by: Abha Sharma
In Jodhaa Akbar, Emperor Akbar was picturised as dancing with the group of whirling Dervishes obviously mesmerised by the magic of Sufi music. From Kahe ko Bihai Bides in Umrao Jaan to Khwaja More Khwaja in Jodhaa Akbar to Arziyan Saari in Delhi 6, there goes a long list of popular filmy renditions of the Sufi genre.
Sufi music can cast an enchanting spell on its listeners. What famous poet John Keats said for “a thing of beauty” holds true for Sufi music, since it “is a joy forever.” It mesmerises the performers and the audience alike.
Oscar winning Indian musician, A.R. Rehman has quite a fascination for Sufi music and has composed many Sufi numbers. It has been equally popular with the Bengali singer, Lalan Fakir and Bangladesh’s national poet, Kazi Nazrul Islam. A Pakistani band Junoon is said to have even created the genre of Sufi rock with a fusion of traditional Sufi poetry and hard rock. The name of Hazrat Amir Khusrau (1253-1325) is synonymous with Sufi poetry and even after seven hundred years since he passed away, his keh mukarnis (say and deny riddles) is still an integral part of our folk culture. No farewell (bidai) ritual in a wedding gets complete without the lilting melodies of “Kahe ko bihayee bides re, sun babul more”. Bridegrooms are often asked these riddles in a witty vein. Wo aaye tab shaadi hovay, us bin dooja aur na koye, meethe lage wake bol, Aye Sakhi Sajan? Na Sakhi Dhol! (One can’t get married without it, there is no one like him/it, he sounds so sweet, is it the beloved? No dear, it’s the drum for singing)!
The mystic fervour during every Urs in the country is largely attributed to Khusrau’s poetry which spreads the message of love and harmony. Qawwals consider it sacred to begin their recital with Khusrau’s famous couplet Gori Sewat sej par, mukh par darey kes, chal Khusrau ghar aapne saanjh bhaee chahun des(The fair maiden rests, on a bed of roses, her face covered with a lock of hair, let us oh Khusrau, return home now. The dark dusk settles in four corners of the world) on the occasions of Urs. et married without it,Yet, until 2001, there was no festival in India that celebrated the life of Khusrau or the spirit of Sufi music immortalized by him. Thousands of worshippers throng his tomb and that of Nizamuddin Auliya’s in Delhi during the 16 days Satrahvin Sharif Urs to commemorate their deaths. But a real musical tribute to the memory of the iconic musician, scholar and Sufi poet has started only with the launch of the annual Sufi Music Festival, called Jahan-e-Khusrau.
Organised by the Rumi Foundation and designed and directed by the versatile artist and film maker Muzaffar Ali, the Jahan-e-Khusrau festival has been successful in recreating a Sufi mood in India. According to Ali, the festival aims to celebrate the vision and poetry of the Sufi mystics.
Sufism is a way to purify one’s inner self and beautify it with praiseworthy traits before traveling into the presence of the divine. So this festival is an effort to bridge the gap between hearts and spread the message of love and harmony. In its eleven year old journey, Jahan-e-Khusrau has presented a rare poetry of the mystics of the Indian sub-continent. Besides Delhi, it has equally enthralled audiences in Lucknow and Jaipur. In the past decade, it has invited celebrity Sufi singers, dancers, musicians like Abida Parveen, Sanam Marwi, Azam Ali, Masood Habibi and introduced promising talents such as Zia Khan, Archana Shah and Indira Naik among others.
Sufism or Sufi poetry has traveled a long way through Arabic, Persian and Turkish languages in several continents and cultures over a millennium. Inspired by great Sufi saints like Rumi, Bulle Shah, Rabia and others, Sufi music is purely devotional music. In India and Pakistan, Sufi thoughts have found expression through several musical genres like Qawwali, Ghazal, folk forms from Rajasthan, Sindh and Punjab and Sufiana kalam in Kashmir.The most popular, of course, has been Qawwali, attributed to Amir Khusrau.
Qawwali with its rich combination of mystical poetry and powerful rhythm, suggestive of repetitive zikr (God’s name) takes the audience closer to the core experience of Sufism. That of attaining mystical love and divine ecstasy!
For more than seven centuries, Amir Khusrau’s name has been etched in oral traditions, sung by qawwals, poets and also the common man. With Jahan-e-Khusrau, his legacy of love and harmony will surely live on for many more years.