Tag Archives: Ustad Chhotay Ghulam Ali

Maestros of Ghazal – Ustad Chhotay Ghulam Ali

Chhotey Ghulam Ali Khan_04

Ustad Chhotay Ghulam Ali

Listen to Rag Purya-Marwa and Sohini Samples


Rag Marwa, Puriya and Sohini

Marwa, Puriya, and Sohini are three ragas born from the same scale (S-r-G-M^-D-N). The three are also amongst the most popular ragas in Hindustani music. So, evidently, most musicians believe they know how to handle these ragas. For the discerning listener, however, renditions of these ragas are often uncomfortable  because their skeletal phraseologies alone are not sufficient to differentiate one from the other.

The true test of differentiation would be for a musician to perform them one after the other. In living memory, only Ustad Bade Gulam Ali Khan, and Ustad Vilayat Khan are reported to have performed this feat.

How, then, are these ragas differentiated from one another? Of course, each of them has a distinctive emotional content. But, communicating these distinctive moods relies on certain well-established rules of melodic grammar, and prescriptive devices for the treatment of the melody.

The three ragas are distinguished from each other by their phraseology, by the melodic region in which their respective centers of gravity are located, and by the relative importance of ascending and descending melodic thrusts in their rendition.

Notional scale bases

By definition, all ragas are performed to base-Sa, at whatever pitch the musician fixes it. In addition, Marwa, Puriya and Sohini, have notional scale-bases, defining  their primary territory on the melodic canvas. The contemporary Marwa has a notional scale-base at the lower-octave Dh swara, thus making D-N-r-G-M^-D its notional scale. Similarly, Puriya’s notional scale-base can be considered to be at the lower-octave Ni. Sohini, a resident of the higher frequencies, has its notional scale-base at the middle-octave Ga.

Haunting signatures

Each of these ragas has its unique haunting signature. Speaking of their respective identities, Vilayat Khan had once said that if you walk out of the auditorium where a Marwa has been performed well, and re-enter after ten minutes, the walls should be resounding with the phrase lower-octave N-D-D. Similarly, the lasting aural image of a well-delivered Puriya should be the phrase M^-M^-G in the middle octave. And, finally, the dominant residual impression of Sohini should be D-N-S’-r-S’ on the border between the middle and higher octaves.

Treatment of melody

Broadly, Marwa emphasizes the robust treatment of the swara material,  with a generous dose of geometric/symmetric improvisation. The Puriya treatment is subtle, and largely melodic. Sohini’s character, because of its limited improvisational potential, is lyrical, replete with ornamentation and frills.

In Marwa, one expects to find melody dominated by descending melodic phrasing. In Sohini, it will be dominated by ascending melodic phrasing. In Puriya, ascending and descending phrases/ passages will be almost equally present.

Now, you might ask how this is possible, because you cannot play any raga by avoiding either ascending or descending phrases. True, you cannot. But, the proportions can vary, and the desired aural images can engineered by clever devices. Careful analysis of great renditions reveals that, when appropriate to the raga, musicians construct ascending passages out of overlapping descending phrases, and also descending passages out of a combination of overlapping ascending phrases.

Time for performance

By the time-theory governing music performance, all three ragas belong to the twilight zone. Marwa and Puriya are prescribed for performance around sunset, and while Sohini is considered appropriate around sunrise. (Bhatkhande 1944)


The contemporary Marwa has changed substantially since its documentation by musicologist Bhatkhande in the 1940’s. Bhatkhande describes Marwa as having its center of gravity in the r-G-M^-D region of the middle octave. Bhatkhande also states that Marwa is not as somber as Puriya but, instead, has a strident, aggressive demeanor.

Since then, the melodic focus of the raga has moved downwards into the lower-octave Dh to middle-octave Re region. As a result, Marwa has acquired a pathos, and lost a little bit of its stridency. The contemporary Marwa retains the (komal) Re and Dh as its dominant swaras, as traditionally accepted; but the middle-octave Dh has been replaced by the lower-octave Dh.

