Auditor General of Pakistan Director General Sheraz Haider speaks at the conference at Lok Virsa. — White Star
Auditor General of Pakistan Director General Sheraz Haider speaks at the conference at Lok Virsa. — White Star

A conference held at Islamabad's Lok Virsa on Thursday focused on the endangered and extinct musical instruments of Pakistan and their possible revival.

Auditor General of Pakistan Director General Sheraz Haider was invited to the discussion as an honorary guest speaker. Mr Haider is also a cultural historian, an ethno-musicologist, a dance critic and a playwright, and produced a documentary series on the lost genre of North Indian light classical music.

Mr Haider began his lecture with a brief presentation, and first spoke about extinct instruments such as the Vichatara Veena, Sur Bahar, Sarod, Santoor, Israaj, Pakhawaj, Chung, Jaltarang and Dilruba.

Dividing the instruments into three categories — strings, woodwind and percussion — he introduced the audience to the look and sound of the instruments and detailed how they were made and played. He also named famous players and areas where the instruments were most played.

He said the Jaltarang is a melodic percussion instrument originating from the Indian subcontinent. It consists of a set of ceramic or metal bowls tuned with water, and the bowls are played by striking the edge with beaters – one in each finger.

A musician plays the jaltarang (right) during a performance in Islamabad in
A musician plays the jaltarang (right) during a performance in Islamabad in

Mr Haider also spoke about endangered instruments such as the Sarangi, Sarand, Mor Chang, banjo and Kashmiri Sarangi. He said these instruments are still played in Sindh and Balochistan by folk musicians.

The Sarangi is one of the oldest bowed instruments from this region, he said. The body of the Sarangi is hollow and made of teak wood, adorned with ivory inlays. Mr Haider said the instrument is losing popularity and requires help from institutions for its revival.

While concluding his lecture, he said it is a matter of great concern that this music and these musicians are dying out.

“Earlier, these musicians were given respect and patronage, they didn’t worry about the bread and butter for their families. Unfortunately, now the younger generation of seasoned musicians doesn’t learn the music because they think it is worthless as it cannot help them financially. These are expensive instruments that most people can’t afford and there are also no institutions for those who still want to learn,” he said.

He added that the film industry and Radio Pakistan were a great support to these instruments, and their downfall has had a negative impact. He also criticised a society in which music is low on the list of priorities, saying: “We can spend thousands on [dining out one time] but will not spend on a musical gathering.”

He urged the government and organisations such as Lok Virsa and the Pakistan National Council of Arts to play their role in preserving these instruments, as they were tools to promote a soft image of Pakistan that is needed today.


Originally published in Dawn, December 28th, 2018

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