Folk Surando Musicians of Larkana

Zulfiqar Ali Kalhoro on the two communities trying to keep a rich musical tradition alive

Folk Surando Musicians of Larkana
There are many singers in Larkana and Kamber-Shahdadkot districts who have still preserved centuries-old musical traditions of Sindh.

On the streets and at shrines of Larkana and Kamber Shahdadkot, one comes across many surando (fiddle) players who belong to various communities. However, musicians from the Manganhar community are commonly seen on the streets of Larkana. And the Mianwal Faqirs, the followers of the Kalhoras, are often found at the shrines of the Kalhoras and their other disciples.

Members of the Manganhar community have now become popular singers in Sindh. Apart from singing at shrines, Manganhars also sing at childbirth, marriage or any other family festivities. Usually, they play Dhul (drum) on various ceremonies. They also sing and play at  shrines. But in the city of Larkana, one meets many Surando-playing Manganhars who continue the tradition of their ancestors even though there is no patronage.

From left to right - Ghazi Faqir Shar's son, grandson and student at Larkana

Two names of such Surando players deserve mention here: Roshan Faqir Manganhar and Ghazi Faqir Shar – with whom I met several times during my research on surdano music traditions in Sindh.

I first met Ghazi Faqir Shar in 2009 and later in 2011, 2012 and 2014 respectively. Ghazi Faqir Shar died in 2017. I met Roshan Faqir Manganhar for the first time in 2009 and later in 2010, 2011 and 2102 respectively. Roshan Faqir died in 2014, leaving behind many talented students to carry forward the surando music tradition.

Roshan Faqir Manganhar, whose ancestors used to be court singers of the Khairpur state, had been playing Surando on the streets of Larkana since 1980. He was born in 1935 in a small village Burai Sheikh near Larkana. At the age of 12, he began to learn to play surando from his Father Faiz Muhammad, who was also an accomplished musician himself. According to Roshan Faqir, his father Faiz Muhammad learned the surando from his own father Lal Bakhsh Manganhar. Lal Bakshh Manganhar was a consummate surando player during the rule of Mir Ali Nawaz Khan Talpur, who was a great patron of the arts. In general, the rule of Mir Ali Nawaz Khan Talpur over Khairpur State from 1921 to 1935 was a time when music greatly flourished. Musicians from as far away as Gwalior came and settled in Khairpur. Mir Ali Nawaz Khan Talpur granted a stipend for many musicians including Lal Bakhsh Manganhar, the grandfather of Roshan Faqir Manganhar.

Mianwal surando players at the shrine of Yousaf Shah Jilani, Larkana

The rule of Mir Ali Nawaz Khan Talpur over Khairpur State from 1921 to 1935 was a time when music greatly flourished

Two surando players Timu Khan and Yar Ali in the family line of Roshan Ali Faqir also earned good repute at the court of the Talpurs of Khairpur State. Timu Khan was the court musician of Mir Ali Murad Talpur, who played many ragas on surando. Notable amongst these ragas were Kohiyari, Bhairavi, Kamod, Suhni, Sasui, etc.

Continuing the tradition of his forefathers, Roshan Ali roamed the streets of Larkana, entertaining people with his art of playing surando. Roshan Ali told me that today, few people would like to listen to Surando. Day by day, the admirers of folk music were decreasing.

Yet even though people were no more interested in listening to folk music, Roshan Ali was optimistic and continued to teach his students. Well-known students of Roshan Ali Faqir include Qadir Faqir and Yar Muhammad in Larkana, and Gul Muhammad Manganhar alias Shadan Faqir in Shahdadkot.

Ghazi Faqir Shar's students

Roshan Ali frequently performed on Radio Pakistan Hyderabad. He also played surando at various shrines in Sindh. In Larkana, he played surando at the shrine of Pir Sher, Yousaf Shah Jilani, Arab Shaheed, Miran Shah, Shah Baharo, Qaim Shah Bukhari, Mian Jan Mohammad Kalhoro, Mian Shahal Muhammad Kalhoro and many others. Despite his performances at various shrines, his earnings were not sufficient to support his family. However, he never ceased to play surando.

Like Roshan Faqir Manganhar, Ghazi Faqir Shar, who was a Mianwal Surnadai Faqir, was associated with the Mianwal Tariqa of Kalhoras. He was the most celebrated surando player of the Mianwal Tariqa of Kalhoras in Larkana district. Like Roshan Faqir Manganhar who taught his students music, Ghazi Faqir Shar also taught many Mianwal Faqirs the art of playing surando in the style of the Mianwal Tariqa.

Surando player Roshan Faqir Manganhar, who died in 2014, was a well-known musician of Larkana

Ghazi Faqir Shar, who died in 2017, was a celebrated Mianwal surando player

Surando in the Mianwal Tariqa was played while performing the zikr ritual. In fact, the Zikr ritual was quite central to the devotional practices of the Mianwal Tariqa. Later on, one of the disciples of Mian Nasir Muhammad Kalhoro, Mian Manjhi Sultan Kalhoro (who is buried in Wasu Kalhora village near Nasirabad town), introduced ‘Sur Manjh.’ Disciples of Mian Nasir Muhammad Kalhoro sang songs of his praise. The deeds and miracles of the Mian Nasir Muhammad Kalhoro were sung in this sur. Many poets composed poetry on Sur Manjh.

Apart from Sur Manjh, there is another sur that is called ‘Mian ji Samari’. This sur is named after Mai Shamal who was a female disciple of Mian Nasir Muhammad Kalhoro. The rituals and symbols introduced by Mian Nasir Muhammad Kalhoro continued during the reign of the succeeding leaders of the Mianwal Tariqa. These rituals are still performed at the shrines of Mian Nasir Muhammad Kalhoro and his disciples.

There are four important rituals of the Mianwal Tariqa: Allah Tohar (in God we trust), Du’a (prayer), Aazi (invocation) and Guftar (Praiseworthy Narration). These became the four pillars of the Mianwal Sufi order during Mian Nasir Muhammad Kalhoro’s time. Surando was played during three rituals Allah Tohar, Azai and Guftar. Mianwal Faqirs also play surando during the ‘Shadmana’ (ceremonial festivity). This was ceremonial rejoicing by the Faqirs of Mian Nasir Muhammad Kalhoro on his visit to them. Whenever Mian Nasir Muhammad Kalhoro visited the dera (commune) of any of his Faqirs, there was a formal feast and celebration which was called Shadmana. In fact, the Shadmana is still practised at the shrines of Kalhoras and their disciples.

Ghazi Faqir Shar also taught surando to his son and grandson. Now both sing the ‘samri’ on surando. Many of his students and friends, notably Qasim Khoso, play the surando at the shrines of Kalhoras and their disciples.

Apart from Roshan Faqir Manganhar and Ghazi Faqir Shar, Mir Gul Manganhar is equally well versed in surando-playing and well thought of in the community of the Manganhars. He performs at various shrines on the occasion of melas (festivals) in Sindh. And he keeps on playing surando on the streets of Larkana even when Mela time is over.

Mir Gul was sixteen years old when he learnt to play surando from his mentor Khuda Bakhsh Manganhar, who was an eminent musician of his time. Mir Gul continues the legacy of his teacher and teaches this art to his students.

Today both Ghazi Faqir Shara and Roshan Faqir Manganhar are no more. But their legacy is being carried on by students.

There is a dire need to promote and patronize both the Mianwal Faqir and Manganhar Faqir musicians, who have preserved the centuries-old rich musical tradition of Sindh.

The writer is an anthropologist. He may be contacted at:

The author is an anthropologist. He tweets at: @Kalhorozulfiqar