This transformation of Marwa is, substantially, the contribution of vocalist, Ustad Ameer Khan, probably the most influential male vocalist of recent times. Since the publication of his Marwa (EMI/HMV: STC:048:7327), an ascent-dominated interpretation of the raga, concentrated in the mid-octave region, has become a rarity.

Marwa risks confusion with Puriya in the lower tetrachord, and Sohini in the upper. The Marwa ascent towards the upper-Sa is encouraged to omit the Ni swara (G-M^-D-S’), thus permitting a suggestion of raga Hindol.

One of the ways in which Marwa evades the shadow of Puriya and Sohini is by discouraging the use of base-Sa in its phraseology, and prescribing it for use only as an isolated swara. This feature imparts to it a predominantly pentatonic character. In addition, the resultant scale (D-N-r-G-M^-D) creates an interesting tonal geometry, making the raga amenable to geometric/ symmetric, as well as kaleidoscopic types of improvisation.

If we break down the notional raga scale into three pairs of contiguous swaras (D-N/ r-G/ M^-D), the lowest pair (D-N) stands out as a virtually isolated pair, with a frequency ratio of 1:1.125. The other two pairs (r-G/ M^-D) have higher, and identical proportions (1:1.185), and thus constitute similar pairs.

This also explains the special status, and attraction, of the N-D pair as the melodic signature of the raga. It leaps out from the fabric of the music, because it is different, and has a wedge-like sharpness that the other two pairs don’t. This wedge becomes poignant when rendered in the lower octave (the contemporary Marwa), and severe one octave higher (the traditional Marwa).

Skeletal phraseology:

S/ N. r N. D. D./ N. D. r/ G r/ M^ G r/ r G M^ D/ D M^ D/ M^ N D/ D M^ D S’/ N D r’/ N r’ N D/ D M^ G r/ G r/ N. D. r/ S


The dominant swaras in Puriya are Ga and Ni (Marwa is re-Dh). According to some musicians, the (komal) re to be used in Puriya is a suppressed micro-swara of the normal flat Re swara. Vilayat Khan utilizes this suppressed micro-swara routinely by pulling the string from base-Sa.

Puriya makes a normal use of base-Sa (Marwa discourages, Sohini virtually ignores). In the ascent towards the upper-Sa, the raga encourages omission of Dh and Ni swaras, so that the Sohini illusion is avoided. In the descent, Dh and Ga are recommended for subliminal treatment, so that the Marwa shadow does not fall on Puriya.

Despite the lower tetrachord (middle octave) center of gravity, Bhatkhande (1944) considers it permissible for Puriya to descend deep into the lower octave down to Ga. Ustad Ameer Khan, whose Puriya (Navras: NRCC: 0092) too is some kind of landmark, used this feature generously. Vilayat Khan does not do so, and retains a strong middle-octave focus.

Skeletal phraseology:

G N. r S/ N. D. N./ N. r G r G/ M^ M^ G/ G M^ D G M^ G (or) M^ N G M^ G/ G M^ D M^ S’/ N r’ N M^ M^ G/ M^ r G/ N. r S


Sohini attempts to utilize whatever remains of the melodic potential of this swara material, after Puriya and Marwa have exploited it. In reality, what remains is very little.  The skeletal phraseology of the raga is also virtually its exhaustive melodic potential. Sohini is, thus, not very much more than a song.

The melodic span of the raga is also limited to its notional scale. Its presentation is discouraged from going either below the middle-octave Ga, or above the higher-octave Ga.

This is why Sohini is performed most commonly in the semi-classical or light genres of vocal music, whose esthetics are governed by the varied and subtle ornamentation of each poetic idea enshrined in a melodic phrase. This is also the reason why classical performers either present this raga with dazzling artistry, or feel encouraged to take liberties with its melodic frame.

The dominant swaras in Sohini are the higher-octave Sa and the middle-octave Ga. In the ascent, the (komal) re swara is generally omitted, and in the descent, it is treated subliminally. Unless deftly handled, the descent into the lower tetrachord can, therefore, provide a fleeting glimpse of Puriya.

