Author: Ahmed Ghulamali Chagla  -  Karachi: 1949

The State of Pakistan is only two years old.  Is there, then, a case for Music of Pakistan?  More important still, have we any contribution to make in the world of music?

We might find replies to these queries by first trying to answer some pertinent questions.  What is the cultural background of Pakistan?  What is music, in the psychological and scientific sense, and what is the relationship of music to culture?

The cultural, intellectual and spiritual background of Pakistan is definitely Islamic in character and Islamic culture, which has left its mark on world history, is 1368 years old.  Islam as a cultural force appeared at an extremely critical juncture in history, when ancient cultures had already lost their vitality.  Moreover, Islam took firm root in territories which were, geographically, a link between the East and the West.  It was merchants and traders of Middle East who brought about the exchange of not only commodities but of ideas, between the East and the West.  At a later stage it was Muslim savants - not all of them Arabs - who translated, tabulated, and interpreted the learning of both the Orient and the Occident.  Islam taught them: "Seek learning even unto China" and, for their purposes, they adapted and adopted all that was of intrinsic worth.  This work was done in the true scientific spirit, that is, in the spirit of free enquiry.  Another point of interest is that most of the territories in which Islam took firm root had already a rich background of cultural heritage: Mohan-jo-Daro and Harappa in West Pakistan, Sumeria, Assyria and Babylon in Iraq and Syria, ancient Iranian culture in Iran, and ancient Egyptian culture in Egypt are some instances.

An important point about Islam is that the Prophet (PBUH) never claimed to introduce a completely new religion.  He declared his mission to be to purify religion from the accumulated accretions of centuries.  It was this basic idea of Islam, based on intelligent and all-embracing tolerance, which laid the firm foundation of Islamic culture.

In the realm of arts the results were unique.  Take the instance of Islamic architecture.  Turkish, Iranian, Spanish Muslim, Egyptian, and Hindustani architecture of the Muslim period all bear the Islamic impress.  Yet each has a definite  style and individuality of its own.  No one can mistake the Taj Mahal for the Alhambra.

This cultural fusion, which yet preserved the cultural individuality and integrity of each Islamic group, was unique in world history.  Two important factors contributed towards this: geographical considerations and the racial fusion brought about by Islam.  In the words of an eminent scholar, "Human factors may reverse the totality of physical environment. The language, nationality, religion, population, occupation, are each of geographical  concern".  But he goes on to add: "The significance of location can change".  He also remarks that geo-politicians have tended to underestimate the significance of the "third dimension" - communication.  The growth of Islamic culture has proved this, without a shadow of doubt.

Thus, the reply to our first question is this:  The cultural background of the two-year old State of Pakistan is Islamic culture and all that this signifies in its wide ramifications.

Coming to our other question we might say that, generally speaking, music is a fine art and all fine arts, if true, are the spontaneous expression of the cultural inheritance of the individual, as of nations and peoples.  Art has been well defined by Carlyle as "the disimprisoned soul of fact".  The more intangible the medium of the art the more spontaneous and universal will be its expression.  Goethe calls architecture "frozen music".  That is perfectly true of all great architecture, but its medium is the most concrete of all stone and mortar used in all three dimensions of space.  Painting, on the other hand, uses only two dimensions in space and is thus far less restricted than architecture.  The medium of music is not space but time.  The spontaneity of music lies in this that no sooner the sound wave and the rhythm are born in a fraction of these have are immediately lost, and each time these have to be re-created.  You cannot re-create a Taj Mahal; but if you are a singer, every time you have to re-create your song, using the composer's basic idea.  Those interested in the philosophic significance of time from the Islamic standpoint will find much food for serious thought in the work of Iqbal, and especially in his "lectures" in English.

