Monday, December 10, 2012

Divinity In Motion

Maati ke tum deeware, jo suno hamaari baat,
 Aaj milawara piya ka, ve main jagiyoon saari raat.”

Have you ever had the good fortune of listening to voices steeped in divine fervour, belting out melody after melody, addressed to the Creator? Have you ever felt a part of the stupor which overtakes a throng which sits around the tomb of some saint as love-filled songs reverberate through the surroundings? Have you ever heard the music, the mere aura of which leads you to the Divine?

If any of the above sentences can be answered in a ‘yes’, you, in my opinion, have tasted music at its sublime best. As a generic statement, it can be surmised about music, that Great Music is such which makes you transcend your immediate environment, and elevates you to a level where you feel one with the Divine. It may also be stated specifically, that there is a kind of music which exists for the purpose of calling out to the Creator, and establishing an irrevocable bond of pious love with him. That music is what is known as Sufi music to all of us.

Delhi, labelled alternately as the city of romance, food, heritage and much else, is also the city which played home to many a sufi peers. It was Khwaja Qutbuddin Bakhtiar Kaki, a scholar of the Chishti Silsila (order), who brought Sufism to Delhi. However, it was Hazrat Nizam-ud-din Auliya and his disciple, Hazrat Amir Khusrau, who lent that shape to Sufi tradition in Delhi which we recognize today. Who among as has remained untouched by the magical spirit behind the song ‘Kun Faya Kun’, sung unto celestial perfection by the new age sensation – Mohit Chauhan and Javed Ali? That song, was, obviously, a rendition to the venerable peer, Sultan-ul-Mashaikh Nizam-ud-din Auliya. If that is one song which has left you touched and inspired, you will find celestial magic in the live qawwalis which echo in the precincts of Auliya’s dargah.

Kun Faya Kun is not Bollywood’s first experimentation with the sufi genre. It was Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s qawwaalis, iconic when played in the background of a couple’s courtship, which elevated a mundane love narration to something above the ordinary. The very forgettable debut of Aishwarya Rai in Aur Pyaar Ho Gaya was made memorable only because of the genius of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, who lent his voice and compositions to make soul-touching music. Qawwali is one of the most popular forms of sufi music, argued to have its origins in Persia. It was the 13th century saint, Hazrat Amir Khusrau Dehlevi, who is believed to have introduced this form of music to India. Khusrau, of course, is the genius also credited with significant contributions in Hindustani classical (vocal and instrumental) music. The orthodox Islam sees music, as other means of entertainment, with contempt. However, in Sufi tradition, which lays down the path of ecstatic union with God, music, as well as dancing, is an intrinsic part of treading on that path. Remember the Dancing Dervishes, anyone?

Sample the following lines sung at the beginning of a popular qawwali, Allah Hoo, by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan –

“Tere hi naam se har ibtida hai
Tere hi naam tak har intiha hai
Teri Hamd-o-sana, alham do lillah,
Ke tu mere Muhammad ka Khuda hai”

The above lines are what is known as a ‘hamd’. A hamd is type of qawwali which is sung in praise of Allah. A Naat is one which sings praises of Prophet Muhammad (SAW). There are other types as well, primarily categorised on the basis of the object of devotion and the basic essence carried in the lyrics. However, you need not know any of these technicalities in order to enjoy the radiance of sufi music. The traditions date back some 700 years, and the Indian subcontinent is rich with variegated varieties of sufi music. The Sabri brothers and the Wadali brothers are my personal favorites, especially when they use their rustic voice to give a melody to Bulleh Shah’s lyrics. Bulleh Shah, along with Amir Khusrau, is arguably India’s most popular sufi poet. However, had it not been for the singers and composers, a large chunk of their poetry would have never come in contact with the ordinary populace.

Sufism is described as that mystic part of Islam, which emphasises on love, tolerance and harmony, and in which, the sole objective of existence is to come closer and closer to the Lord, such that you feel Him in you, and yourself in Him. A simple trip to any dargah, that of Moinuddin Chishti, Haji Ali, Salim Chishti, or Auliya himself, would make you realize, however, that the devotees which throng them are nothing but a picture of secularism. The ideals of peace and devotion preached in Sufism transcend all communal barriers and are hence, as appealing to Hindus as to their Muslim brethrens. When we understand this basic definition of Sufism, we realise that Meera Bai, the most ardent and famous devotee of Lord Krishna, herself trod on the sufi path. She sought nothing but an image of Sri Krishna to forever envelope her heart; she too sought union with her Lord, one whom she considered herself married to. That famous saint has left behind her foot prints in some wonderful melodies. One which instantly comes to mind is “Sanware rang raachi..”, in which Meera Bai proudly sings about the colors of her Lord which are smeared all over her existence.

With Wafia, at Dargah Nizamudding Auliya
(Photo Credits - Aaqib Raza Khan)
When it comes to divine music, India has a tradition which can take a lifetime to discover. One sufi tradition, however, which I wish was as intrinsic to India as the qawwali culture, is the Mevlevi dance of dervishes, whose origin is attributed to Persian Sufi Poet, Jalalladin Rumi. Lost in a trance created by sufi music, the dervishes are elevated above all else when they start swirling with their head raised marginally in the direction of the Almighty. Modern day sufism has an over-simplified definition. We, the younger generation, associate Rahat Fateh Ali Khan’s love lorn compositions with sufi spirit, which is not totally wrong since one of his earliest song, Mann Ki Lagan, did have notions of sufi poetry attached to it. However, a true experience of sufi music, the kind which gives wings to your heart, can only be found amid the qawwals singing like mendicants at dargahs of sufi peers with their eyes not leaving once the sight of their beloved, their object of devotion, their God.

“Khusrau baazi prem ki, main kheloon pi ke sang,
Jeet gaye toh piya more, haari pi ke sang.”

(This article had originally been written for


  1. It feels like a Sufi day for me. With breakfast I had a piece on the beautiful persona of Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia penned by Khushwant Singh, and now at dinner, I have read this by one of my favorite writers, Saumya Kulshreshtha. This post makes me feel enriched soulfully, moved spiritually. And like the trend has been with your words, it made me gain some knowledge and in someway made me a better human being. I have deepest of love and respect for you, which will only grow with every word of yours that takes form, from the ideas that you have. God Bless.

    1. Same here Aaqib. I have nothing but love and admiration for the person you are. And I mention it because receiving adulation from someone you hold so high in regard is an amazing feeling. I hope you will keep dropping by.

  2. Yeah answer to the your initial questions are in yes... And i ve tastes the sublime of the music...According to me "music is the universal ligno, and whatever may be the lingo people understand or not but people dance and enjoy and thats the beauty of music." superb stuff..:)