Spiritual rhythm

January 29, 2023

Freer movement of humanity required to bridge political divides

Spiritual rhythm


here are media reports that only a few Pakistanis have been issued visas to be part of the urs celebrations of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti, popularly known as Gharib Nawaz.

His dargah at Ajmer is one of the biggest in the sub-continent and is visited by many during the course of the year. It would not be an exaggeration to say that this shrine was the most popular destination for the devotees who owed their religious or spiritual loyalties to the sufis, who along with Nizamuddin Aulia and Baba Fareed, symbolised the Chishty order.

His shrine has also been one of the biggest sites for the qawwali congregation during the urs of the sufi and qawwals from all over gather to pay homage to one of the patron saints of the region.

Music and musical expression were decried by the orthodoxy as they passed strictures upon strictures to place it outside the pale of religion. There were others too, who realising its significance for human expression, paved the way for its acceptance in the cultural matrix of the sub-continent. The emergence of qawwali as one of the most popular expressions and forms was tended by these individuals. Over time it blossomed as an institution.

It must be noted that the names of the various sufis and their silsilas are mentioned by the qawwals in the renditions of their qawwali and references to the various sufis are evoked to bring solace and support in an environment that was and is still perceived to be hostile and antagonistic to practices that are expressive of love and fellow feeling. The overwhelming effort is to appeal to and move the heart and bring about a change from within rather than to enforce it from above or as externally ordered.

The qawwali was a musical form that sprouted in the Ganga Jamini culture. It gradually spread from the shrine of Nizamuddin Aulia through the creative efforts of Amir Khusro to become ritualised during the course of the centuries. The main centres of qawwali were the shrines that were and are situated in the areas round Delhi, either on the Punjab side or Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. People thronged to these shrines in droves, irrespective of the formal religion that thy followed.

Political boundaries have been formidable to cross and for those who do not abide by these, the barriers are a bit difficult to explain and make sense of. About 75 years ago, the people or populace could travel freely owing to the bond that one had with the sufi or the silsila. With the passage of time and the emergence of more political fences, the barrier has became an additional factor to be taken into consideration.

One of the main factors that brought about greater movement of the people, thus, lesser isolation and has been the spiritual journeys that people could make. The cooping up and being mired in self-certainty can be countered by the freer movement of the humanity at large, motivated by a spiritual need. The spiritual needs in a way transcend the political needs or conditions that have been stretched across the landscape that was once one.

Qawwali, once only a form that was integrally linked to the shrine, has in the last few decades resurged to become a popular form sung and heard free from the environs of the shrine. It grew in popularity more in Pakistan, where it was and is practiced or heard as music like the Ganga Jamini tehzeeb but then it liberated itself from the spiritual context and became a musical form in its own right.

Still, the memory of the patronage of the sufia in protecting the musicians and the musical form keeps resurfacing through the various bandishes and kalam that these are supposed to evoke. The name of Gharib Nawaz is mentioned more frequently than any other sufi except for Nizamuddin Aulia and that too because it is said that many of the bandishes were composed by Amir Khusro and have travelled down generations to reach us. The references to Ghrib Nawaz are no less frequent and have also spilled into kheyal compositions to be rendered by the gawaiya’ as mustanid bandishes.

This common heritage should be the foundation of newer musical forms and allowed to prosper and grow. Only this can be an effective counter to the political boundaries that separate more than unite. The free movement of people of all religious denominations will bring more harmony and tolerance than otherwise.

The writer is a culture critic based in Lahore.

Spiritual rhythm