On the psychological and scientific sides the latest and the most authoritative definition of music is given by the eminent American scholar, Dr. Seashore.  Using the term "feeling" in a specialised sense, he says: "Music is essentially a play of feeling upon feeling.  It is appreciated only insofar as it arouses feeling and can be expressed by active feeling .....  We are, of course, not thinking here about this mysterious something which is spoken of as feeling.  In modern psychology to feel is always to do, to express something - action of the organism .....  There are two aspects of feeling in music.  One is the nature of aesthetic experience and the other is what we may call the 'creative feeling' as it operates in the composer.  Thus, "music is in the first and the last instances, in the mind of the composer and in the mind of the listener, not actual sounds but images, ideas, ideals, thoughts, emotions".

These are always, of course, in terms of physical sounds to which they refer, and are circumscribed by the unavoidable limitations in expression. The first  limitation lies in the musical medium, sound-wave, with its four variable aspects: frequency, intensity, duration, form.  Other natural limitations are imposed on the performer and the listener.  The performer, whether vocalist or instrumentalist, is very obviously limited by his physical organism and physiological condition, as also by the cognitive, affective, and motor aspects of his performance.  These form the physical and mental sides of his limitations.  The self-expression of the musician has always been related to, and characterised by, "the physical instrument" which serves as his tool.  To these limitations we may as well add psychological limitations, arising out of the cultural background of the composer, the performer, and the listener, and the general cultural level of the individual.  Subconsciously these limitations are the result of traditional pre-conception and prejudice.  Consciously, the general level of the individual will show in his composition, performance, or appreciation of music.  It is not generally known that practically all Muslim savants who have given serious attention to music - from Avicenna and Al-Farabi to Amir Khusru -were men of wide cultural attainments.  Some were scientists, philosophers and physicians.  It is this broad cultural outlook which made them sympathetically tolerant, ready to learn and to imbibe, and always open to correction.  Tolerance, as we have seen, is the key-note of the Islamic cultural outlook.

It will be seen that, analytically, the composition, performance, or even appreciation of good music is a complete process.  At the same time, since music is the synthesis of all emotional activity, spontaneous in character, finding a re-created expression through a medium which is spatially intangible, music has a tendency to bring out what is really within a man - the best of the worst. A Greek philosopher rightly said that the cultural level of a nation can be judged by its music.  It is because music of a low type can, and often does, bring out what is worst in a man that the Prophet definitely prohibited certain types of music, which some persons misinterpret as meaning prohibition of all music.

We have been at some length in trying to define music and its relationship to culture, for, without a clear understanding of these preliminary points it would be impossible to appreciate the present cultural level of our music; nor would it be possible to intelligently forecast if we have any contribution to make to the music of the modern world, which, because of the phenomenal development of the "third dimension" - communications - has already shrunk to almost a pinpoint.  We have also to visualise the pitfalls awaiting us at the very next step, if intelligent thought is not put in control of unbridled feeling.  For the sake of our future, we must intelligently appreciate the dangers of a lop-sided development in music.

Keeping in view the Islamic cultural background, it is not at all surprising that in Medieval Muslim India - which included all the territories which comprise Pakistan today - Muslims changed the very nature of ancient Hindu music, as they found it.  It could not but be so, for, it was the impact of a healthy, virile, and tolerant cultural outlook on the cultural outlook of an ancient, cramped, cast-ridden and decaying civilisation.  Bringing in fresh ideas and ideals from the Middle East, which had its own ancient cultural background, the Islamic outlook made the Muslim savants broadminded and tolerant enough to adapt and adopt all that was worth adopting in the Hindu system, before giving it an entirely new character.  This process of the gradual re-creation of the musical system of what was then Hindustan began in the days of Amir Khusru (1253-1325 A.D.) and went on till the very last days of the Moghuls, ending in 1857 A.D., when Sadarang was the court musician of Bahadur Shah.  Thus our last great composer and our last great Urdu poet of the Moghul period, Ghalib, who did more than anyone else to bring about a fusion between high-class Persian and the bazaar "Urdu" of Hindustan, were contemporaries.

It would be out of place here to describe the evolution of music in Hindustan during these fruitful five centuries in technical detail or to dilate on the cultural and psychological implications of the process.  Only a few indications could be given before going on to consider the future of our music and whether we have any contribution to make to the music of the world.

