Ghazal is a form of Indian music that originated in medieval India and has been prevalent primarily in the Indian subcontinent. Ghazals are poems written to be sung, usually with musical accompaniment, and typically by one or more singers. The traditional themes of ghazals are love, separation, and yearning; subjects include nature, romance, friendship, happiness, and good fortune. Ghazals are well known for their poetic and romantic content, as well as their musical flexibility. The roots of this genre come from Persia, where "ghazal" is actually a form of poetry that is written in a specific format. In India and Pakistan, the style was transformed into music by combining it with classic Indian Ragas, resulting in some truly beautiful compositions.

As we had promised in one of our articles, The History of Sufi Music and Ghazals in India, we will now discuss the most prominent Ghazal singers of all time. FrontRow is here to take you on a musical journey where you find out more about the singers who stood the test of time and were able to tug at the heartstrings of the audience with their soulful and mesmerizing voices.

1. Kundan Lal Saigal  (1904-1947)

Kundan Lal Saigal was a renowned Indian singer of ghazals, whose voice had great appeal across the Urdu speaking world. He is one of the most prominent singers of the qawwali genre and is accredited with popularizing it in South Asia. His voice held the strength to sew up broken hearts and an ability to calm desperate hearts across lands. He was also known as the “Master of Melancholy”. His grave voice, while wording ghazals, could resonate to the waves of a beating heart.

Saigal was born in Agra, Uttar Pradesh. His father gave him a classical music education, but he chose to go into acting. He wrote poetry and sang for films in the 1930s and 1940s but unfortunately, the industry lost this gem at a very young age.

2. Manna Dey (1919-2013)

Manna Dey, one of the most versatile and melodious singers of India, has been the pride of Bengali music lovers since the 1930s. He was a pioneer in bringing ghazals to the masses and was born on August 24, 1921, in the small village of Bikrampur in the Dhaka district of Bangladesh. Manna Dey comes off as one of the underrated singers of Bollywood.

Manna Dey, Singing, ghazals, singers, ghazal singers, legendary singers

His music transcended his specific project and reached the hearts of the audience, whichsoever movie or song it was that he worked on. He started his career by singing for AIR (All India Radio). He was also a playback singer the for greats, like Kishore Kumar, Mohammed Rafi, and Mukesh. He is considered one of the pioneers of the Ghazal genre of Indian music. His songs have been sung by several notable singers including Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle, S.P. Balasubrahmanyam, Mohammad Rafi, and so on.

3. Mohammad Rafi (1924-1980)

Mohammad Rafi (born Rabindra Rishi Ganguly) was an Indian playback singer and one of the most popular singers of the Hindi film industry. He is widely considered among the greatest singers of the Indian subcontinent.

Mohammad Rafi, Singing, ghazals, singers, ghazal singers, legendary singers

He was commonly known as "Shahenshah-e-duets", "King of Romance", "Mere Desh Ki Dharti" or "Kala Badshah". He was known for his ability to sing songs with historical, social, and political themes, and in many different languages which include Urdu, Hindi, Bengali, and so on. Rafi was one of the pioneers of the ghazal genre and the most versatile singers India had ever seen, and though his forte was melancholy music, throughout his career his other songs made it into the top songs in no time.

4. Begum Akhtar (1914-1974)

Malika-e-Ghazal Begum Akhtar was a renowned and the foremost female ghazal singer of India, also known as the "Nightingale of India". She is credited with bringing ghazals to the masses through her songs. Her songs continue to be popular among both younger and older listeners. She was awarded the civilian honour Padma Bhushan by the Government of India in 1969. She had a very successful musical career spanning six decades and is considered one of the most celebrated artists of Hindustani classical music.

She entered the industry with the dream of becoming a red carpet actor, but her inclination towards Hindustani and Ghazal music inspired her to pursue a career in music.

5. Suraiya (1929-2004)

Suraiya was a ghazal singer from India. She was one of the first female playback singers in Bollywood, and also sang in other languages including Urdu, Bengali, Punjabi, Sindhi, and Saraiki. She recorded over 5,000 songs in her career. The most astonishing remark she received was from the then-Prime Minister of India Jawarharlal Nehru who praised her saying, “You have brought back Ghalib to life.”

In 1948 Suraiya participated in the first music competition ever held on All India Radio (AIR). She won with the song "Dil Ke Tukde Hazar Hota" in Hindi. She was one of the greatest singers in South Asia. She is still loved and remembered for her songs and music. She has received both national as well as international awards for her contribution to the music industry. Her soulful voice was so tantalizing that even though she had a very short career in terms of time span, she left a big legacy behind.

6. Mehdi Hassan (1927-2012)

Born on the 18th of July 1987, Mehdi Hassan Khan was a very renowned and prominent singer in the Pakistani film industry. Due to his bass voice, he was often referred to as the "Shahenshah-e-Ghazal". In his entire singing career, he won numerous awards and was a leading singer in the industry. He kick-started his career as a singer in 1957 after being given an opportunity in Radio Pakistan, which gave him immense recognition. Due to his keen interest in Urdu poetry, he started singing Ghazals at the time. One of his ghazals, Gulon Mein Rang Bharay, Baad-e-Naubahar Chale was a major breakthrough. This gem of the Pakistani industry passed away in the late 1980s.

7. Pankaj Udhas (1951-Present)

Born in the year 1951 in Jetpur, Gujarat, Pankaj Udhas is a well-known Indian ghazal and playback singer. The famous songs Chandi Jaisa Rang Hai Tera, sone Jaise Baal and Chitthi Aayee Hai are some of his most alluring creations.

Pankaj Udhas, Singing, ghazals, singers, ghazal singers, legendary singers

He started his career as a Ghazal singer in the year 1980, following which he recorded several hit songs. One of his most famous songs is the Aye Mere Watan Ke Logo, which is praised even now and played on every occasion of national importance. In 2006, he was awarded the Padma Shri. Apart from this, he has been honoured with several other awards as well.

8. Jagjit Singh (1941-2011)

Jagjit Singh, Singing, ghazals, singers, ghazal singers, legendary singers

The King of Ghazals, Jagmohan Singh Dhiman, was born on 8th February 1941. He has sung in several famous movies like Prem Geet, Arth, and Saath Saath. Being one of the most famous ghazal singers and composers of all time, he has been honoured with several prestigious awards including the Padma Bhushan by the government of India in the year 2003. Also in the year 2014, the government released a set of two postal stamps in his honour. Jagjit Singh suffered a brain haemorrhage on 23rd February 2011, while on a tour conducting concerts on his 70th birthday. After being in a coma for over two weeks, he passed away on the 10th of October.

With a passion for singing similar to these pioneers of all time, you can build your career in singing brick by brick. Check out our course on singing from one of the top voices of the singing industry, Neha Kakkar, and our live courses that cover various types of singing!

Happy learning and happy singing!