Skeletal phraseology:

G M^ D G M^ G/ r S/ N. S G/ M^ D N S’ r’ S/ S’ r’ N S’ D N/ N D G/ M^ G r S

In actual performance, the skeletal phraseologies of the three ragas do, exhibit some common or tangential phrases. This is the heart of the issue. These ragas are differentiated as much in the sculpting of their residual aural images as in what can be laid down as their grammar.

(c) India Archive Music Ltd. New York
The finest recordings of Marwa, Puriya and Sohini have been produced by India Archive Music Ltd. New York

(Quoted from Deepak Raja’s world of Hindustani Music)


Ustad Chhotay Ghulam Ali

All childhood memories are unreliable. But some incidents from those early years are etched into your memory with sudden force, and often without apparent reason, so that they loom all the more largely in your later years.

We were living in Kasur and I was a student of Class III. My grandma told me that my father was attending a soiree of classical music at the residence of Munni Bai. (A songstress of some repute, she has vanished from our collective memory.) Munni Bai’s house was very close to ours. When I entered it I felt a thunder-like sensation that frightened me terribly, so terribly in fact that it stilled me into a state of motionless silence at the gate. When I recovered my senses I realized that I had heard a taan , a flight of notes, in the voice of Ustad Chhotay Ghulam Ali Khan, who was performing inside the house.

He was born in 1910 at Kasur in a family of professional musicians. He studied music with Ustad Chhajju Khan (later his father-in-law) and Ustad Mian Buddhay Khan Beenkar (a disciple of the Delhi-based Qawwal Bacha clan) and other elders of what was then already being called the Kasur Gharana of singing. Chhotay Ghulam Ali began to sing on the radio-mike soon after its advent in the subcontinent. No music conference was complete without him in those years. And what a sensation he proved to be: a Kasuri lad roaming the whole of undivided India, conquering it wherever he went: Amritsar, Lahore, Delhi, Banares, Calcutta, Bombay. In singing competitions he defeated Ustad Amanat (nephew of Ustad Rajab Ali of Devas state), matched the legendary Ustad Amir Khan of Indore, and became the first and only vocalist from Punjab to take on the untamed Ustad Tawakkal Hussein, the man whose musical genius lives on in Pakistan in the hundreds of melodies composed by his great disciple, the music director Khawaja Khursheed Anwar.

Behind the singing sensation called Chhotay Ghulam Ali, however, is a rather ordinary and often poignant story of universal appeal. In the early 20th century the elder musicians of Kasur were insulted when their great kinsmen Ali Bakhsh Khan and Kaley Khan, both brothers, publicly became shaagirds of Ustad Fateh Ali Khan Karnail of the Patiala Gharana. This started a rivalry between the two gharanas, with the Kasuris seeking revenge. To obtain that revenge they raised a boy called Ghulam Ali, whom they were preparing to tackle none other than the famous Ustad Ashiq Ali Khan, son of Fateh Ali Karnail. The boy Ghulam Ali sometimes had to run three miles a day with bricks in his hands – this was only one exercise to ensure that his stamina reached the range required to vanquish the greatest singers of the land. And he would practice his singing rigorously, sometimes for nine hours a day. The elders of Kasur were giving special attention to the lad’s taan , the rapid combination of several notes up and down a scale, which was in those days a widely accepted marker of good and able voices. As if to drive home the point, the lad even came to be called Chhotay Ghulam Ali, a seemingly humble title that nevertheless begged a comparison with the son of one of the original defectors, a man who was already being called Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan.


Chhotey Ghulam Ali Khan_03


After a practice of three hard years, the time came to show his skills. It happened at a concert on Karachi’s Napier Road. The manly and somewhat sinister raag Marva was proposed, a rendition each by Bade Ghulam Ali and Chhote Ghulam Ali. The latter started first. In his own words: “I started my item which spanned four hours. During the performance, it began to thunder and rain. While singing, every thunder-clap provoked me to reproduce it in my song. I did this and came on the samm , and received roars of applause from the audience.” This telling is corroborated by several musicians who were present at the event. According to some of them, Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan attempted to sing the same raag after Chhotay Ghulam Ali had finished, but came to a stop after some minutes. “ Mera mood nahi bann raha ,” he is reported to have said.