The first question to be answered is: How could the Muslim savants succeed in changing the very nature of Hindu music as they found it?  A reply to this could be found by answering the question: Whence came ancient "Aryan" music?

Hindus usually ascribe a mythological origin to music and that, for them, is sufficient proof that music began in India and some "gods" and "goddesses" were its originators.  These mythological tales can at once be brushed aside.  The earliest Hindu music of which there is any record is described in five chapters in a Sanskrit work on drama - Bharata's Nātya-Shāstra - which competent scholars now date "before 300 B.C."  The present writer has had the opportunity to examine all the loose-leaf manuscripts of this ancient work of absorbing interest available in the Bhandarkar Research Institute and to have the most important chapter on scales and intonation translated independently by competent scholars.  Referring to the beginnings of music, Bharata says very clearly: "Its origin may be the voice, or the Vina (a stringed musical instrument) or Vansh (probably the ancient vertical reed flute)" - (Verse 10 - 28).

This means that "before 300 B.C." the origins of the so-called Indian or Hindu music were clearly lost in antiquity.  But Bharata describes and tabulates the system known then so succinctly and in so few words that one cannot help coming to the conclusion that this particular system of music was quite well known in his time and he was sure his readers will not miss any essential part of the explanation even though he puts it in the fewest possible words.

Now among other things that Bharata describes in detail are scales, which he calls Jāti.  An eminent scholar rightly observes that "scales are a tabulation of the facts of song".  A scale takes probably many centuries to evolve.  No purely "experimental" scale can be thrust upon a nation or a cultural group, with any chance of success, as recent experiments in modern Europe have shown.  Though no one has succeeded in deciphering Bharata's detailed instructions for tuning "two Vinas" to understand the exact intonation of these scales, it is fairly certain that all these basic scales are, roughly speaking, what may be called in modern terminology the "modes" of the European major scale, each beginning on a different degree, in the same sense that the medieval European "Church" modes can also be so described.  The intonation of these diatonic scales may have been "natural" as scientifically justified by Helmholtz, or, in some cases, the intonation may have been Pythagorean, or even "intense diatonic" of Ptolomy.  As it is certain that these are diatonic seven-tone (sampuran) scales, it is difficult to imagine any other intonation, which is ultimately, of course, circumscribed by the facts of acoustics.

The point is that all these scales, and many more, were known in ancient Greece.  Going backwards, Dr. Galpin has recently deciphered the notation of a Sumerian hymn on the "Creation of Man" which he dates "at least second millennium B.C."  Sumerian civilisation of the Middle East, of course, goes back to 5,000 B.C.  This notation was found on an archaeological find, a clay tablet, which was unearthed a few years ago. Dr. Galpin's deciphering of the Sumerian notation makes it quite clear that the music is in the F-F mode (major scale with the augmented fourth), what is called the scale of Eman Kalyān in Pakistan and North India.  This scale was used in medieval Church music and even Beethoven uses it in the second movement of his quartet in A minor, the one he wrote "in thanksgiving after recovering from illness:.  The use of the scale made in Church music and by Beethoven are peculiarly European.  But it is surprising to note - is it really surprising? - that the use of the scale in the ancient Sumerian Hymn is peculiarly "Indian" in character, and anyone who knows Hindu music will be able to recognise it as a rudimentary form of Eman Kalyān.  Those sufficiently interested can find the notation of this ancient Sumerian hymn in Dr. John Galpin's Music of the Sumerians, Assyrians and Babylonians.

