Malik writes on the life of Malika-e- Mausiqui Roshan Ara Begum whose
20th death anniversary was recently observed.
years ago on December 6, 1982, Pakistani classical music in particular and that
of the subcontinent in general, was impoverished by the death of vocalist Roshan
Ara Begum, who was known as Malika-i-Mauseeqi - the queen of music.
Although she hailed from Calcutta, she contributed tremendously to the melodic
culture of Pakistan both before and after partition.
Roshan Ara Begum visited Lahore, the music capital in Pakistan then, during her
teens to participate in musical soirees held at the residences of affluent
citizens and the aastana of Chun Peer in Mohalla Peer Gillaanian inside
Mochi Gate. Another reason for her occasional visits to this city was to
broadcast her songs from the then All India Radio Station, Lahore, and her name
was announced as Bombaywali Roshan Ara Begum. She had acquired the popular
nomenclature Bombaywali because she shifted to Bombay (now Mumbai) in the late
1930s from Calcutta, the place of her birth, to be near to Ustad Abdul Karim
Khan from whom she took lessons in classical music for many years. I still
remember her performance at Chun Peer's abode in early 1941, when she pleasantly
surprised local musical heavyweights and connoisseurs with her expertise in
rendering classical compositions.
Possessing a rich, mature and mellifluous voice that could easily lend itself to
the expression of a wide range of intricate classical asthai-antras,
Roshan Ara employed her natural talent in the promotion of the art which
requires a high degree of cultivation and training. Her singing was marked with
a full-throated voice, short and delicate passages of sur (tones),
lyricism, romantic appeal and swift taans. All these flourishes were
combined in her unique style that reached its peak which was from 1947 to 1982.
Her vigorous style of singing which was interspersed with bold strokes and
perfect laykari, left no doubt that she was the greatest exponent of the
Kirana gharana style of khayal singing after the demise of both
her mentor Ustad Abdul Karim Khan and his equally talented cousin Ustad Abdul
Even before migrating to Pakistan, Roshan Ara Begum was acclaimed the best
exponent of Kirana gharana style of khayal singing in the
subcontinent. She embodied in her art all the exquisite tonal qualities and
attributes of her mentor's delicate style of classical vocalization. She was
equally good at alap (step-by-step progression from one note to another)
while delineating ragas, and also in taking breezy taans (flights) again
in the strand of her ustad. She was very conscious of her dignity and status and
never allowed herself to be emotionally swayed. But when the recording of her
ustad's music was played her eyes filled with tears.
Ara Begum with Begum Akhtar
An outstanding personality in the world of music, Roshan Ara Begum has aptly
been called a phenomenon as her voice and its timbre, her creative musical
intelligence and sensitivity had combined to produce perfect harmony. She had
profound knowledge of the theory of classical music and practised this art for
over 40 years. Roshan Ara Begum changed the course of Pakistani classical music
by her masterly renditions and at the same time raised its status by endowing it
with dignity, grace and glory.
Migrating to Pakistan in 1948, Roshan Ara Begum settled in Lalamusa, a small
town almost mid-way between Lahore and Rawalpindi, a place to which her husband
originally belonged. Although far away from Lahore, the cultural centre of the
country, she would shuttle back and forth to participate in music and radio
Thanks to audio and visual recording devices, the late Malika-i-Mauseeqi
will always be remembered for the richness of her music, which often overflowed
with tonal modulations, for its sweetness and delicacy of gammaks, and for her slow progression of ragas. It is difficult to adequately
describe in words the quality of her music. One can only say that it went
straight to the hearts of both knowledgeable listeners and cultivated
Click to hear sound clip
of Roshan Ara Begum performing Raag Kalawati