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Changing Trends in the Music of Chitral

Saif Ud Din

The Chitrali music traces its roots back to Central Asian musical traditions, especially those of Tajikistan, Bokhara, Kashghar and Afghanistan. In the traditional music of Chitral, many song- called Bashaonu- have been sung for many centuries Many songs and tunes in the music of Chitral are associated with the name of the poet, composer or region. Still many are of anonymous origin. Due to lack of documentation, most of the songs were lost to history, and only the tune survives.

The word Bashavonu is used in Khowar language for both instrumental and vocal music. Stanza is called Kaloom and many Kaloom form Bashavaonu. In instrumental music mostly dool damama and surnai are used. Surnie lead then dool damama follow it. Thus this type of music is played mostly in open air. The volume of these musical instruments is louder than any other musical instrument. In a closed room mostly sithar and flute is used with duf.

The music of Chitral or Khowar consists of melodies based on lyrics, which have either been written or composed for specific individuals and occasions. It is very difficult to reduce these melodic structures to their basic modes because the scale of which the Chitrali sithar is a good conductor, is not a tempered one. As in most of the modes primarily used for vocal music, the scale tends to be a natural one. It appears that no effort too has been made to reduce these melodies to their modal basics and in view of the fast disappearing traditional music it appears unlikely that it will happen in future as well.

Basic Forms in Khowar Music


Dani music is slow in tempo and the singer takes long duration while staying in a note. The origin of dani is unknown but it is a fact that it is the old form of music in Chitral. Anyone who composed a song and performed in musical program had the song named after him. There are lots of old songs performed by the people in their life time and the songs have been associated with their names. Most of the danis are lost to history, while a few danis have survived either as melody or both as lyrics and melody. It is possible to dance to each melody of dani, but every one can’t do it, as there are only a few people who can dance with dani. It is feared that in future this art will become extinct.

Some Famous Danis

Laspro Hakimo Dani

This famous song was created by Mir Shah, the Hakim (Adminstrator) of Laspur District of Chitral, during early decades of the 20th Century. The song goes like this.
Bosuni kuhtu beko Parwak shehali
Haya jinatan sonoghor e har waqt shehali

When the spring come in our region then the region of Parwak became beautiful But the land of the fairies Sonoghoar is beautiful forever .

Other Danis are, Dani of Yarkhuno Hakim, Khosh Begim, Charwelu Khano Dani etc.


Ashurjan is a dialogue form in Khowar poetry. It is the oldest type of song with some resemblance to the tapa of Pashto which is also the oldest form of Pashto music. Most ashurjans are of anonymous origin. There are different poems of ashurjan which narrate ancient stories. Some say that it was written by mother and daughter, some say by a lover to the beloved while others say by two girls who were best of friends. There is no restriction on its length and is sung and also played on sithar, shurnai or flute and without any percussion instruments.
Haye ma zan,
thysum ghechan phargani, thay ma ghechan phar gani.
Thy tan ghono loryki, thy tan ghono lorry.

The poet says that to his or her beloved that you should look at me by my eyes so that you can feel me.


There are many melodies where the duration of the notes is shorter and the tempo faster. These fall under the generic classification of sauz. There are many who can dance with these melodies because it is easy to do so in that tempo. At first, the beat is slow then accelerates into duplet or triplet alternately. There are melodies in the family which are with and without music.

In the following sauz, sung by Shuja ul Haq, Tonic note was the 6th fret of the Chitrali sithar.
Ta bachen, hayeri bim, ahiri bim, khor kora bim Ta e poshiko pachen, kantu nisi ahi phora bim
I will wonder here and there in search of you. .
I will climb in the tree to see you.

In another sauz, a very old one, the tonic note was the 8th fret of Chitrali sithar. The rhythmic pattern had a cycle of eight beats and melody did not change throughout the song. This was sung by Fatah ud Din.The notes of sauz were rendered quicker compared to Dani. The tempo was fast and easy to dance with.
Ataniyo teka giko Ma zano dur nayour .
Sakhnu komoranan mozi Ma rafiq hoor nayour.
A ma hardiyo bateen Ma qaladar aro.
Daq daqiya umur taray Khuro namdar aro.