And on another occasion Chhotay Ghulam Ali came face to face with Ashiq Ali Khan, the son of the man who had “stolen” his elders’ disciples from the Kasur Gharana. This event occurred in Amritsar. In those days Ashiq Ali Khan was at the height of his powers, and was in great demand all over undivided India for his rapid, eccentric taans . It is said that Ustad Chhotay Ghulam Ali, upon his arrival in Amristar, threw a challenge to Ashiq Ali Khan (just as the Kasuri elders had planned) and sang the tender-sharp morning raag Gujri Todi for four consecutive hours. When his turn came, Ustad Ashiq Ali Khan ventured to sing raag Puriya Dhanashri, a well-worn weapon of his, but his rendition became insipid because of a rhythmic miscalculation. This was embarrassing for the great ustad, and so the next day was chosen for another round of competitive singing. This time Ashiq Ali brought with him Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, who had been urgently summoned from Lahore just to make sure that the right ‘side’ won the match. But even here Chhotay Ghulam Ali held his own, and his Marva is said to have devastated the collaborative effort of the two rival ustads.

To see a great artiste in his prime is an instant pleasure; to look at him in retrospect, as a vehicle in the course of his life, stimulates a whole other set of emotions. Sometime in his youth Ustad Chhotay Ghulam Ali Khan was assailed by arthritis. This was so severe that it caused his speech to suffer and gave him a slight stutter that he was to have for the rest of his life. Consequently he emphasized the taans in his singing and avoided the long, stable notes. This is also why he never used sargam (the Sa-Re-Ga-Ma patterns that now adorn every raag and qawwali performance) in his singing. He even avoided tarana gayiki for this reason. On the other hand, he developed a knack for the lighter forms of singing such as ghazal , thumri and daadra , and became an accomplished soz-khwan at Muharram ceremonies. So powerful and moving was his soz-khwani , in fact, that it was even acknowledged in Lucknow, the home of the North India Shiia aristocracy. The marsiyas of Anis and Dabeer were among his favourites.

Always clad in kurta-pajama and sherwani , Ustad Chhotay Ghulam Ali was a sophisticated and well-mannered man. He was handsome, stout and healthy-looking, and he remained free of any scandal, though there was one attempt to link him romantically with Akhtaribai Faizabadi, a story that is now believed to be false.

In fact Ustad Chhotay Ghulam Ali was a great teacher of women singers; his pupils include Meena Lodhi, Shahida Parween, Robina Mustafa and Sara Zaman. Even Muhammad Rafi, originally of Lahore and latterly of the Indian film industry, benefited from his teaching.

Towards the end of his life Ustad Chhotay Ghulam Ali joined the Alhamra Arts Council in Lahore. In 1985 the government of Pakistan awarded him the Pride of Performance medal. The next year he died, leaving behind no children, and was buried at Lahore’s Miani Sahib graveyard.

(The Author :Ustad Ghulam Haider Khan lives in Lahore)


Miani Sahib graveyard___

Miani SahibGraveyard

Listen to Rag Bagesri and Bagesri Kanada

On KASUR Gharana

Kasur Gharana came into existence during 19th century but soon by the 20th century it lost its identity. Irshad Ali Khan is regarded as the originator of the Kasur Gharana. He belonged to Kasur and was a musician in the court of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. As he belonged to Kasur his family was known as Kasuriya. Kasur was absorbed into Pakistan after the partition of India. Most of the artists of the Kasur Gharana settled in Pakistan and the rest who came to India became disciples of the Patiala Gharana. Thus the great tradition lost its existence and identity. As the artists adopt a new style he achieves brings glory to the style but the original style id forgotten. This occurred with Kasur Gharana. The artists, who adopted the style of Patiala Gharana, became proficient artists of Patiala Gharnana in Punjab.

