Tying the musical knot

Ally Adnan recently attended a 'ganda bhandan' ceremony in Lahore. He explains the symbolism behind the elaborate rituals

Tying the musical knot
“I had been thinking about my ganda bandhan for years but nothing had prepared me for the deeply moving spiritual experience that the formalization of my apprenticeship with Parvez Paras Sahib became for me. The event transformed me and left me in tears. It was dreamlike. I no longer felt alone in the vast world of music. Paras Sahib was now responsible for me. The blessings of elders were always going to be there to protect me”, said Maqsood Ali.

Indeed, the ritual of Ganda Bandhan in our musical culture is almost always a deeply spiritual experience, bordering on the surreal, not only for the student and the teacher but also for those present at the event. Ganda is the thread used in the ceremony and Bandhan refers to the act of the tying of it. Ganda Bandhan is regarded by musicians, musicologists and music lovers to be the most important and auspicious ritual in Pakistani and North Indian classical music tradition.

Nazar Envelopes
Nazar Envelopes

Tradition dictates that a Mauli, also known as a Kalava or a Charadu is used as the Ganda. Cotton strings are spun in the form of a yarn, and died bright red and yellow to make this particular kind of thread, which continues to be the most commonly used for the ganda bandhan ritual, even though musicians of certain gharaanaas prefer the use of threads of seven colours, whereas some prefer highly intricate and embroidered gandas. Some Hindu musicians tie knots in the thread while reciting Sanskrit mantraas to invoke Brahma and to ward off evil forces. The thread is considered sacred and dipped in sundal, kumkum or chandan. During the ceremony, the Ustad ties the ganda to the wrist of the Shagird which formalizes the relationship between the two. The tying of the thread symbolizes a commitment of honesty, love, devotion and education that the Ustad and Shagird make to each other. Once the bond has been established through the tying of the thread, the two become like parent and child. This bond can never be broken.

[quote]Paras Sahib wanted the basket prepared in a strictly traditional manner[/quote]

“It was not easy finding a mauli in Lahore,” says Maqsood. “I spent many days searching for the scared thread in Anarkali, Ichra and other bazaars of Lahore, before finding it in Data Darbar. This done, I started preparing the basket of shakar.”

Shakar is the basket of snacks that is prepared for the Ustad. “My teacher had given me specific instructions for preparing shakar,” remembers Maqsood. “Paras Sahib wanted the basket prepared in a strictly traditional manner. He had instructed me to first fill the basket with bhunnay channay and makhaanay and then place a large paan ka patta on top. Finally, I was to place a small piece of gurh (jaggery) on top of the leaf.”

Discussion at the Ganda Bandhan
Discussion at the Ganda Bandhan

Every item in the shakar has a specific purpose. The gurh is provided to add to the food - traditionally sweet rice - prepared for guests at the ganda bandhan. The Ustad typically starts the ritual by chewing the paan ka patta. The channay and makhanay are then distributed amongst the guests present at the ganda bandhan.

Once the shakar food has been consumed, the next step is to recite the shakar. The shakar is a song sung only at ganda bandhans to bless the student, to ward off evil forces, and to pay homage to great musicians of yesteryears.

Parvez Paras Sahib recited an ancient shakar of the Gwalior gharana at Maqsood Ali’s ganda bandhan. The song had been passed down to Paras Sahib by Ustad Ashiq Ali Khan Hashmi who was a student of Ustad Tawwakul Hussain Khan. The singing of shakar is virtually extinct in India and Pakistan today and very few musicians understand and practice the proper singing of shakar. The shakar was sung to ektala, a cycle of twelve beats, and the guests joined in the recitation of the tihaii (phrase repeated thrice) at the end.

Paras Sahib led a prayer after the tying of the thread to invoke God’s blessings for Maqsood Ali as he started his journey in the world of music. Everyone present - Muslim, Christian and Hindu - joined the supplications as Paras Sahib made pleas for his student’s success in music and in life.

[quote]Not all musicians present at the event receive nazar[/quote]

The giving of gifts is an important part of a ganda bandhan. Two types of gifts are given - one, to the Ustad and his family, and, two, to musicians present at the event. Male family members of the Ustad are traditionally given boski (Chinese silk fabric) while banarasi (hand-woven silk fabric from Benaras) is customarily given to female family members. Students who have the means give gifts of jewelry to the Ustad and his immediate family members at the events. Nazar is a gift of money that is given to the Ustad and to musicians present at the ganda bandhan. Not all musicians present at the event receive nazar which is usually reserved just for senior musicians and for other students of the Ustad. In all cases, the Ustad decides on the list of musicians who receive nazar; the student does not have a say in the matter.


Parvez Paras Sahib had given specific instructions about nazar to Maqsood Ali for the ganda bandhan. “My teacher told me that nazar should be given to his students and to senior musicians present,” says Maqsood. “I prepared envelopes with nazar money for my fellow students, for Paras Sahib, and for Haroon Samuel, Akbar Ali and Ustad Habib Ur Rehman, who performed at my ganda bandhan.”

[quote]He sang the famous raag Aiman bandish: Guru Bin Kaisay Gun Aaway [/quote]

A short symbolic lesson in music is traditionally given, usually after gifts have been distributed. At Maqsood Ali’s ganda bandhan, Paras Sahib imparted a lesson in raag Aiman to Maqsood. Anil Waqas accompanied Maqsood Ali on the tabla as he sang the famous raag Aiman bandish, Guru Bin Kaisay Gun Aaway  (How does one learn without a teacher),  in teentaal (rhythmic cycle of sixteen beats), under the guidance of his Ustad, Parvez Paras Sahib. This was followed by a teentaal solo on the tabla by Haroon Samuel, a wonderful rendition of raag Charukeshi by Akbar Ali and a thumri (genre of semi-classical music) by Ustad Habib Ur Rehman.

The event ended with a dinner at Bhatti Tikka House, a restaurant picked by Paras Sahib who regaled all those present with stories of the ganda bandhans of famous musicians throughout dinner.

“The event ended a little after midnight,” says Maqsood. “But for me it was the start of a long journey. There is more for me to learn than just music from my Ustad and I am grateful to have found someone who will guide me not only in music but in all areas of life. To have someone responsible for you is a great feeling. I never want to lose it.”

Shakkar Recited by Parvez Paras Sahab