Held on the 30th of August, Guldastan-e-Urdu’s latest edition was a recap on the history of qawwali. Hosted by Mumtaz Peerbhoy and Nasima Merchant, the session ran through the origins of the art form, its ever-growing styles and its popularization in the modern setting.
Mumtaz Peerbhoy, one of our speakers for the evening, is a renowned Urdu poetess who has participated in various national and international musharias. The other co-host for the session was Mrs. Nasima Merchant, an Urdu enthusiast and the founder of Gyaan Ruchi, an initiative to empower women through literature and literacy.
Qawwali is a traditional form of Islamic devotional music. With origins in the 8th century BCE, the singing of devotional works was prevalent in most central Asian settlements, but only in the 13th century; only with the coming of Amir Khusrow who reformed the form of qawwali by blending Indian, Persian, Arabic and Turkish traditions, did the style we know today came into existence. He is also referred to as the ‘father of qawwali’ and introduced the ‘ghazal’ to India.
Another individual specifically credited in the introduction of this fusion in the Indian subcontinent is Hazrat Moinuddin Chisti, a Persian Muslim preacher and mystic. Notable for being one of the first Islamic mystics to allow and encourage his followers to incorporate music in their devotion and faith, he aimed at making his preaching of Islam more relative to the masses and those who had recently entered the religion.
Qawwali music was greatly popularised by the late Pakistani singers, the Sabri Brothers, Aziz Mian and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan came up with new ways of bringing qawwali into the mainstream music scene of India and Pakistan. His voice was considered to be one of the greatest ever recorded, and he was considered one of the most important qawwals in history for his contributions to the form.
One of the dominating themes in qawwali that’s translated into its modern style is that of the battle of the sexes. A video of ‘Putlibai ki Qawwali’, performed by Yusuf Azad and Rashida Khatoon was the perfect example of this style, showing the audience a humorous back-and-forth between the singers. Other themes are devotional proclamations to Allah, dedications to the prophet Mohammad, praises for Sufi saints and lamentations for the dead and beloved.
Mrs. Peerbhoy went on to explain that the reason of qawwali’s popularity and influence was the alluring combination of instruments with the powerful voice of the qawwal themselves. The use of tabla, dholak, harmonium and the sarangi in various combinations lends a depth and soulfulness to the form, and while modern musicians include various instruments like drums and guitars into the mix, it remains the superior arrangement.
Our hosts elucidated that the key characteristic effect of qawwali music is its ability to transport someone, and has been rather poetically called ‘wajd’ or spiritual ecstasy. This is often seen in those performing or listening to qawwali, and is a bodily experience of rapture and feeling the presence or the grace of God. Called ‘haal me aana’ in colloquial terms,
Qawwali music is available in various languages, and often varies in style across countries; the quality of the performance to touch one’s soul is a factor that lends to the universal enjoyment of this form. The hosts went on to remark about the unfortunate situation that doesn’t allow qawwali to be a form of full-time employment, as it does not have a steady enough demand to satisfy all of one’s monetary needs.
Following this informative supplication, various qawwali performances were screened to illustrate the differences in the styles of na’at, manqabat, Sufi and a few that were adapted to be a little more ‘filmi’ for their Bollywood releases. Some cult favorites like ‘Allah Hu’ and ‘Chaap Tilak’ made their way onto the screening list, and were thoroughly enjoyed by all the attendees of the program.
Date- 30th August, 2019, Friday