Recently, I came across this newly-released Odia album titled Ghazal Gajaratie. The album features eight songs written by well-known lyricists of Odisha—the likes of Devdas Chhotray, Mohit Chakraborty and Arun Mantri—set to tune by noted composer Lakshmi Kanta Palit. All the songs have been rendered by Mitali Chinara, one of the most mature voices in contemporary Odia music.
The album is the latest example of a trend in Odia music being seen in the last few years: experimentation by a few musicians who are challenging creative limits without an overtly commercial consideration—combining some of the finest lyrics with matching music, that goes beyond the ‘formula’. I wrote about the trend in this blog more than three years back. A lot has happened since then, though.
Most of the songs in the album, Ghazal Gajaratie, are clearly above the ordinary. The composer’s stubborn refusal to succumb to today’s dominant trend—excessive orchestration—contributes immensely to make the album stand out. Two songs—the title song, Ghazal gajaratiye and Mo gajara mahakigala—are extremely sensuous. Most of the lyrics are not overtly heavy and can appeal to both common listeners and connoisseurs. In short, Ghazal Gajaratie is an excellent addition to the genre of Odia experimental music.
The only issue: it is not a ghazal album. Seven out of the eight songs in the album are not ghazals, the only exception being Katha thila dine, penned by Devdas Chhotray, the seventh song in the album.
The lyrics are great, the music is superb, rendition is heart touching; the songs would have sounded as good, even if the album was known by any other name. I do not understand what was the incentive to use the word ghazal in the title. Does the word sell more? By ‘sell’, I am not necessarily referring to commercial sales of the album but broadly the perception about the quality/stature of the work. Does it sound more artistic or intellectual?
I guess so.
Some time back, I had come across another Odia album in YouTube, called Ghazal Sandhya, sung by an artiste, Sangram Mishra, who happens to be the sole lyricist in the album. Unlike Ghazal Gajaratie, the music, lyrics and rendering are all below average, to put it mildly.
Yet, there is something that is common between the two albums: the attempt to label non-ghazals as ghazals.
What is so fascinating about calling some songs ghazals, when they are clearly not?
For the uninitiated, ghazal is NOT a form of music; it is a form of poetry with clearly defined rules. Though all poets have not followed all the rules all the times, there are some basic requirements that must be met to call a poem a ghazal.
In short, a ghazal is a collection of sher‘s of equal behr. A sher is a two line poem. Behr is the meter. It must satisfy some rules to be called a ghazal. In a ghazal, there are one/more common words that are repeated in both the lines of the first couplet (sher) and then in the second line of each subsequent couplet. These common word(s) are called radiff. There’s one more requirement. The word preceding the radiff in each couplet must rhyme. This is called kafiya. The first sher is called matla. The last sher usually contains the pen name (taqallus)of the poet. This is called maqta. The shers must independently stand on their own, though some time together they may express one central idea.
Anyone desirous of understanding it with illustration, can refer to this very good explanation here, which uses Ghalib’s famous ghazal Koi umeed bar nahin aati to illustrate. Later in the text, I will illustrate the rules using an Odia ghazal as example.
The above is a very brief description of the basic rules of poetic form. Then, of course, is the theme. Usually, ghazals are pessimistic and are a male expression. This is in contrast to thumris in Indian classical music, which are female expressions, and though often they are complaints against the beloved—as in many Radha-Krishna themed thumris—they are not pessimistic. There’s always a craving for reunion; never hopelessness.
The third element is singing style, ghazal gayaki. That is dependent on culture and while Urdu ghazals have evolved in a particular manner which has impacted its singing style, I feel there is no reason why ghazals in other language should overtly follow that. But that is another debate, for another day. For the present discussion, I will not venture into that territory.
My idea here is to factually present some lesser known facts about Odia ghazal singing, a sort of quick history.
The history of ghazal in Odisha is not too old. And not surprisingly, the experimentation was started by the one name that we associate most experiments in modern Odia music and dance with: Kavichandra Kalicharan Pattnaik. He included a ghazal in one of his plays, way back in 1925. But I will not get too much into ghazal writing here. Some researchers like Mohammed Ayub Kabuli have written extensively on that. The subject has also been dealt with by eminent Odia poet Haraprasad Das.
I will try to keep myself to some info on ghazal singing in Odia, though ghazal writing and singing cannot be completely separated. The person who really consciously pursued writing and singing ghazal in Odia was none other than the king of all experimentation: Akshaya Mohanty. He and some of his accompanying lyricists, most notably Devdas Chhotray, did experiment a lot with ghazal writing. For some strange reasons, Khoka Bhai (as Mohanty was popularly known) recorded only a handful of his own written ghazals. He published a book of ghazals called Geeti in 1968. In 2001, a little before his death, many of his ghazals published in Geeti as well as some new ghazals were published in a book, Madhushala, edited by Dr Renubala Mishra.
But from the 50 ghazals that find a place in Madhushala, I could locate public recording of only three, two of which I could find in YouTube and have included the links. The link for the third, Maribaku thila, is to Saregama site where one can buy the song, after a short preview. I could not locate it on YouTube.