Irshad Ali Khan, the founder of the Kasur Gharana was one of the most renowned artists of his time. After his death his son Mohammed Ichha Khan was appointed as the court musician of the Patiala State. However he died at a very early age. His two sons Kale Khan and Ali Baksh who were just 14 and 11 years old respectively became disciples of Ustad Fateh Ali of Patiala Gharana. Ustad Fateh Ali was a proficient singer and had attained the title of Karnail. Ali Baksh had four sons, Bade Gulam Ali Khan, Bakat ali Khan, Mubarak Ali Kahn and Aman Ali Khan. All the four artists earned great name in this field. All the four specialised in different styles like Dhrupad-Dhamar, Khayal, Thumri, Gazal and light music. Ustad Bade Gulam Ali Khan specialised in Khayal Gayaki and Ustad Barkat Ali excelled in Thumri and Gazal. Bade Gulam Ali Khan after the partition had returned to India and adopted the style of Patiala Gharana. Presently Patiala Gharana is popular for the contribution of Bade Gulam Ali Khan. His son Ustad Munawwar Ali Khan was also one of the great exponents of Patiala Gharana.

Another eminent artist of Kasur Gharana, Ustad Jhande Khan was proficient in the field of classical music as well as light music. He was also a competent harmonium player. He has also served in many theatres as a music director. His compositions are very popular and were largely appreciated. Ustad Jhande Khan is also credited with composing misic for films and famous plays like Mahabharata, Krishna- Sudama and others. He composed his lyrics in classical Raagas. One of his famous compositions is “Neel kamal muskaye, bhawra juthi kasam khaye.” His compositions thus stand as a proof of his refined musical talent. Presently the Kasur Gharana has become completely extinct.


Kasur (also spelt Qasur), a small town near Lahore, Pakistan, is in a region which was famous for the ‘melody in its air and soil’. A large number of Sufi saints spread their message of love in the area. Their lives were imbued with music and they often presided over baithaks of rich classical fare. The great poet Bulleh Shah was from these parts and gave to the world his priceless sufiana kalam. The region saw the advent and growth of a great cultural era in which the dhrupad and khayal  styles flourished along with the beautiful kafi, tappa  and the rich folk music of the region.

It was from this ambience that Ustad Ali Baksh Khan and Ustad Kale Khan, with their abundant talent, brought to Patiala the fragrance, beauty and elegance of their own well established gharana of Kasur. From this fusion, emerged a powerful and melodious gayaki which was emphasized, clear and with meaningful bols, sparkling tans, intricate layakari and gamak. Genres of thumri and ghazal have a special place in this gharana. At the turn of the 20th century, Ali Baksh Khan was blessed with a son who was later to become the legendary Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan. Other sons followed – Ustad Barkat Ali Khan, Ustad Mubarak Ali Khan and Ustad Aman Ali Khan. All these brothers, greatly inspired by the beauty of their inherited style, made their own invaluable Patiala-Kasur gayaki.


Kasur Gharana



٭29 دسمبر 1986ء کو پاکستان کے نامور کلاسیکی موسیقار اور گلوکار استاد چھوٹے غلام علی خان لاہور میں وفات پاگئے۔
استاد چھوٹے غلام علی خان کا تعلق قصور کے ایک موسیقی دان گھرانے سے تھا جہاں وہ 1910ء میں پیدا ہوئے تھے۔ انہوں نے موسیقی کی ابتدائی تربیت اپنے والد میاں امام بخش سے حاصل کی جو دھرپد انداز گائیکی میں اختصاص رکھتے تھے۔
استاد چھوٹے غلام علی خان خیال، ترانہ، ٹھمری، دادرا اور غزل سبھی یکساں مہارت سے گاتے تھے۔ وہ ایک عرصہ تک لاہور آرٹس کونسل سے وابستہ رہے جہاں انہوں نے موسیقی کی تربیت کے لئے ایک اکیڈمی قائم کی تھی۔ ان کے شاگردوں میں شاہدہ پروین اور بدرالزماں، قمر الزماں کے نام نمایاں ہیں۔
استاد چھوٹے غلام علی خان کو حکومت پاکستان نے 1985ء میں صدارتی تمغہ برائے حسن کارکردگی عطا کیا تھا۔ وہ لاہور میں میانی صاحب کے قبرستان میں آسودۂ خاک ہیں۔