The sufi drummer

November 14, 2021

Pappu Sain and his dhol playing were inextricably linked to the shrine of Shah Jamal

The sufi drummer

Pappu Sain, who died on November 7, was a dhol player of exceptional flair. His name and playing of the dhol were integrally associated with the shrine of Shah Jamal where he played the dhol and made it one of the most striking features of the activities that characterised the rituals of the shrine. The sufi shrines have varying salient features: some are known for the dhamal, some for the qawwali, some for the various mannats. Some are best known for the rendition of the kaafi and still many more for rituals that may be not pronounced. The shrine of Shah Jamal was best known for long for the dhol that was played there, especially on every Thursday.

With the onset of the more puritan mindset over the last four decades, the rituals with quasi-cultural expression were pushed to the side. The shrine of Shah Jamal was known for its dhol playing and people and devotees gathered and spent the evening and better part of the night in the sanctuary of the shrine. These events also spilt over on to the Fridays as the trance continued to be nurtured by those wanting a safe haven from the humdrum and rat race of the society outside.

As it is, Thursday is the day meant for the ritualistic release. However, gradually with the onset of greater puritan restrictions, the dhol playing was shifted from the front of the shrine to be sidelined initially and then moved downstairs where a specific area was dedicated to it. Initially, the playing was part of the rituals and no divisions were perceived or forced. Later, the playing was questioned and edged out. However, it could not be eliminated totally because the main feature of the shrine was the playing that reverberated far and wide carrying with it the hopes and aspirations of the devotees - the slow silent mass of humanity that found solace in the collective.

Pappu Sain’s given name was Zulfiqar Ali. He was born to Luddan Sain in Lahore. The stature of the dhol players in the society was very low in those days and they had difficulty in making a living. Dhol players like Baba Lal Malik Pur Charay Walay, Ustad Allah Ditta, Ustad Baoo of Lahore were famous in their times for playing the solo dhol. It is said that Baba Noor Ilahi and Baba Karam Ilahi started playing dhol as a jori (a pair). They also started playing classical taals on the dhol. They use to play teen tala, ek tala, rupak, panj tala ki sawari and mughlaye in vilambat lai on dhol. One of them played the tala or naghma and the other improvised. They also switched the bar and naghma. After them, the idea of jori started gaining acceptance and some famous joris came together. These included Baba Khadim with Baba Ali Bakhsh; Baba Jamal with Baba Mundh; Baba Luddan Sain with Baba Gami Sain; and Muhammad Shafi with Muhammad Ismaeel.

Pappu Sain started to play dhol at the age of 12 at the shrine of Shabbir Shah near Chandrawan Pind, Lahore. His father then made him a shargird to Mian Qhulam Qadir. Qadir was a tabla player.

Pappu Sain was attracted to dhol playing from his childhood and used to go with his father Luddan Sain to every urs, mela and weekly Thursday ritual. He started to play dhol at the age of 12 at the shrine of Shabbir Shah near Chandrawan Pind, Lahore. His father then made him shargird to Mian Qhulam Qadir. Qadir was a tabla player and shagird to Mian Shaukat Hussain. Pappu Sain used to play dhol at the shrine of Data Ali Hajveri and Peer Makki with his father and brother on every Thursday. Some years later he started to play at the shrine of Shah Jamal and Madho Lal Hussain on every Thursday with his new jori dar, Jhoora Sain. He used to play dhol from midnight to 4am at the shrine. Many people listened to his dhol at the shrine of Shah Jamal. His technique of playing dhol and the incorporation of tabla and pakhawaj phrases changed the sound of the dhol. In dhamal section, he added a new variation called nobat and chakri. He was also a regular visitor to the urs of shrines like Sehwan Sharif, Mehr Shah Wali Sarkar, Data Ali Hajveri, Peer Makki and mela of Madho Lal Hussain where large number of people, musicians and dhol players come to attend from all over the Pakistan. Pappu Sain played new talas in vilambat, madh, drut lai that attracted many people, dhol players and other musicians. People from all over Pakistan started inviting him to celebrations like Bansant, mehndi, melas, sham-i-qalandar.

Jhoora Sain, the son of Baba Mundh, was the jori dar with Pappu Sain. Jhoora Sain became very famous for his strong time keeping in vilambat, madh and drut lai. They played many tabla bols on dhol like sitar khani, mat tala, jay tala, ek tala, etc. They played pon and sawa talas on dhol for the first time in the history of the instrument. Their mystical, loud and groovy playing also attracted people internationally. There were always some foreigners at the Shah Jamal shrine on every Thursday to listen to the dhol. Pappu Sain and Jhoora Sain were the first dhol players to got international recognition. They were invited to play dhol in several countries, including Japan, France, England, Singapore and Germany. Pappu Sain was interviewed several times in TV shows, newspapers, magazines and for thesis researches. There are number of documentaries made regarding his dhol playing. He also featured in the Pakistani band called Overload. In 2008, he was awarded the Pride of Performance for his contribution to music and culture of Pakistan. He recorded and played dhol with several top artists including Noor Jahan, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Peter Pannke dhamal composer Nazeer Ali.

The writer is a   culture critic based in Lahore

The sufi drummer