- Kalankita ei nayaka akhiru luha bi padile jhari
- Emiti eka bagichare mu bandhichhi mora ghara
- Maribaku thila bahubata hele kahinki mu bhala paili
In addition, this is another one of his own written ghazal, which is not included in Madhushala.
He has recorded a few more for All India Radio, which are not available publicly. Some such ghazals include Tuma pare ki rakhibi bahrasa muhin, Ama duhinka marame dashichhi and Dukha mo rahichhi.
Interestingly, his last recorded album brought out by Sarthak Music, too contained a ghazal, though it was not written by him. The lyricist is Devdas Chhotray. Here is a link
Akshaya Mohanty has rendered quite a few ghazals written by Devdas Chhotray, including a couple of them in movies such as Badhu Nirupama and Papa Punya. Here is one from Papa Punya, which the lyricist wrote as a poem named Umrao Jaan, which was later used by Khoka Bhai in the movie. It is rendered by Haimanti Shukla.
Though Akshaya Mohanty willingly flouted some rules of the ghazal—such as using the radiff in both the lines of the matla or using a rhyming kafiya—he stuck to the basic rules of behr and radiff. I am using his Kalankita ei nayaka akhiru to illustrate. Though in terms of poetic quality, this is not among the best of his 50 ghazals in Madhushala, I have taken this because this is by far the most popular among his ghazals and this, unlike many other, conforms to the basic rules of the ghazal more than many others.
In this, the first sher, Kalankita ei…is the matla. He has not used the same radiff in both the lines. But thereafter, he keeps to the rules, with ‘kari‘ as the radiff and rhyming kafiyas such as papa, gapa, mapa and dipa. Yes, one can repeat a kafiya. The use of maqta is evident. In all his ghazals, he uses his own name Akshaya instead of another taqallus. Interestingly, this is the most commonly flouted rule of ghazal. In filmi ghazals for example, there is little scope for the lyricist to use a maqta. So, usually you do not find maqtas in film ghazals, though someone like Khoka Bhai, with such a high self-esteem has never missed on this element. In many of his ghazals, he does not keep to the kafiya rule; i.e there are no rhyming kafiya but this one clearly has it. The sole ghazal by Devdas Chhotray in the new album Ghazal Gajaratiye that I referred to in the beginning, does not have kafiya.
Beyond the basic poetic construction, Akshaya Mohanty has always kept his ghazals in the true spirit of ghazal. They are always pessimistic, defeatist, hopeless, self-blaming…in the classic tradition of Urdu ghazals.
It is really a pity that most of his ghazals are not available in recorded form. Recordings of some of his private sessions prop up here and there and listening to them convinces one how much he internalized even ghazal gayaki. It is intriguing why he did not record them for public.
After Khoka Bhai, the real good ghazal album that was released for public after long was by Subhash Dash. Simply called Odia Ghazals, this album, based on songs penned by poet Laxmidhar Nayak, was released by Saregama. Dash sang all the songs that were taken from poet Nayak’s ghazal compilation book, Ghazal Jharna. You can find all the songs here, though because of some technical error in Saregama site, some Sambalpuri songs of Fakir Patnaik are also shown as being part of this album.
The trio of Devdas Chhotray, composer Om Prakash Mohanty and Susmita Das, who have set a trend in Odia experimental music, have their share of contribution to Odia ghazals too. In 2008, they released an album, Hati Saja Kara, which contained two ghazals: Janha achhi aau bijuli bi achhi and Sneha ta bahuta milila jibane. Two years later, they released another album, Nua Luha Puruna Luha, which was, by far, a full-fledged ghazal album, with most songs being ghazals, though many of them did not have kafiya and same radiff, instead setting for a rhyming radiff like many of Akshaya Mohanty’s ghazals. Songs like Mu ki janithili mu nije ete sundari boli, the first song, belongs to that category; but the reason it stands out is that it explicitly refers to the shayar with a feminine adjective, a rarity in ghazal. Other ghazals include Diena sneha tike je, Mu ta bhala thili mora eka eka, Mora thila sabu bhul mu manuchi, Tume luchauchha shaha pare shaha, Chahini magini janini kemiti, Jibaku thila duraku tenu bahana khojinela, Se dinara chhabi sabu, and Dukhara dhari hata.
I believe some of the ghazals of Devdas Chhotray have been rendered by other artistes too but I do not find them online anywhere.
Haraprasad Das has written some nice ghazals which, to the best of my knowledge, have not been recorded. The fascination for the word ‘ghazal’ by Odia musicians means there is a perceived value seen in ghazals. Unfortunately, few work consciously towards popularizing the genre.
I am sure there are lots of poets in Odia who have been writing ghazals. A ghazal compilation with the selection from Khoka Bhai’s ghazals as well as others down all these years, recorded in the voices of leading singers of Odisha, would be a great addition to Odia modern music.
Devdas Chhotray, as the most notable living ghazal writer in Odia; the most important personality in this new experimentation wave in Odia music; and above all, the bridge between the generation of Akshaya Mohanty and of today, could arguably be the best person to drive such a project.