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Multan’s crowning glory

The recent death of Taj Multani brings to mind his southern city’s long association with the performing arts

Multan’s crowning glory

Taj Multani was a good vocalist but he did not get the recognition that his honed talent deserved. Most of his life he lived in Multan and the adjoining areas, singing the kaafi and other lok geet with great virtuosity. He also sang the ghazal to limited acclaim when ghazal was the most sought-after form with the rise of Mehdi Hasan in the 1960s.

He was a shagird of Ustad Salamat Ali Khan. In the years that Ustad Salamat Ali Khan spent in Multan after migration in 1947, he realized that kheyal and thumri were given short shrift by the listeners although they were keen listeners of the kaafi. He was hugely successful in pure musical terms because before him Ustad Ashiq Ali Khan in his musical wanderings of the region had explored with success the possibility of Sindhi and Punjabi kaafi being freed from its essential song format in the mudh lae. Taj Multani picked the trail from there and sang kaafi including Khawaja Fareed’s and was appreciated by the common listener, but hugely acclaimed by virtuosos of music.

One wonders why Multan has thrown up many artistes in the performing arts, including music. Usually artistes gather around a patron and the traditional patrons of the arts in the subcontinent have been the sufia, the courts ranging from the mighty central one to the rather modest ones of the principalities. The patronage extended by the local feudal establishment too has been of considerable help in promoting the cause of music and the performing arts. In the first half of the twentieth century radio provided a platform and the artistes were attracted to the magnet of this new medium which could take music to farther corners without the artistes physically moving there. Multan Radio though was set up pretty late in the day, and many local artistes like Pathaney Khan otherwise known in limited circle suddenly became national icons and figures. Taj Multani too benefited greatly from the establishment of a radio station in Mutan.

The annual urs of the sufia were occasions for artistes to congregate. The bigger shrines in Multan like Bahauddin Zakariya and Musa Pak Shaheed are not known to offer much patronage, being more prone to an orthodox reading of religion but others like Shams Tabrez Subzwari, and slightly away from the city, Sakhi Sarwar have been known to be centres of patronage in one form or the other. Even farther away the shrine of Khawaja Fareed too has been instrumental in proving a safer place for the artistes to gather, practice and perform.

Bahawalpur was a big state and it is said that some of the nawabs were very keen patrons of music and the way kaafi is rendered in that area owes to the wisdom and insight of Khawaja Fareed and the patronage of the Bahawalpur nawabs. But Multan was not a princely state during the colonial era and it is a little surprising that it emerged as a centre of the arts in the past few decades.

The kar ending means that the person is of Marathi origin like Ambedkar, Gavaskar, Amorikar and Tendulkar

After partition some of the artistes who lived in Multan but did not belong there were Iqbal Bano and Ustad Nazakat Ali Khan/Salamat Ali Khan. Iqbal Bano too sang the kaafi while she lived there, calling it the Multani kaafi. Surraiya Multanikar became a known vocalist from Multan and the suffix Multanikar distinguished her as a Multani. Why she added the suffix kar is not clear but it could be because Lata called herself Mangeshkar. But the kar ending means that the person is of Marathi origin like Ambedkar, Gavaskar, Amorikar and Tendulkar. Mangeshkars belong roughly to a sub caste of minstrels/ performers spread over Mahrashthra, Rajisthan, Gujrat and Sindh. In Sindh they are called Manganhars, who just earn their living by singing and dancing. But the association of Mangeshkar and Multanikar by Surraiya can only be attributed to her paying homage to a great performer. Surraiya Multanikar is the shagird of Ghulam Nabi Khan, a sarangi player originally from Delhi.  Naheed Akhter another popular vocalist who hailed from Multan.

Taj Multani was awarded with the Pride of Performance and he won many awards basically from patrons in his own area but the real award was that he sang the kaafi and the lok geet in the traditional ang and hence represented the “rehtal and wasaib “of the area generally falling in South Punjab and Upper Sindh.

Sarwat Ali

The author is a culture critic based in Lahore

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