Historic mushaira returns with elegance and nostalgia

- February 24, 2024
| By : Vivek Shukla |

The Shankar-Shad Mushaira, a capsule of Indo-Pak literary and cultural ties, is set to celebrate its heritage on February 24

IN ATTENDANCE: Legendary actor Dilip Kumar attending a Mushaira

The Shankar-Shad Mushaira, arguably the oldest in the capital, is set to grace the stage at the Shankar Lal hall of Modern School on February 24. This anticipated event is a magnet for lovers of Urdu poetry, who gather to witness contemporary shayars recite their latest and most popular couplets to a discerning audience.

Historically, the Mushaira has been a platform for literary giants such as Kaifi Azami, Sahir Ludhianvi, Firaq Gorakhpuri, Ahmad Faraz, Bekal Utsahi, and Rahat Indori, who have captivated crowds with their eloquence and artistry.

The legacy of Shankar-Shad Mushaira has deep roots. Lala Shriram, the founder of DCM Group, was the brainchild behind this grand event, initiated in the early 1950s in memory of his younger brother, Lala Shankar Lal, and son, Murli Dhar ‘Shad.’

Early 1950s 

Back in 1995, in a conversation with this correspondent, Lala Bharat Ram, former Chairman of DCM Group, reflected on the Mushaira’s beginnings. He shared how his father had invited friends such as Josh Malihabadi, Ramdhari Singh Dinkar, and ICS officer V Shankar, then Commissioner of Police, Delhi, to their home for the inaugural ceremony.

Lala Shriram had also consulted Prof Mohammad Mujeeb, the then Vice Chancellor Jamia Millia Islamia. “They had all fully supported the idea of starting a Mushaira in the memory of Lala Shankar Lal and Lala Murli Dhar ‘Shad’. It was decided to hold Mushaira annually. In 1953, the first Shankar-Shad Mushaira was held,” Lala Bharat Ram had informed.

After much deliberation, it was decided that shayars from India and Pakistan would be invited.


Lala Shriram was keen on inviting poets from Pakistan due to his extensive business interests across the Radcliffe Line prior to 1947. He passed away in 1963, leaving the business to his two sons, Bharat Ram and Charat Ram. 

Tragically, his third son, Murli Dhar, died in a plane crash near Karachi shortly after Independence.

Mills and poems

DCM had textile mills in Lyallpur and Okara, which were under Murli Dhar’s management. He was on the flight to buy jewellery for his son Shri Dhar’s wedding and was killed along with his wife in the accident.

Lala Bharat Ram and Lala Charat Ram were known for their contrasting personalities. While the elder brother was known for his public relations skills, the younger brother managed the operations of the DCM group efficiently. 

Despite their differences, both brothers were committed to investing in education and cultural activities. They ensured the Shankar-Shad Mushaira was organised with grandeur if they were around. After their passing, the next generation took over the responsibility of organising the Mushaira.

Lala Shankar Lal resided in the then Curzon Road (now Kasturba Gandhi Marg) and was known for hosting Mushairas, Kavi Sammelans, and private mehfils for luminaries like Ustad Alla Rakha Khan, Pandit Uday Shankar, and Pandit Ravi Shankar in his home. HT House now stands in the place of Lala Shankar Lal’s residence, having been purchased by the Birla family in the mid-1960s from the Shriram family.

According to Lala Bharat Ram, “Both my younger brother and I treated Bansi Dhar as our own son after the demise of Murli Dhar.” Murli Dhar ran the Daurala Sugar Mills, a major sponsor of the Mushaira.


It may be recalled that Sumitra, the wife of Lala Charat Ram, was the founder of the Shriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra (SBKK) established in 1952. She played a key role in the revival of performing arts, especially Kathak, in the post-independence era, for which she received a Padma Shri Award. She hailed from the family of Sir Ganga Ram, the builder of modern Lahore.

Returning to the Shankar-Shad Mushaira, the Chacha-bhateeja (uncle-nephew) duo of Shankar Lal and Murlidhar “Shad” had initiated a Mushaira in the campuses of their factories in Okara and Lyallpur before 1947. There, they used to recite their poetry. Dr Rakhshanda Jalil, Member of the Governing Board, Shankar Shaad Mushaira, states, “Shankar-Shaad Mushaira, also known as the Indo-Pak Mushaira, has continued even when relations between the two neighbours have varied between frosty and tempestuous.

Some argue that the Shankar-Shad Mushaira has lost much of its sheen and novelty factor in the absence of Pakistani poets.

Discussing the annual celebration, Madhav B Shriram, Chairman of the Shankar Lall-Murli Dhar Memorial Society and Director of DCM Shriram Industries Limited, shared, “The rich and vibrant culture of Delhi was dominated by Urdu for 500 years, and I believe Urdu is more than just a language; it is a culture. This language and culture, along with the art of oration, need to be preserved and nurtured in the face of extinction.”

For many years, the legendary actor Dilip Kumar had attended the Shankar-Shad Mushaira as a Mehmaan-e-khasoosi (Chief Guest). When he spoke in his nafees Urdu, the audience as well as the poets listened to him with rapt attention.

“Dilip sahib was peerless. He towers over all. He often spoke a couple of sentences in Punjabi too, as he knew that in Delhi, speaking a couple of lines in Punjabi would be appreciated,” says Mohammad Taki, who has been attending the Shankar-Shaad Mushaira for many decades.

In 2017, the noted TV personality Vinod Dua was the Chief Guest at the Mushaira. Last year, the well-known Hindi poet Ashok Vajpeyi was the Chief Guest.

Khushwant Singh to Irfan Habib

There was a time when, in anticipation of the latest ‘kalams’ of big names in Urdu poetry, notable figures such as Khushwant Singh, Kuldip Nayar, Hakim Abdul Hamid of Hamdard Dawa Khana, Congress leader Jag Pravesh Chandra, and author Pran Nevile would occupy their seats before the beginning of the Mushaira. Prof Irfan Habib, who traveled all the way from Aligarh, could also be seen in the front rows.

In recent years, many renowned Urdu poets from both India and Pakistan, such as Pirzada Qasim from Karachi, Kishwar Naheed from Islamabad, Amjad Islam Amjad from Lahore, Aziz Nabeel from Doha Qatar, Abdullah Sahib from the USA, and Farhat Shahzad from NJ, USA, have graced the Mushaira, along with celebrated poets from India: Javed Akhtar, Anwar Jalalpuri, Munawwar Rana, Prof Waseem Barelvi, Dr. Popular Meeruti, Iqbal Ashhar, Dr. Gauhar Raza, Nawaz Deobandi, and Kunwar Ranjit Chauhan, among others.

LOSING SHEEN: Some say that the Mushaira has become less popular now

“We have seen some unsavoury moments too, when some people from the audience start hooting if the shayar does not recite their popular couplets. Famous poet Iqbal Ashhar was booed by one section of the audience in the past. He presided over the Mushaira last year. Even Popular Meeruthi (Syed Aijazuddin Shah) had faced the ire of the audience,” says Mohammad Taki.

Finally, Raman Hitkari, former Programming Head of DD News, is again attending the Shankar-Shad Mushaira on February 24, with his friend and Supreme Court advocate, Rana RK Singh. “Well, I like the mood inside the Mushaira venue. The crowd inside the packed hall enjoys every moment of Mushaira. Everything looks so festive there.”

This cherished tradition continues to thrive, uniting poetry enthusiasts and literary figures in celebration of Urdu literature and culture.