Classical journey: Pakistan’s addition to age-old tradition of raag

Ustaad Mehfooz Khokhar chronicles his struggle to fame from the wilderness.

Zahid Rabbani August 05, 2013
My most notable contribution to the Pakistani musical tradition is the creation of Panj Rang, says Ustaad Mehfooz Khokhar.


A few decades ago, no one could have guessed that the Gordon College student who listened to the sound of harmonium and ‘raag’ coming out from the maestro Qazi Zahurul Haq’s recording room would one day author five books on classical music titled Raag Saroop, and lead the 21st century’s classical and semi-classical music march.

The Express Tribune caught up with Ustad Mehfooz Khokhar to get the rising star’s thoughts on the Panj Rang — the country’s maiden addition to the 1,000-years-old tradition of raag.

“Feeling a thirst for music, I pounced on the opportunity to go to Qazi Zahurul Haq’s baithak when my college was observing a strike. I saw a beautiful boy seemingly from a rich Punjabi family entering the baithak who started playing Raag Maalcons, he said.

“Haq explained to him the niceties of sur and the similarities and differences between Raag Maalcons and other raags and how to focus on its ghandaar, dehwut and nekhaad — musical terminology I could not comprehend at the time.

Amazingly, all the hard work my teacher and I put in has paid off as I’m now a musician, teacher, and author of books on music,” he added.

Later, the affection of Peshawar’s Ustad Inayat Ali Sultani — from Radio Pakistan — and Ustad Abdul Qadir Piarang helped refine his taste in music, revealed Khokhar.

“Entering the musical world did not sit well with my business-oriented family, but it was the most liberating decision that I’ve ever made.  My Panj Rang achievement has served as a catharsis. It’s an exciting time for me,” he said.

“Working with different traditional schools of music did not click for me. There were many singers similar to me who gave in, but I didn’t lose heart and continued struggling,” he added.

Talking about folk music, he said, “It’s the fountainhead of all music. Some musicians are mixing Eastern and Western music — I don’t call that folk music. These so-called musicians see no reason why Eastern and Western melody can’t coexist. There is nothing wrong with experimenting if it is within the Eastern tradition.”

On his book Raag Saroop, Khokhar said that the first volume touches the theoretical and practical aspects of classical music.

“Challenging the traditional 10-thaat system, I’ve given details of how 484 raags can be played from one thaat — 5,040 taans of seven surs are also included in it. In the second volume, I have included 24 taals of five to 17 maatras and 150 bandishain of 59 raags along with notations,” he added.

“In the third volume, I’ve incorporated 150 sargams of 105 raags, of which 100 sargams and seven taals are my own creation. Thirty-two thaats in pictorial form are also included in this volume. In the fourth volume, 34 bandishain are mentioned.

It also contains 78 taranas, which are my own creation, along with five to 22 maatras in several achoob taals along with notations. Six bandishain are in the name of my teacher Ustad Piarang,” he said.

“The fifth volume covers all musical genres including the ones which have become extinct. My most notable contribution to the Pakistani musical tradition is the creation of Panj Rang, which is also incorporated in it.

This edition has come after a long time. Before it, chatrang used to be sung, which was an amalgamation of geet, sargam, tirwat and tarana in the composed form of astai and antara. Now, lakshan has become its fifth element,” he added.

Despite the fact that Khokhar has won over a host of music lovers throughout the region and brought fame to his country — his contribution has yet to be recognised by the government.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 6th, 2013.


Ubaid-ur-Rehman Aijaz | 10 years ago | Reply

For the very survival of classical music and its progress and continued growth, with vitality, only youth taking it in greater numbers will ensure the success in achieving the goal and objectives. Thanks to Ustad Mehfooz Khokhar for taking up the music with great commitment and dedication, we have now young and not so young maestros, enthralling the classical music lovers.

Mufti Saeed-ur-Rehman | 10 years ago | Reply

Behind all successful musicians, there are guys of exemplary calibre under whose patronage they achieved success. Behind Ustad Mehfooz Khokhar there were some masters like Ustad Piarang. Hats off to all of them.

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