young age! Instantly she began to tour the country, lighting up mehfils in Bihar and Bengal. In those days she was singing everything: raags as well as thumris, ghazals and geets, and was recording at all the big radio stations of India. Her name was announced on the radio as ‘Bombay-wali Roshan Ara Begum’ because she had married a Punjabi police officer who was stationed in those days at Bombay. (It is said that they lived in a large colonial bungalow.)
It is around this time, in the early 1930s, that the great Ustad Abdul Karim Khan, a singular and eccentric genius of his generation of singers, heard the young woman’s rendition of Raag Multani and decided to take her under his wing. So, at the peak of her career, Roshan Ara humbly submitted herself to the ageing Ustad’s mentorship. She learned from him for just a few years, but it was enough to give her the golden polish of the Kirana Gharana’s style of singing, in which sur or ‘truth of intonation’ stands above every other aim.
In the 1940s Roshan Ara was singing for radio as well as film. Just before Partition, she had scored a hit with her song ‘Des ki pur kaif rangin si fizaaein’, which was part of the score for film ‘Jugnu’, in which the young Noor Jehan had acted. (Noor Jehan was insanely jealous of Roshan Ara ’s singing abilities. But her jealousy is said to have vanished on the day she met Roshan Ara, who was unusually sweet and generous in appearance as well as demeanour.)
The Partition of the Indian subcontinent flung Roshan Ara far away from her cosmopolitan life. She ended up residing with her husband at Lalamusa, a small, nondescript town in West Punjab. It was here that Roshan Ara spent the rest of her life. A citizen now of Pakistan, she would come down to Lahore to participate in concerts. In Pakistan too she was widely accepted as the best and brightest of singers. Her renditions in particular of the raags Shankara, Shuddh Kalyan, Maru Bihag and Kedara were awe-inspiring. [All are captured in these volumes]
In fact, if there was any comparison to be made with a contemporary of hers, it was with Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan. I remember one occasion on which the two great singers happened to share a stage. It was one of Radio Lahore’s annual Jashn-e-Baharan festivals of the 1950s, and it spanned over 7 days. On the first day Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan rendered his favourite Raag Malkauns with full vigour and strength, and after him Roshan Ara sang her own favourite Raag Shankara with zeal and aplomb. The audience was riveted by both performances; there was no agreement about whose song was superior. The next evening Roshan Ara was scheduled to sing first, and she picked Raag Basant. Now it was the month of March, and Lahore was drenched in the smells and colors of spring. Roshan Ara ’s rendition of the taunting-joyous raag seemed to dance with the elements, and was so enchanting that the audience threw flowers on her while she was singing. Next up was Bade Ghulam Ali, and though he tried his very best to continue in that vein of delicacy and enchantment with an accomplished rendition of Raag Kafi Kanra, he could not even enter, let alone break, the spell cast by his magical predecessor. In the end the great Ustad was compelled to praise and bless Roshan Ara Begum before the audience; and she stooped to his knees in a gesture of humility and graciousness.
Unlike other famous women singers of the time, Roshan Ara Begum was not physically beautiful. She was short, dark and fat, and had a large nose. But everyone agreed that when she began to sing, her voice, which had in it the essence of womanhood, would issue from her mouth like a sacred light and transform her whole appearance, giving her a luster that can only be described as queenly. That she was eventually bestowed with the title of ‘Malika-e-Mauseeqi’ (Empress of Music) is a testament not only to her singing talent but also to the effect it had on her audiences, who became her subjects of sorts.
Towards the end of her life Roshan Ara Begum spent more and more time in Lalamusa. The dark age of General Zia-ul-Haq had begun, and musicians of all kinds were adversely affected by the new religious-minded agenda that was being peddled on radio and television. At home Roshan Ara spent time with birds, cats and all the other animals that she kept as pets. In a TV interview from that time, when asked to comment on the potential of young singers in Pakistan, she replied that the new generation was too impatient and distracted to pursue the musical tradition. And indeed she was right: when she died in 1984, a whole era of superior singing came to an end, not just in Pakistan but in the whole of the Indian subcontinent. [from Friday Times]
The origin of the Kirana gharana is shrouded in an air of mystery and, to some extent, controversy. It is generally believed that Gopal Nayak, a contemporary of Amir Khusrau, is the fountainhead of the gharana. He lived on the banks of the Jumna River in a town called Dutai. Later, when Dutai was ravaged by floods he moved inland to Kirana, a small town in the Muzaffarnagar district. He is believed to have embraced Islam. Four different offshoots of the Kirana dynasty are claimed to have descended from him. One of the branches boasts of great names like Ustad Azim Baksh, Maula Baksh and Abdul Ghani Khan. The second branch is studded with names like Ustad Bande Ali Khan, Nanne Khan, Kale Khan and the legendary Ustad Abdul Karim Khan. Yet another offshoot includes in its Kirana lineage the names of Gafoor Khan, Abdul Wahid Khan, Shakoor Khan, Mashkoor Ali and Mubarak Ali. Finally, the distinguished family tradition of Mehboob Baksh, Rehman Khan, Abdul Majid Khan, Abdul Hamid Khan, Abdul Bashir Khan, followed by his sons Niaz Ahmed and Fayyaz Ahmed Khan, express their allegiance to the Kirana tradition.
The precise roots of the gharana are lost in antiquity and shrouded with controversy. There are some who believe that Ustad Abdul Karim Khan is the true fountainhead of Sawai Gandharva, Roshanara Begum, Balkhshnabuva Kapileshwari, Behrebuva, Sureshbabu Mane and Hirabai Barodekar. From this mainstream of Ustad Abdul Karim Khan, in turn, came Pandit Sawai Gandharva whose centenary was recently celebrated with great fete in Bombay, and the ranks of the gharana have swelled, majestically. The leading lights include Gangubai Hangal, Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, Pandit Feroze Dastoor, Dr Prabha Atre and Pandit Sangame-shwar Gaurav. Among their disciples, Krishna Hangal Shrikant Deshpande, Madhav Gudi, Narayanrao Deshpande, Ramkrishna Patwardhan, Milind Chittal and Alka Joglekar have already made their mark and ensured the continued popularity of the gharana.
This phenomenal popularity has been achieved through the characteristic expansive alapchari which unfolds the raga note by note with tantalising languor. The induction of sargams was another alankar which Abdul Karim Khan inducted into Hindustani music with a Carnatic flair. Admittedly, the gharana has undergone a vigorous transformation with the vibrant personality of Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, who has brought into play his own stylistic nuances. It is obvious that the Kirana gharana is riding the wave of popularity. the gharana and the lineage that emanates from him is the main stream of the gharana, while the rest are tributaries. Be that as it may, it is an incontrovertible fact that the Kirana gharana remains the most popular and prolific in the sheer number of its practitioners on the contemporary scene. Ustad Abdul Karim Khan ushered in a new era of romanticism in the rendition of Hindustani classical music which was captivating because it was at once sweet, soothing, serene and sensuous. Although the Ustad’s own singing seemed to lack fullbodied masculine sonorousness, his romanticism won for the Kirana gharana a strong following which included names that have become legends. (Saxonian Folkways)
Track Listing Vol 5:
Track Listing Vol 6:
03 Maru Behag
Track Listing Vol. 7:
02 Shudh Kalyan
Track Listing Vol 8:
03 Nai Ki Kanra