Now, we know that Hindu music is Aryan music, and with the Aryans music was an essential part of their religious ritual.  It is true that the Aryans came to India from the North West and through territories which are Muslim since the Middle Ages, and they took a long time in coming, with their flocks and herds.  It is also now suggested that the original home of the ancient Aryans and the Sumerians was the probably same, somewhere to the North or North East of modern Afghanistan.  It does not therefore seem unreasonable to suggest that the Aryans brought at least their religious and ritual music with them from outside India and through the territories which have all now come under the Islamic cultural influence.  If so, their music, or at least its basis, lay in what is the cultural heritage of the Middle East today.  Thus there are grounds for suggesting that when the Muslims came to India in the medieval period they found a system of music having a basis in their own system and which therefore lent itself quite easily to improvement in the light of their own musical experience in the Middle East.  Unless we accept some such hypothesis it is impossible to understands how and why the Muslims were able to change the very character of Hindu music so very rapidly and with such surety.  This they definitely did.

What were the basic changes they introduced?  We have seen that Nātya Shāstra describes only diatonic scales.  The next, and last, authoritative work on Hindu music is Sangit Ratnakar of Sarangdev.  The date of this is said to be between 1210 and 1247 A.D., that is, just a few years before Amir Khusru's influence began to be felt. What is conspicuous by is absence in both these authoritative works, the oldest, and the last, before Muslim influence began to be felt, is any scale of chromatic derivation.  Nor do we find names of Hindu "gods" and "goddesses" applied to musical scales, either by Bharata or by Sārangdev.  It is only in "Hindu" works on music of Muslim period that we find scales of chromatic derivation mentioned and described and, with their genius for fantasy, names of Hindu "gods" and "goddesses" affixed to these.

Now these scales of chromatic derivation, with strong harmonic content and using augmented and diminished intervals, were known in ancient Greece and also in the Middle East. In the absence of evidence to he contrary one can safely say that these scales, which enriched "Hindu" music beyond measure, were all introduced by Muslim savants of the medieval times.  It is this new material which changed the very character of old Hindu music.  Scales being "the tabulation of the facts of song", could only be introduced by those who had been using these for centuries.  In this case it was the Muslims.  Unfortunately there is not space enough to go into the question of intonation and temperament of scales.  But in this field as well, Muslims changed the very character of Hindu music.

Once the fusion was brought about, new melody-types appeared, all during the Muslim period, and new and more flexible forms, different styles, and several Middle Eastern rhythms became a part and parcel of the music of what was then "Hindustan", a large portion of which today is Pakistan.

Important improvements were done to musical instruments as well.  The effective but difficult, Hindu Vina, was simplified into the Sitar, which is a distinct improvement on the Persian Tar.  Among the bowed instruments Dilruba, Taoos, and Sarangi are Muslim inventions.  Sarangi is probably the most effective and versatile bowed instrument anywhere in the East.  The idea of fixing resonating wires to stringed instruments, to increase their resonance, is also a Muslim invention.  Most important of all, the Hindu temple percussion instrument - Pakhawaj - was cut into two and, with important and substantial modifications, became the pair of Tabla (treble and bass) as known to us today.  This is probably the most perfect rhythmic instrument in the world for "chamber music", with its wonderful capability to reproduce the most intricate rhythm from pianissimo to fortissimo, and in any style.  Recently the well known scientist Professor Raman has proved by a series of experiments (published in scientific journals) that the drum head of the treble Tabla is capable of giving harmonic overtones.  This is considered an impossibility to this day in Europe.  Every student knows that a vibrating membrane normally does not give harmonic overtones. It is the method of loading the membrane with a certain composition and placing it in a certain position which has achieved this.


From what has been said, briefly and very generally, it will be clear that cultural development in the realm of arts, and especially in music, is of vital importance to any nation.  It is also clear that we, the people of Pakistan, have every reason to be justly proud of our heritage in music.  We are the inheritors of the works of not only Amir Khusru, Tan Sen, Sadarang, and other masters of our own nation, but also of Avicenna, Al-Farabi, and a host of other Middle Eastern savants who gave serious attention to music. 