When I will go to Atani village in Chitral, I will see my beloved house. Among the girls of Sakhun a small village in Chitral, She is like an Angel. O my beloved! You made me in sense. I have wasted my life due to separation from you.

New Trends

The journey of Chitrali music from Dani to Pop starts from Amir Gul to Zulfiqar with his fusion band. The famous Dani sigers are Baba Fateh and Shujaulhaq and the flute and surnie player Taleem Khan. Mansoor Shabab is also Khowar Ghazal singer with Aftab Alam. The last but not the least pop singers are Zulfiqar and Muhsin Hayat.

During the recent years, music of the adjacent area started to exert their impressions on Chitrali music. Net result of this was that music of Chitral began to change dramatically. Chitrali Music assimilated elements from Shina, Pashto and Urdu music. The color of the music which the listeners found was a switch over from slow tempo to faster one. It was due to the advent of radio and television that most of the listener became familiar with the music of the other regions. Simple music of Chitral was consisting of duf as percussion instrument and sithar as a string instrument accompany with the vocalist. Gradually Gery-can,( a fule container) used as a percussion instrument synchronizing its melodious echo with the music.

During the nineties, Chitrali music acquired the beauty of Ghazal. In that period Mansoor Shabab became famous in that genera of music. Ghazal, a form of music, very popular among Khowar poetry writers. After 2009 keyboard was included in Khowar Music, inline with the feeling of young generation. The music of Chitral converted into a kind of pop music with the flow and requirement of time. A large number of philharmonics are enjoying the taste of these genera by the help of mobiles even.

Following are the main causes of changing trends in the Chitrali music.
1: Chitrali culture has preserved itself for centuries, mainly due to relative seclusion of the region. However recent geo-political changes have opened Chitral to the other neighbouring regions. Besides other cultural changes resulting from this opening, Chitrali music also came under the influence of other adjacent musical traditions. Pushto music is the more prominent and played a vital role in this regard. The Soviet invasion of Aghanistan brought a large number of Afghan refugees to Chitral. These refugees, mainly Persian speaking Badakhshis, were most instrumental in this respect.

2: The ruling family and the nobility of the ex-State of Chitral used to patronize music and other cultural activities. With the abolition of the old set-up, traditional music was deprived of this patronage.

3: Technology has made the life easy and fast. The computer generated sounds are available due to which make possible production of music of all kind in little time. The importance of musical instruments are going down as well as the artists.

What should be done with Chitrali music?
It is the responsibility of the people of Chitral to rethink about the traditional music of Chitral and to preserve it as soon as possible, as traditional music of Chitral is dying day by day. The artist should be encouraged in the society because most of the people look down upon in this class which shows lack of awareness and ultimately lead destruction of a cultural identity. It is due to the denunciation of music by some people that interrupt the way to progress it further in right direction.

Chitral lacks any facility for training in the field of music and musicology. Music school is necessary to gain knowledge about the virgin field of professional music and musicology respectively. The former deals with performing art and the latter is learning to the discipline of music theory. It is the need of the day that music should be including in the curriculum of our education system. The role of government and non government organizations is very crucial in this regard. I have the strong feeling that music education will help us a lot in improving the education system of our country. The branches of knowledge are becoming more and more thus music also is a new field for the docile. I suggest that research on the music of Chitral should be encouraged, to open new avenues for the researchers and historians.

The writer is a graduate in Musicology from the National College of Arts, Lahore.
Due to its technical nature, the article is published without editing. Viewers' comments are welcomed.

More on Chitrali Music

Genesis of Chitrali Music-- Sultan Ghani- The Sultan of Strings -- A Few Moments with Mir Wali (Kuragho Master)

A Website on the Culture, History and Languages of Chitral.