On Wazir Hussain Qadri, the Khanqahi space and qawwalis as songs of love, faith

The act of listening (sam) and the one who listens (sami) are sacred in Islam. A study of all ancient traditions reveal that the first divine messages were given in song, as is true of the Psalms of David, the Song of Solomon, the Gathas of Zoroaster and the Gita of Krishna. The legendary Qawwali singer, Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, in an interview with New York Times, said “...but really I am just singing for God." Music, rhythm and sound are practiced in the Chishtiya Sufi silsila of South Asian in the form of sama mehfil, intimate performances of sacred Qawwali music and Sufi poetry that take place in khanqahs across Pakistan and India. Khwaja Qutb-ud-Din Bakhtiyar Kaki, a venerated Chishti Sufi saint, went into uncontrollable ecstasy on hearing the following couplet of a Qawwali in a sama mehfil:

Kushtagan-i khanjar-itaslimra
Har zaman as ghaybjaan-idigarast

(The victims of the dagger of submission
Get a new life from the unseen every moment)

Such was the power of the Qawwali, that the saint surrendered his life to it in a moment of divine realisation. It is this quest for a union with the Beloved, and the sublimation of the mortal self, that the Qawwalis honour in song.

Qawwali at the Dargah

People gather to listen to qawwals at the Ajmer Sharif dargah. Photograph taken by the author

A Qawwali at the Dargah

Late one afternoon, with a few good hours before the Dua-e-Roshni, the dargah was alive with sound of numerous kinds—the enticement of the shehnai, the busy buzz of the Bhishtiwalahs (traditional water-carriers who supply it in leather pouches), the chants of the Qalandars (Bohemian sufis) attuned to the rapturous beats of the duff and dholaks, the synchronised hum of the pilgrims praying, and Quranic recitation interspersed with the soft chirps and cooes of the many pigeons, parrots and sparrows inking the alabaster dargah with their sudden, bright blues and shocking greens—contributing to the colourful cacophony of the Urs. Amidst the confused sonorous vitality there arose, sudden and storm-like, the deep and enriching, sound of the Qawwali.

Garib Nawaaz hum hogaye tumhare bahut sochne ke baad
Aur ab kisko dekhna hai tumhe dekhne ke baad

(Gharib Nawaz past all thoughts I am now yours
I seek no light but the sight of your doorstep)

The Qawwali rose, calming the confused cacophony of the Urs, engulfing the hum of instruments, chants, and bird-songs, into a lavender smoke towards an enchanted emerald sky. The Qawwali, 'Mere Khwaja Ki Ghulami', shone on till the mehfil was momentarily suspended for the maghrib evening prayers. Amidst the confounding vitality of the world—of real problems beseeching benefaction beyond the realm of the real, of unexplainable love, faith and devotion of an unexplainable multitude tied to an unexplainable attraction—steeped in the deep and simple magnanimity of sound, earth, light, and love, magic was created, one afternoon in the dargah of Ajmer Sharif. The endless magic of sound!

Tumse mere duniya ki hasrate nikal gayi
Thaam liya Khwaja ne toh mushkile bhi tal gayi
Mere kaam aagayi, mere kaam aagayi
Mere Khwaja ki Ghulami mere kaam aagayi

(You are the culmination of my worldly desires/
The answer to every difficulty/
This is my reward
My love is my reward, oh Khwaja)

The Qawwali becomes a vestibule between the many worlds in the space of the Urs becoming an active archive of the socio-cultural history of Chishtiya Sufism, Islam and the classical Khayal music tradition in South Asia in a few minutes of performance.

Hum toh yahaan Sarkaar ki mehfil main magan hoon | Sarkaar humare ghar ki taraf dekh rahein hai
Silsila milgaya Chishtia hogayen | Khwaja aise mile ke jannati hogayi

(Here we sit enticed in the assembly of the Sarkar | while Sarkar lavishes our homes with his beneficence
Today we are of his Silsilia, today we are of Chishtia | Khwaja is our portal to Heaven)

Qawwal Wazir Hussain Qadri, the lead Qawwal on 'Mere Khwaja Ki Ghulami', hails from Rampur district in Nainital and is affiliated to the dargah of Hatwa Sharif. Qadri believes that Qawwali is the preliminary step in worship —“ibadat ki ibteda” — and has rewards for all who practice, preserve and promulgate it. It is a mark of extreme love for a higher entity which answers all love with his greater love, “jo chahta hai unko, usko dilate bhi hain” (he bestows all those who love him). Qadri traces his musical lineage to Ustad Jafar Khan Niazi of the Badayun gharana and has been performing Qawwalis since the age of 10. Having been immersed in the art form for 47 years, Qadiri represents an extinguishing breed of traditional Qawwals who perform in the Khanqahi circles and draw on only chaste Persian, Hindavi or Punjabi Sufi poetry for their kalams.

In the absence of any formal state support or national cultural policies, the Khanqahi space becomes a vital platform for the artistic survival of indigenous musicians like Qadri, and sustenance of the Qawwali, the song of love and faith, and a lyrical antidote to extremist ideologies. Speaking about the allure and the mysticism in his art, Wazir Hussain Qadri recalls a verse spoken by a listener in praise of his song, following a Qawwali session. This verse sums up the appeal of the Qawwali, and the love for the Divine Beloved, which inspires it:

Main ki dassan twada mukhda
mainu kinna sohna lagda hai,
Yaar sacchi gallan twadi
mainu changa varga lagda hai.
Main seene vich twade gham noon
aiss liye chupaye rehna vaan,
Twade naal ishq mainu jadd to hoya
Mainu dard vi changa lagda hai.

(Your face, how may I even say,
how much I love it.
Your words, sweet friend, so forthright and frank,
is a delight beyond all words.
All grief I had is now buried, deep inside,
Since I have fallen in love with you, oh sweet one
No pain is greater
Than the love I have for you.)

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Updated Date: Mar 19, 2018 20:02:55 IST

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