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Keeping the tradition alive

Mirasis are not only entertainers with rustic humour but (are) also custodians of the rich tradition of Indian classical music (Jest for life by C.D. Verma, Spectrum, April 20). Though they do not enjoy a respectable status in society today, it wasn’t so in the past.

The late Ustad Chand Khan, doyen of the Delhi Gharana, took great pains to prove the Arabian origin of the Mirasis. He traced their lineage to Amir Fakhar bin Omar Qureshi, who came to India along with Mohd bin Qasim in 712 AD. The Mirasis were addressed as ‘Mirs’ and appended ‘Khan’ to their name, which was the title given by Mohd Tughlaq (1325-51).

In those days Mirasis used to recite the ‘Shajrah’ (family tree) of the aristocracy on festive occasions. This art was passed on to the next generation in inheritance (miraas), which gave them the name Mirasis (the inheritors). Tarikh-ul-Quresh (History of the Quresh) mentions a sect called ‘Mir Mang’. Members of this sect begged for a living, only from the Mirasis in gratitude to their conversion to Islam through them, which is yet another 
evidence of their higher social status in those days.


Mirasis are also the exponents and custodians of classical music. Nearly all founders of various gharanas of classical music in India have been Mirasis. They are responsible for keeping the tradition alive. As a mark of respect, they are addressed as ‘Khan Sahibs’.

As for their quick wit expressed in the court of Maharaja Ranjit Singh where he was called a kana (one-eyed), there is another version. After mandatory salutations, a Mirasi sought permission to 
recite a couplet in praise of the Maharaja. After getting the permission, he said,

“Ikko akh sulakhani, jyon chamkan tarey

Jhuk jhuk karn salama, do akhan waley”

(Your one-eye is auspicious and magnanimous like a shining star/

Look, how the two-eyed people bow low in front of you).

The Maharaja, impressed with his great wit and adroitness, rewarded him profusely.

V.K. RANGRA, New Delhi

Paan, the finest offering of Hindustan

Lotika Ramchandani’s article, “Khandaani paandans of Hyderabad” was highly interesting (April 20). According to mythology, the red glow of sunset is due to paan. Derived from Sanskrit parna (leaf), even gods chewed it. The Mughals were great connoisseurs of betel. Their paan chewing habits incurred such staggering expenses that Shah Jahan assigned the entire revenue of Surat to his daughter Jahanara,  just for this purpose.

Paan even formed a part of the Mughal diplomacy. Aurangazeb sent gifts of finest variety of paan to please the Persian Shah, whose designs on India he greatly feared. Several beautiful accessories surrounded the culture of paandaan, many of which had a concealed compartment. Usually made of silver or brass, its handles were in shapes of birds, animals, couples etc., a fine example of blending art with utility. Explorers and travelers like Marco Polo, John Marshall, Abd-er-Razzak, Careri and Garcia de Orta made interesting observations on paan. Many renowned poets including Amir Khusro and Surdas have sung it’s praises, the former describing it as “the finest fruit of Hindustan”. Its also listed among solah sringaar i.e. 16 facets of toilet.

Sanctified by religion and prescribed by medicine, savouring of paan was a hallmark of good breeding, courtesy and etiquette, now a vanishing tradition.


Names in films

Surendra Miglani’s piece, “There’s a lot in a name” (Spectrum, April 27) mentions how much labour goes into selecting names of characters in films. There are several more examples that come to mind: ‘Dhanno’, the simple village girl played by Vyjayantimala in Ganga-Jamuna became a hit with the masses. People identified with Raj/Raju, the name used by Raj Kapoor in many of his films, easily.

Names Ram and Shyam for Dilip Kumar and Sita and Geeta for Hema Malini in films of the same name became popular. Sunil Dutt played a dacoit ‘Thakur Jarnail Singh’ in Mujhe Jeene Do.

Names of characters playing villainous roles in certain movies have also been great hits e.g. ‘Raka’ (Pran), leader of dacoits in Jis Desh Mein Ganga Baheti Hai. Pran also had a great performance as ‘Malang Chacha’ in his first role as a character actor in Upkaar. Prem Chopra in a brief role as a villain in Bobby left an impression through his dialogue “Prem naam hai mera, Prem Chopra. Rehman, in his role as Chinoy seth in Waqt, came to be associated with that name. Anupam Kher as ‘Dr Dang’ in Karma also became popular with people. Names ‘Bhola’ (Sunil Dutt) and ‘Bindu’ (Saira Bano) in Padosan will always remain imprinted in people’s mind. Hema Malini as ‘Basanti’ and Jagdip as ‘Soorma Bhopali’ in Sholey too became very popular.

Brig H.S. SANDHU (retd), Panchkula

Kalsia state

B.S. Thaur, in his review of the “Days of Maharajas” (Spectrum, April 27), does not mention the name of Kalsia state as a constituent of the Patiala and East Punjab states. Kalsia state remained in PEPSU till January 26, 1950 when Pepsu was abolished and merged in East Punjab.

On November 1, 1966, Chhachhrauli tehsil of Kalsia state was merged in Haryana on its creation. Dera Bassi and Chirik tehsils of Kalsia state remained in Punjab.

GOPAL DATT KAUSHAS, Chhachhrauli (Yamunanagar)



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