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Meet the Nizami Bandhu, qawwali’s rockstars

An evening of qawwali with qawwals of ‘Rockstar’ fame

art and culture Updated: Jan 21, 2017 10:44 IST
Danish Raza
Qawwal Chand Nizami (centre) with nephews Shadab and Shohrab Nizami at the dargah.
Qawwal Chand Nizami (centre) with nephews Shadab and Shohrab Nizami at the dargah. (Vipin Kumar/HT PHOTO)

It is past midnight. The marble floor of the Nizamuddin dargah is covered with dew. The pungent fragrance of incense engulfs the compound. The mausoleum is lit up with fairy lights. The shrine is decorated with marigolds and chandeliers to mark the 713th Urs or death anniversary of the 12th-century Sufi saint Nizamuddin Auliya. Devotees holding prayer beads are sitting on the raised platform surrounding the grave of Nizamuddin. In the courtyard, qawwals are reciting ‘Rang’, a special qawwali that marks the culmination of the Urs. As the sound of ‘Aaj rang hai’ reverberates in the air, the audience turns ecstatic.

“It is like being face-to-face with the almighty. Such is the experience,” said Chand Nizami, a traditional qawwal at the shrine.

Chand’s elder brother, qawwal Farid Nizami, passed away five years ago. His nephews Shadab and Sohrab joined him to form the group popularly known as the Nizami Bandhu. Many visitors at the dargah recognise them as the qawwals who appeared in the Ranbir Kapoor starrer Rockstar.

The trio will perform today evening at a charity event in Delhi. They will recite Sufi compositions including ‘Kun Faya Kun’, ‘Chhhap Tilak’ and ‘Dama Dam Mast Kalandar’.

“People say that Rockstar gave us fame. We tell them that we have been rockstars for the past 700 years as our ancestors have been serving the saint held in high regard among devotees in India and the neighbourhood,” said 53-year-old Chand, who belongs to the lineage of qawwals who started offering devotional music at the shrine.

The Nizammudin Dargarh draws visitors all around the year, and especially during Urs. (Vipin Kumar / HT Photo)

The qawwali audience at the dargah has significantly changed in the last two decades, said Chand. The reason, he said, is that visiting a dargah and listening to qawwali and any kind of devotional music are prohibited in many Muslim sects. “The number of people who used to visit the shrine has seen a slump. Unlike earlier when qawwali was confined to shrines, now we perform at events and concerts to reach out to more people,” he said.

Although qawwali is associated with Sufism, it has gained immense popularity among people from various communities in India and neighbouring countries.

The word ‘qawwali’ comes from the Arabic word ‘qaul’ (to say). Qawwali is sung but the composition is such that the singer appears to be conversing with his peer or spiritual guide.

The Nizami Bandhu live in the dargah compound. The compound also houses the grave of poet and scholar Amir Khusro, the author of ‘rang’ and one of the most admired mureed or disciples of Nizamuddin auliya.

When Chand was eight, he started accompanying his father to qawwali sessions at the shrine. At least four hours of riyaaz (practice) was compulsory when he was learning qawwali. A solid command of Urdu and getting the pronunciation right are must-haves for to be a successful qawwal, according to Chand. “I am sure all the qawwali you would have heard so far is in Urdu. But the best of compositions are in Persian. They are not sung anywhere as a majority of audience and even qawwals don’t know Persian,” said Chand, adding that the popularity of qawwali reached its pinnacle due to Sabri brothers and then Nusrat Fatah Ali Khan of Pakistan. “But media’s reach was limited at that time,” he said.

Qawaali in Hindi films has come of age, said Chand. From hero and heroines competing with each other through their qawwali teams, movies such as Jodha Akbar, Rockstar and Bajrangi Bhaijaan portrayed qawwali as a form of prayer. “The credit goes to Rahman saab,” said Chand, referring to composer A R Rahman.

Films or no films, Chand said, qawwali will remain alive as long as shrines exist.

WHAT: Mehfil ‘E Sufiana with Nizami Bandhu

WHERE: Le Meridien, Windsor Place. Nearest metro station: Janpath

WHEN: 7pm, January 21

ENTRY: Tickets priced at Rs 2250, Available at : Online: BookMyShow/ Offline : at the venue before the show if not sold out

CONTACT: 2371 0101