Last Friday night I attended a Qawwali festival from the courtyard of Khawja Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya in Bio Diversity Park, Gurgaon. The event was orgainsed by Rumi’s Kitchen, iamgurgaon (NGO) and MCG. After the introductions of Qawwals by Rathhin Mathhur, Chief Bawarchi of Rumi’s kitchen it was a truly divine experience throughout the evening.
Khawja Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, a saint of the chisti order was born on 09 Oct 1236 in Badayun. His mother, Hazrat Bibi Zulaikha made sure that Khawjaji got the very best of education. Fortunately, she was with him till her very end. On her death bed she told Khawjaji that now she was leaving him in care of God.
Khawjaji was very close and fond of one of his disciples, Hazrat Amir Khusro and was ecstatic to hear him sing the praise of the lord.
Amir Khusroji wrote in a very simple style in the language of the ordinary people. He was the first to create a fusion of Persian, Arabic, Turkish and indian music in the late 13th century, and called it Qawwali. He trained singers in signing qawwalis and called them Qawal Bachche. There are 8 members in a qawwali party including a lead singer. The musical instruments comprise of harmoniums, percussion instruments such as tabla, dholak and banjo. There is also a chorus of 4-5 men who clap and repeat key verses.
Qawwali has been with us for over 700 years as a form of Sufi devotional music. It is extremely popular in south east Asia. Initially it was performed mainly at Sufi shrines or dargahs but since it received immense popularity the qawwals started performing in public performances too. Some took it international, the main among them being the late Pakistani singer Nusrat Fateh Aki Khan. Other famous Qawwals from are Pakistan’s Sabri brothers, Bahauddin Qutubddin and Aziz Mian.
While in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Turkey it is called Qawwali, in Central Asia it is called Sama and a session of qawwalis is called Mehfil-e-Sama. The word qawwali is formed of 2 words, Qaul, an “utterance (of the prophet)” and the singer.
Most of the words used in the composition of a Qawwali are from Urdu but languages such as Punjabi, Persian, dialects of Brijbhasha and Awadhi also occupy prominent place in their compositions. The main theme of a qawwali is love, devotion and longing (of the Almighty).
Qawwalis start with a hamd (praise Allah , followed by a naat (praise of Mohammed). Next comes a manqabt (praise of either Imam Ali or one of the Sufi saints) to be followed by a marsiya (lamentation over the death of Imam Husayn’s family in the battle of Karbala). Next is a ghazal (love song) followed by a kafi, a poem to be followed by a munajaat (a form of prayer, where the singer says his thanks to Allah).
Inspite of singers like Abida Parveen, qawwali has largely reamined a man’s business. Most of the qawwalis are 15-30minutes long but one qawwali by Aziz Mian was 115 minutes long, called Hashr Ke Roz Yeh Poochhunga. The King of qawwali Maestro Nusrat Fatek Ali Khan has two songs, over 60 minutes long to his credit.
Apart from the Qawwali singers mentioned above, some other famous names are Badar Ali Khan, Bahauddin Qutubuddin, Fatek Ali Khan, Habib Painter, Munshi Raziuddin and Sabri brothers.