How Nayyara Noor Transcended Ghazal And Classical Alike

How Nayyara Noor Transcended Ghazal And Classical Alike
In the world of music, there are only two prestigious levels that musicians aspire to achieve.

With vigorous practice (riaz), under the guidance of a mentor, they can reach the first level i.e. touching the heart of His beings with music (sur insaan mila deta hay). But success is still not guaranteed. Despite vigorous training and practice of decades, many musicians have failed to touch the hearts of the human beings. I know many musicians who are ‘legends’ (of their own kind) but their music does not evoke feelings.

The first level has a litmus test, i.e. the audience appreciates your music; you can cast your spell on them, your audience is growing, etc. However, there is no such test for the second level. The five sense organs – make it six by including the ‘common sense’ – simply fail to recognise it.

Then how would you know that you are on the second level?

If your music has connected you with your Creator (Allah, Ram or Rahim), you are certainly on the second level (sur insaan mila deta hay, sur rehman mila deta hay).

The late Nayyara Noor had achieved the second level. She travelled a long distance to reach it. She had achieved the first level in her early performances (early 1970s). She achieved the second level in the mid-2000 and then quit singing.

I was in love with Nayyara’s voice when I was a child. I got her cell phone number from a friend and called her. It was 2006. She had just begun her journey to spirituality. She was not performing; she was not talking to the media. She had found herself in the company of God and nothing else would give her peace and happiness. She had discovered her soul through music. This proves that her riazat (which was not vigorous) was successful

How great Nayyara Noor was in singing can be measured from the quest of Sanhita Nandi, one of the best exponents of Kirana gharana gaiki. She hails from Kolkata, India, and lives in the US. She was so fascinated by Nayyara’s singing that she wanted me to tell her everything about “Ai jazbae dil gar mein chahoon” – meanings and correct pronunciation. She wanted to sing it!

Somebody requested Bade Ghulam Ali Khan to sing ghazal in a live performance. He said: “Classical sunay wala ghazal kahan sunta hay!” (“Listeners of classical music don’t listen to ghazals”) Khan saheb was belittling the ghazal singers. He was, in fact, saying that a classical vocalist is far superior to a ghazal singer.

But in Nayyara’s case, a fine practitioner of classical music wanted to sing her ghazal. For her part, Sanhita is also a saint, but unlike Nayyara she did not quit singing.

Nayyara Noor was the voice after Lata, Asha and Noor Jehan. She could have raised music lovers’ goose pimples with her voice. Her intonation could have sent waves in their veins. This is not an ordinary thing but a miracle. Her stature in playback singing can be guessed from the wish of the great composer O. P. Nayyar who wanted Nayyara’s voice for his compositions. But the rare Nayyar-Nayyara duo never materialised. Nevertheless, both would remain immortal in the world of music.

Mohammad Shehzad is based in Islamabad. He has been writing for national and foreign publications since 1992. He is the author of The State of Islamic Radicalism in Pakistan (Routledge Taylor & Francis) and Love and Fear: Poems Beyond Time ( He learns tabla and classical vocal music. He is a passionate cook and shares his recipes at Email: