This exhibition explores Gayaki and life of Roshan Ara Begum, the legendary vocalist from India and Pakistan.
Roshan Ara Begum, the legendary Hindustani classical vocalist was born in 1917 in the city of Calcutta to Ustad Abdul Haqq Khan. Ustad Abdul Karim Khan, the doyen of Kirana Gharena was her cousin. Her real name was Wahidunnissa. Her mother, Chanda Begum was a well-known singer. It was Chanda Begum who spotted the hidden talent in her daughter. Subsequently, Wahidunnissa was sent to one Mumtaz Hussein and then to one Laddan Khan for vocal training. After a rigorous training of full ten years, still at a very young age, she started performing at Lahore in small house concerts at the houses of affluent residents there.
Being in Calcutta, which was a cultural hub of Northern India at that time, Roshan Ara’s talent could not remain hidden. After a few public performances, at the very young age, she started touring across the country, frequently visiting Bengal and Bihar. She also started performing at all the major radio stations in the country.
Her voice was delicate and yet full throated which could easily and gracefully traverse across the octaves. A recording of hers, where she is singing Raga Kamod is a good example of her singing style.
It is said that Noor Jahan, another famous contemporary singer, was insanely jealous of Roshan Ara’s singing. When Noor Jahan happened to meet Roshan Ara, it is said that Noor Jahan fell in love with her joyous and loving personality. Sometime in the early 1930s, that the great Ustad Abdul Karim Khan, heard Roshan Ara’s rendition of Raga Multani and decided to take her as a disciple. Roshan Ara, who was at the peak of her career, initiated her training under the guidance of the maestro.
After partition of India and Pakistan, Roshan Ara moved to Lalamusa, the native place of her husband. Lalamusa was a small town and was not musically much active. She used to often travel to Lahore to perform in the concerts held there. She used to spend a lot of time with birds and her pet cats, especially after the Zia Ul Huq regime, which was not very conducive to arts and artists. Roshan Ara was the first female vocalist to be awarded the Sitara-e-Imtiaz Award (Star of Excellence) by the President of Pakistan in 1960.
Roshan Ara Begum passed away in 1982. Here is a 20 minutes long recording where she has beautifully rendered Raga Shuddha Kalyan.