It was the extremely tolerant and broad based cultural outlook, behind which was the truly Islamic cultural influence, which lead to such rapid and sure progress among Muslim peoples in the palmy days of Islam.  It is precisely the lack of this and the unfortunate acquirement of narrow sectarianism, unconsciously imbibed from Hinduism, which has lead to our almost complete cultural demoralisation today, especially in the realm of music and the fine arts.  Tolerance is the keynote of the Islamic cultural outlook and, fortunately, signs are not lacking that our people fully appreciate this fact.  Our national poet, Iqbal, says in a poem: "If there is love (behind a thought or an act), even infidelity is faith: if love is lacking, even the man who calls himself a Muslim is an infidel and a renegade".  The same thought occurs over and over again in the poems of our other great poet, Ghalib.

What then of the future?  Especially, what are the pitfalls awaiting us?  If we do not forget our real cultural background and if we take pains to revive our national memory, we still have a great contribution to make, especially in the international world of music.  "History", Iqbal rightly says, "is the memory of the nation".  In the first instance this must be revived to the full and our people must intelligently appreciate that it is tolerance, and not intolerance, of what is beyond the range of our own narrow experience, which is the basis of progress, if we wish to be true to our past.  Research and yet more research, undertaken in the spirit of free and unbiased inquiry is needed for this and, fortunately, our government is fully alive to the fact.  When we have fully rediscovered our foundations we shall find that, as we are situated geographically - half way between the East and the West - so are we situated culturally.  We have merely to take up the continuity of the work so very well begun by our ancestors.  In music our melody-types, based on the characteristic use of scales of mostly chromatic derivation are capable of being successfully and artistically harmonised, without losing character.  Whatever the narrow-minded may say, the vertical use of harmony has come to stay in the world, and the sooner we realise this the better.  But we can offer in the international field a richness in melody and in rhythm, which is nothing "experimental", but based on the experience of centuries, embodying as it does all that is best in so-called "Hindu" music and also in Middle Eastern music.  Co-operation in the realm of music is definitely one way to bring about international understanding.

But what of the pitfalls awaiting us?  All that has been suggested can be done if the noble art of music is rescued from the unworthy hands of "professional" street singers and worse.  It can only be done  if we fully adhere to the Islamic cultural standpoint that enjoins broad-based tolerance of all that is true, good, and beautiful.  Unfortunately, since World War I, music has fallen on evil days all over the world.  In Pakistan the influence of the hybrid "film music", born of the illicit union of the worst types of European and American jazz and the cheapest of the cheap street songs as interpreted by "crooners" and directed by men of no character, who neither know anything of the truly Islamic cultural background of Pakistan, nor even know the theory or history of music and its development, needs to be counteracted without delay.  This is literally poisoning the emotional outlook of our younger generation, as is also happening in other parts of the world today.  These unfortunates are being given false standards, all over the world, and the outward "paint, powder, and lipstick" euphemistically called "finish", is being palmed off as real beauty.

In justification of this standpoint, and to make us realise the very danger of the present position, only one sentence from Iqbal need be quoted.  In his foreword to Abdur Rehman Chughtai's idealistic paintings, Iqbal sounds a word of solemn warning:

"The Inspiration of single decadent, if his art can lure his fellows to his song or picture, may prove more ruinous to a people than whole battalions of an Attila or a Changez".

Need anyone say more? But Iqbal goes on to justify this standpoint:

"To permit the visible to shape the invisible to seek what is scientifically called adjustment with Nature is to recognise her mastery over the spirit of man.  Power comes from resisting her stimuli and not from exposing ourselves to their action.  Resistance of what is, with a view to create what ought to be, is health and life.  All else is decay and death".

And Iqbal concludes:

"And insofar as the cultural history of Islam is concerned it is my belief that, with the single exception of architecture, the art of Islam (music, painting, and poetry) is yet to be born - the art, that is to say, which aims at the human assimilation of Divine attributes, gives man infinite aspiration and finally wins for him the status of God's representative on earth".

That is the truly Islamic cultural standpoint.  In this sense all that has been done in the past is important spade work.  The work of designing and building a structure which would be true, good, and beautiful, still lies ahead of us.  We the people of Pakistan, have to take the responsibility and our proper place in the revival and development of Islamic culture.