art, culture & heritage





Ghazal and Concerts

                                              Savera Nadeem 





Ghazals are not musical compositions - they are basically rhyming couplets following a particular meter. They have neither a raaga nor a taala associated with them. Ghazal is an Arabic word which literally means talking to women. Ghazal originated in Iran in the 10th century A.D. It grew from the Persian qasida, which verse form had come to Iran from Arabia. The qasida was a panegyric written in praise of the emperor or his noblemen. The part of the qasida called tashbib got detached and developed in due course of time into the ghazal. Whereas the qasida sometimes ran into as many as 100 couplets or more in mono rhyme, the ghazal seldom exceeded twelve, and settled down to an average of seven. Because of its comparative brevity and concentration, its thematic variety and rich suggestiveness, the ghazal soon eclipsed the qasida and became the most popular form of poetry in Iran.


The ghazal is a poetic form comprising a collection of shers, independent two-lined poems. Thus each couplet, or sher, is a virtually autonomous expression of ideas. However a collection of sher does not necessarily constitute a ghazal. The couplets have to be in the same meter and the lines have to be rhyming.

A ghazal is always introduced with a matla, a mono-rhyming couplet (sher) whose pattern is repeated in the closing line of each successive couplet. This couplet was considered in Persian as a single line interrupted by a long pause. Thus a portion of the first line -- comprising not more than two or three words -- immediately preceding the rhyme-word at the end, should rhyme with its counterpart in the second line of the opening couplet, and afterwards alternately throughout the poem.

The opening couplet of the ghazal is always a representative couplet: it sets the mood and tone of the poem and prepares us for its proper appreciation. The last couplet of the ghazal called makta often includes the pen-name of the poet (like wali in the above ghazal), and is more personal than general in its tone and intent. Here the poet may express his own state of mind, or describe his religious faith, or pray for his beloved, or indulge in poetic self-praise. The different couplets of the ghazal are not bound by the unity and consistency of thought. Each couplet is a self-sufficient unit, detachable and quotable, generally containing the complete expression of an idea.

Some poets including Hasrat, Iqbal and Josh have written ghazals in the style of a nazm, based on a single theme, properly developed and concluded. But such ghazals are an exception rather than a rule, and the traditional ghazal still holds sway. However, we do come across, off and on, even in the works of classical poets, ghazals exhibiting continuity of theme or, more often, a set of verses connected in theme and thought. Such a thematic group is called a qita, and is presumably resorted to when a poet is confronted with an elaborate thought difficult to be condensed in a single verse. Although the ghazal deals with the whole spectrum of human experience, its central concern is love.

Public performance of Classical Music is a recent phenomenon, evolving only in the last century. Earlier the performances were confined to royal courts or temples. They showcase talents of one or two individuals, rather than a large group, as other classical traditions might do. The main performers will be one or two and a small number of accompanists support the main performer/s. The main performer will be a vocalist or play an instrument. He will be accompanied on one or two percussion instruments. In Hindustani music it is usually the Tabla, except in Dhrupad form where Pakhawaj is used. In Carnatic music the main percussion instrument is Mridanga. Ghata, Khanjira and Morsing are also frequently as additional percussion instruments (and rarely in the place of Mridanga). Thavil is used with Nadaswaram. The job of the persuasion accompanist is to maintain the rhythm and keep time according to the Taala being used.

The main performer will also be accompanied by a "melody" accompanist. In Hindustani that is usually a Harmonium. Sarangi has become a rarity. Violin is used very rarely. In most of the instrumental concerts, a melody accompaniment is not used. In carnatic the accompanying instrument is Violin. Rarely other instruments like flute are used. Again, if the main performer is playing an instrument, there may not be a melody accompaniment.

The drone is provided by Tanpura. Tanpura will be either played by a disciple of the main artist or by a professional tanpura player. Most of the top grade artists, especially when they get older will ask one of their main disciples to accompany them. If the main performer is a vocalist, the disciple will usually play the tanpura and also lend vocal support to the main artist, especially in Hindustani. If the main artist is playing an instrument, the disciple might accompany the artist on that instrument. It is not uncommon to see the son or daughter of the main artist accompanying the artist. Sometimes, there may be more than one Tanpura accompanists, esp. in Hindustani. Tanpura-s forming the backdrop on both the sides of the main artist make an excellent picture. Unfortunately, sometimes, a sruthi box or an electronic drone is used instead of Tanpura.

The seating arrangement in concerts start with the main artist seated at the center. The percussion accompanist is usually to the right of the artist (left from audience perspective) and the melody accompanist sits to the left of the main artist. The tanpura artist sits just behind the main artist. Rest of the accompanists sit behind the main artist and the main accompanists. Usually the instruments are first brought out and kept on the stage. Then accompanists come and occupy their positions before the main artist comes on the stage. The artists sit cross legged on the stage, after removing the footwear as the tradition demands.

Artists spend some time tuning their instruments on the stage, though most of the tuning is expected to have been done before they come on the stage. The main artist tunes the Tanpura before the concert starts. Some instruments may need retuning as the concert proceeds, usually in between two raaga-s.

Source: Savera Nadeem