March 9th of this year was a dark day for the Sufi music world with the passing of Ustad Pyarelal Wadali from the legendary duo Wadali Brothers. He was 75 years of age and is survived by his wife, two sons and three daughters. His legendary combination with his elder brother Puranchand Wadali has given Sufi music many celebrated hits like Tu mane ya na mane dildaara, asaan tey tainu rabb maneya. They were ardent followers of the Sufi philosophy and their songs were mostly praises of the divine Lord. Performing the gurbani, kafi, ghazal and bhajan genres of musich, they have always refrained from commercializing their music. At their ancestral home in Guru ki Wadali in Punjab, they taught music to students without any fee, under the sole condition that they promise to preserve it.
Their attempt at performing at the Harballh Sangeet Sammelan in Jalandhar in 1975 was refuted since their appearance was not considered satisfactory. Disappointed, they went on to perform at the Harballah temple in Jalandhar as an offering. N.M Bhatia, an official of the All India Radio of Jalandhar heard them and the duo had their first major breakthrough with the All India Radio and recorded their first song. Since then, they have been an unstoppable force and have also made their debut in the Bollywood music industry with Pinjar in 2003. They also sang in four other movies including Tanu Weds Manu, Dhoop, Chikku Bukku and Mausam.
The Sufiana tradition is inspired from the sacred emotion of love and its unparalleled power to transform the world. The brothers were a part of the fifth generation of musicians who dedicated their lives to singing the messages of Sufi saints. Their soulful renditions have carried forward the legacy of saint poets like Amir Khusro and Surdas. They consider themselves to be a medium for the cause and believe that one can attain spiritual bliss by singing freely in an open atmosphere. Their style of singing emphasizes alap (opening section that introduces and builds a raga) and taan (a virtuoso technique) and does not rely on electronic gadgets. It is interesting that the brothers have tried their hand in unexpected roles before taking up Sufi singing. While Puranchand was a wrestler at an akhara (wrestling ring) for 25 years, Pyarelal played Lord Krishna’s role in the village theatre. Their father Thakur Das Wadali who was a famous musician in Guru ki Wadali encouraged them to learn music and compelled Puranchand to take up tutelage of Hindustani music under Pt Durga Das and Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan. Pyarelal was tutored by his elder brother who he always considered as his Guru and looked up to. This mutual feeling of brotherly love, respect and affection is evident in all their concerts.
An interesting anecdote talks about how Pyarelal was once taken severely ill when a fever relapsed during a concert. Taking his younger brother home, Puranchand sat by his bedside without food for four days waiting for him to recover. A Sufi saint visited them on the fifth day and blessed Pyarelal who soon recovered. This incident led them to dedicate their musical offerings to the Lord with even more passion and fervor.
The Wadali Brothers were the recipients of the prestigious Sahitya Kala Akademi Award in 1992, the Tulsi Ward in 1998 and the Punjab Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 2003. In 2005, Puranchand Wadali was adorned with the Padma Shri by the Government of India. There are very few records of their music including music albums like Aa Mil Yaar, Paigham-e-Ishq, Ishq Musafir and Folk Music of Punjab. In spite of this, the charm, divinity and bliss that their rendition brings to a music lover’s mind is without boundaries and will continue to stay on forever.