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Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan

A nonagenarian, aesthete and scholar of high repute, M.A.Sheikh has been associated with the musical circles of Lahore for almost 70 years and has seen profound changes taking place to classical music. "Yaadein" or Memories is a reflection of M.A. Sheikh's memorable moments in classical music. In his fourth article of Yaadein, M.A. Sheikh writes on an historic ceremony known as “shakkar” involving the late Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, paying homage to Ustad Akhtar Hussain Khan and Ustad Ashiq Ali Khan at the Takia Meerasian in Lahore

Lahore in 1932/33 was a peaceful city marked by mutual brotherhood and simple living. Commonly referred as to the “City of Gardens”, Lahore was devoid of today’s hustle bustle, materialism and pollution filled atmosphere. The main transport system consisted of cycles and tongas whilst the sight of cars plying the city was extremely rare. The pursuits of wrestling and kite flying were amongst the favourite pastimes of the residents, whilst monuments like the Shalimar gardens and Jahangir’s tomb were popular places for picnics and relaxation. Music was considered an integral feature of the city’s cultural activities with countless baithaks, regular music concerts and recorded music of Zohra Bai Agrewali, Bhai Chaila, Maujuddin Khan and others being heard in the main shopping centres.

In these days a grand function was held at the Takia Meerasian, Chamberlaine Road, outside Mocchi Gate Lahore in which Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan confirmed his ties with the Patiala gharana through a ceremony known as “shakkar”, in which he offered his allegiance to Ustad Akhtar Hussain Khan and Ustad Ashiq Ali Khan, the scions of the Patiala Gharana.

It was perhaps the month of October and about 1pm that the music lovers of Lahore started gathering at the “Takia”, by the evening the crowd swelled to over a thousand. The “Takia” was profusely decorated with buntings, carpets and flowers. Large trays filled with sweets were at hand and we could smell the beautiful aroma of food being cooked. The people were excited and embraced each other with greetings and an atmosphere of cheerfulness pervaded all over. Those who were present on this occasion with me were music directors Khawaja Khurshid Anwar and Feroze Nizami, Syed Shabbir Hussain Shah, film actor Gul Zaman, vocalist Ustad Chotey Ghulam Ali Khan, and sarangi player Ustad Nazim Ali Khan.

Ustad Akhtar Hussain Khan and Ustad Ashiq Ali Khan were both sitting at a specially created dais, which was decorated with flowers, carpets, white sheets, and bolsters. A sarangi, tanpura and tabla were placed close by. Ustad Akhtar Hussain Khan was wearing an achkan shining with gold embroidery, a white chooridar pajama, a black folding cap and a red scarf. Ustad Ashiq Ali Khan on the other hand was attired in a dark brown suit, which was designed as a polo outfit with bulging trousers and a short coat with four pockets. Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan was wearing a sprawling white turban, a loose white shirt with a beautiful scarf and a white dhoti.

The ceremony started with the words “Bismillah Sharif” and tying of the “gandha” to Bade Ghulam Ali Khan by the two ustads. This was followed by the distribution of sweets amongst the two ustads and various disciples. Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan presented the two maestros with gifts and money known as the “nazarana”. Innumerable people then followed by presenting nazaranas to the two ustads. There was vociferous clapping and loud shouts of greetings all around. A little later the music concert started. Ustad Ashiq Ali Khan sang raag Marwa for about one hour and the audience was completely overwhelmed with his pure imagery of raag, vigorous tonal variations, inimitable flow of convoluted phraseology and unique rhythmic control. Ustad Akhtar Hussain Khan and Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan were also requested to perform but they politely declined.

This unforgettable ceremony is still recalled by many people, in Punjabi musical parlance it is known as “shakkar” and shares similar traits to the traditional “gandha bandhan” ceremony. The gandha bandhan ceremony is core to the lifelong traditional teacher – student relationship necessary to learning the musical arts in the Indian sub-continent. The ceremony is conducted by the teacher tying a thread (gandha) around the student’s wrist and certifies that the student has become a formal disciple and ready to show commitment in learning music. The union is not just from a musical sense but involves a spiritual attachment between the teacher and student.

The shakkar ceremony on the other hand, is only conducted when the disciple achieves a high level of musical proficiency. It is a celebration of the student’s achievement and enables the student to pay homage to his teachers and fellow members of the gharana in the form of gifts and monetary amounts.

I consider it an honour and privilege to have been present on this historical occasion and at the request of Ustad Fateh Ali Khan of the Patiala gharana and son of Ustad Akhtar Hussain Khan have recorded details of the mentioned above ceremony in a video interview. Some years before his death, Ustad Munawar Ali Khan, the son of Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan visited Lahore and complained to Mr. Hayat Ahmed Khan the Secretary General of the All Pakistan Music Conference Lahore that there was great confusion about the incident as a lot of people held the view that his father was only a disciple of Ustad Ashiq Ali Khan and not of Ustad Akhtar Hussain Khan. Consequently a meeting was arranged at the residence of Mr. Hayat Ahmed Khan in which I personally explained my eyewitness account of this historic ceremony. He was convinced and stated that he would set the record straight on his return to India. However in a recent comprehensive book written by Mrs Malti Gilani and Qurat-ul-ain Haider titled Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, His Life and Music, published by Harman House Delhi in 2003, no mention whatsoever has been made of this ceremony, which is deeply regretful.

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