You are here

Classical Music


This form of song found in South Asia, traditionally was used to express praise for God and spread the pronouncements of the Prophets. The term "Qawwali" is based on the Arabic term "Qaol" for an axiom or dictum. In South Asia Qawwali is a musical expression of Sufi tradition.

These verses are recited by a group of about nine singers with one lead singer. In addition to hand clapping from the singers, there are number of instruments that can be used in Qawwali. These include instruments such as the bubul tarang, kartal, rabab, sarangi, saringda, dholak/dhol, tabla and harmonium. Qawwali utilizes verses from Farsi, Punjabi, Sindhi, Siraiki, and Urdu poetry. The Qawwali form is prevalent in many South Asian films of the 20th century. Its widespread use in the cinema not only popularized the Qawwali for younger audiences, but also led to the development of several new forms within this musical tradition. In recent decades Qawwali have become increasingly secular in subject content, and has become internationally popular through the work of artists such as the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.


The ghazal is actually not a musical form, but rather a poetic recitation. The poetic tradition was imported to South Asia from Persia. The ghazal was a popular form of poetry in Persia by the time it came to South Asia in approximately the 12th century. By the 18th century the ghazal in South Asia was written in Urdu and became a uniquely regional form of expression. There are strict rules of composition for this form of poetry, which stresses the theme introduced in the opening line and uses alternatively rhyming couplets. While the entire ghazal will follow a theme and is meant to be read as a whole, each couplet is composed in such a way that it can shine independently, to represent the idea on its own. The last couplet of the ghazal, called the makta, often refers to the name of the author and/or some personal ideas about the theme. Today, the term ghazal often refers to a musical form which utilizes the verses of ghazals as song lyrics. The recording industry of South Asia has popularized this form since the very beginning of the 20th century, and transformed the ghazal from a form of enjoyment for only an elite few to one which is enjoyed by all.

An example of ghazal by Faiz Ahmed Faiz:

We'll keep on plying the pen on the page,
Record shall we the tale of our heart.
We'll keep providing the sorrows of love,
And fertilize the wastes of time.
The virulence of times is yet to grow,
The tyrants will stick to their tyrannous ways.
We welcome the virulence, accept the blows,
Life permitting, we'll redress our grief.
If the tavern stays, with the purple wine,
We'll deck the roofs and walls of the mosque.
While there is blood still in our veins,
Our tears will supply the tint to her cheeks.
A style of indifference will be her way,
A style of submission will be our creed.