Mighty and majestic, like the Chenab

Music-for-the-mind — Masterclass 1 — by Gaurav Sharma

Thank you Nalini for asking me to write about the music that has “moved me, healed me and lifted me up”. I dedicate this blog to your “Month of Mindfulness” campaign to raise funds for The/Nudge Foundation. This article is the 1st in a series of 3 that I will do on the music that I am listening to in loop these days and why?

The song that moved me recently (I’m already 4 months late in discovering this!) is the carefully crafted “Paar Chanaa De” composed by the Noori brothers for Coke Studio Season 9.

Folk music of course comes from a strong tradition of being transmitting orally from generations and performed by custom. Another beauty of folk is that the instrumentation is rustic and almost always, unplugged. And this composition also involves a lot of acoustic instruments and is performed in a live studio atmosphere. The synergy of what everyone brings to the recording room is simply splendid!

The significance and popularity of folk music world-wide makes us realise that a song should never be classified as old or new, you may either like it or not. Otherwise all music would have just been archived for museums and not remain popular with the folks.

At this time, I urge you all to listen to this clip before reading any further. Eyes closed. Mind open.

Paar Chanaa de starts with Ali Hamza singing the earnest request from Sohni who is trying to cross the river Chenab to meet her lover. She is talking to her pot/vessel on which she is trying to cross these turbulent waters. She crosses the mighty river every night to meet her Mahiwal but today instead of her regular baked earthenware pot, she is with a vessel of unbaked clay, which can dissolve in water anytime. Sohni’s jealous sister-in-law has replaced the pot and today shall be the last night of Sohni’s life as the waves are surging high.

Sohni is telling her pot that she can finally see her beloved’s hut right there across the Chenab river and only the pot can take her there, “Paar chanaa de disse kulli yaar di, ghariyaa ghariyaa…”. The pot replies that it is made of clay (kachchi mitti) and will not be able to complete this journey. This first part of the song is soulfully composed and Hamza’s heavy ‘baritonic’ voice is aided with instruments like the banjo, harmonium and dholak.

After establishing this context, the song sets the melancholy of the situation with a moving solo-piece by Noor Zehra on the ‘Sagar Veena’, an instrument invented by her father. Noor Zehra is the mother of the brothers who have composed Paar Chanaa De and is said to be the only person in the world who has mastered the Sagar Veena. She also learnt music in California at the Ali Akbar College of Music. Ustad Ali Akbar, by the way, is the one who taught classical music and sarod to RD Burman. Interestingly, the Sagar Veena also has a strong tone like that of Sarod.

Madam Noor’s father Raza Kazim is actually a lawyer and politician who was part of the Indian National Congress before India’s independence. He has been working on the Veena for decades now and it has a stoic similarity to the human voice with a wide range of timbres and resonances that it can produce.

The 3rd part of the song is sung by Shilpa Rao and is filled with long notes of longing and desperation as this is where Sohni is showing absolute clarity in her purpose. She is asking the clay-pot to hold on for some more time because “Aj Mahiwal noo main jaana mil ve” (I have to meet Mahiwal tonight at any cost). Otherwise “yaar noo milegee aj laash yaar di” (or tonight a lover will meet his beloved’s corpse) .. that she has to meet him, even in death. Shilpa Rao who is very choosy about her singing assignments, has done full justice to this one haunting line as she sings it with minimal music around.

The finale comes with the second composer brother coming in with violins, drums and guitar vehemently portraying the rising of waves and the death that is about to grasp Sohni. Ali Noor takes the song to its crescendo with Shilpa and chorus supporting him and the lyrics turn philosophical with “phad pallra pakke murshid da, jeda tenu paar lagave” (hold the hand of your spiritual guide firmly, and he will take you across) — talking about the final journey this body has to make.

The Chenab flows from the upper Himalayas in Himachal Pradesh, then through the Jammu region and into the plains of the Punjab in Pakistan. This song also flows between ‘our’ respective lands, enriched by composers from Lahore and a singer from Jamshedpur meant to tell us that language and music have no religion and other boundaries.

Very rarely do you come across a song that evokes visuals in the listener’s mind. Paar Chanaa De fits this category very well and it will make for a visually stunning video if someone ever chooses to include this song in their movie or music video. I have not heard the Noori band before this season of Coke Studio and am not aware of their other work. But all I know is that to create something so meticulous may take a lifetime from most composers. It is what mindfulness is all about, it is about living in the moment, living with your creation for days and weeks and months, it is about giving what you do a piece of your own.

Thank you, Gaurav! In a single post you have captured how powerful and mindful music can be. I traveled across lands and time as I listened intently and then went into yet another journey as I read your insights. Who would have thought, so much nuance and history is contained in one single composition. What moved me most about the piece itself is how it is both sad and spirited at the same time.

My favourite sentence: “kacchiyaan da hunda kaccha anjam ni, eh gaal ‘aam ni” — the unsound can only reach an unsound end, this truth is known to all. Unable to get it out of my head!


This blog is part of a series of blogs/tweets titled “My Month of Mindfulness”. A challenge to myself; an attempt to touch lives.

If you’d like to touch lives too, please consider contributing to my fundraiser here: NudgeNow

You can access the full series by following my Twitter handle.