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Exploring Chitral: Khowar music, the phoenix mode

Sher Wali Khan Aseer

The music composed by Khow musicians has no match, neither in terms of its richness and diversity of modes nor in intricacies of composition. The oldest modes of Khowar music are attributed to the famous fabulous bird – phoenix – probably because such music of the highest artistic beauty is unbelievable to have been created by a human imagination and skill.

sher wali khn aseer
Sher Wali Khan Aseer

The fact that no musician of the known cultural history of Chitral succeeded to compose a piece of music of a slightest resemblance to these classical sounds strengthens the above notion.

But the one who knows about the non-existence of the legendary bird, Qoqnus, surely bows his head in salutation to the unknown artists for creation of such a masterpiece of music. Khowar music consists of pure sounds and songs. These musical modes or songs are divided into two main groups: classical and non-classical. The classical group of songs and sounds are further subdivided into Dani and non-Dani. Dani sounds are played by an orchestra as well as solo but non-Dani classical sounds are played as solo only. The famous modes and sub modes are:- 

i. Qoqnuzo Hang (the mode of the Phoenix): There are four musical sounds, namely Krui Kumoru, Berangi, Ali Sher Khan and Noor Quli. These are played on Sitar or flute by a soloist. No dance is performed on these modes. They have both short and lengthy notes but highly melodious and fascinating. Their composition is delicate and intricate that a very expert and highly skilled musician can play them in their proper tune. We may rightly call them ‘Deepak Raag of Khow Music. 

ii. Dani modes or sounds:  There are two groups of Dani: pure Dani sounds and songs. These modes have lengthy and highly rhythmic sounds and are played on string, woodwind and brass musical instruments accompanied by percussion. They have short as well as long notes, and change with long echoing pauses, but continuity of rhythm is not disturbed. The music goes on in a slow motion and gains high tempo in the middle and slows down for a few minutes.

At the closing stage it again resumes speed and high tone for a moment and ends at the style it began. To name a few Dani modes what could be recalled are: Lot-dani, Ustaad-dani, Chhogh dani, Dado dani, Arabkhano dani, Bulbul Khano dani,Shishtuwar, Hunzikwar, Sardar Mitaro dani, Mirwalio dani, Mirza-e-Alam, Charwelukhano dani, Gulo dani, Anwaz Bibi, Yormas Begim, Yarkhuno Hakimo dani, Krui Khani, Shabdaraz, Barwazi, Lalozang, Nohtiko hang, Laspro Hakimo dani and Sheramano dani. 

iii. Ashurjan:  It is the sweetest and most melancholic sound of the Khowar music. It is played on Sithar, flute or pipe as solo. It has melting and burning effect on listeners, especially the lovers, women and small children.

Ashurjan has the same characteristics as Dani but the difference is that it is played by a soloist and dancing can not be performed on its music. It contains thousands of lyrics (rhythmed and unrhythmed) composed by different poets cum lovers. There are three sub modes of Ashurjan, played by change of bass and treble tones (zer o bam) while the fourth one is called Ashuejan Dani. Besides the above, Badsha-e-Shab, Asham Bibi, Dok Yekhdiz, Nandoshi, Rustamo Hang, Lok Zhur (a farewell song for a bride), Saedogh and dani mode of Yarman Hameen also belong to the Ashuejan group of sounds. 

iv. Ghalwar:  It has short notes and highly rhythmic tones. Characterized as sawuz this mode pertains to polo match. It has five sub tones i.e. Ponwar, Bakharashwar, Duqbaduq, Tampuqo hang and Begal. These modes are played on the day and at the polo ground when polo is played.

v. Zhangwar:  It is a lonely musical mode played in old days when the fighting soldiers moved on for a war. It was also played during war/battle to stimulate and encourage the warriors. It is a highly melancholic sound. It has short and long notes running through all  the steps of a musical instrument with continuity of rhythm. It is an orchestral as well as a solo musical mode. 

vi. Sawuz: All the tunes or sounds with short notes and speedy rhythm are called Sawuz hang.This mode is played on orchestra and easy to dance to it. Apart from pure Khowar Sawuz musical sounds, Pashto, Urdu, Panjabi, Shina, Balti and other sounds which have become an integral part of Khow music, all come under this mode. Unfortunately Chitrali musicians of today have been unable to compose Khow sounds, and are dubbing foreign sounds into Khowar in quest for music for their songs/lyrics.

The practice, though not fair, is enriching Khow culture albeit shadowing the Khow music. Another unfair practice commonly exercised is that the sounds composed for the folk songs are being stolen and used for new lyrics and songs. I have been advising our musicians and composers to refrain from this practice.–Published in ChitralToday.


(Sher Wali Khan Aseer is Chitral-based educationist, researcher, Khowar poet and writer). 

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1 Comment
  1. Obaid Ullah says

    Ustad Muhtaram , bo sheli mazmoon wa bo maza arer hamo ray. Ispa nawjuwanan bachain Chitral saqafato sora hamush sheli mazmoon wa tahqiqi maqala nevayshi pisa Chitraro nawjuawanan sora bo ihsan komian.. haya zamano nawjuwanan tan saqafatosar haruni khabardar no. Hesum justa pisa ee zamana Chitraro Qauman sora di ee tehqiq koriastami atetan di mazmuno shikila haya websito zariya ki nashar aretami meherbani boi..

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