In a crowded corner of the Horniman Circle gardens, an audience sat entranced on Sunday evening, listening to stories and songs that traced the history of Sufism in India.
When the raconteurs ended the show with ‘Dama Dam Mast Qalandar’, a song by Bulleh Shah in praise of saint Shahbaz Qalandar, the listeners rose to their feet, dancing to rhythms played by percussionist Karan Chitra Deshmukh.
Sounds of the Sufis, a three-hour show that featured conversations, songs and storytelling by the group The Looking Glass, was part of the Zindagi theatre section of the Hindustan Times Kala Ghoda Arts Festival.
After the Humd — poetry in praise of God — storytellers Priyanka Patel and Satchit Puranik retold the legends of Sufi mystics while Anuraag Dhoundeyal sang the songs and played the guitar.
Starting with a narrative on the life of mystic Rabia Basri, a former slave who lived in Basra in the 8th century AD, the story travelled to India, where Sufism arrived in the 12th century through Moinuddin Chishti. The audience was told that the tradition continued through Baba Farid and Nizamuddin Aulia.
The storytelling was interspersed with songs written by Amir Khusrau, Rumi, Meera, Lal Ded and Kabir.
The group’s conversation with Sufi experts, including Asma Rehman and Nagendra Pandey, was part of the show’s script. “Asma suggested that we focus on one school of Sufism and we chose the Chisti tradition because it is most relevant to India,” said Puranik, an actor and writer.
Rumi and the 14th-century Kashmiri poetess Lal Ded are not part the Chishti tradition, but their works were included to explain the syncretism of Sufism.
Explaining the unconventional style of storytelling, Patel said, “What we wanted was a conversation with people.”
Members of the audience were even given booklets of the songs, so that they could sing along.
Umang Nath, 22, a management student and Tardeo resident, said he enjoyed his first experience of a Sufi concert. “I liked the way the story was told. I agree with the story tellers… Sufism is best experienced by the life of the saints and mystics,” he said.