The spirit of Sufism is back in the Capital after a gap of two years. Jahan-e-Khusrau, a Sufi music festival that celebrates the life and work of Persian poet Amir Khusrau, starts today and will have artists from all over the world experimenting and interpreting Sufism in their own contexts.
Khusrau’s very own city will witness sufiana mushaira (poetry sessions), that are usually held within the dargahs of great sufi saints. Poetry always remains the main focus of this festival.
“We are trying to bring in the global essence of Sufism to India. This year, the festival is high on experimentation, with ballet integrating with poetry. We will see a mixing of the ethos of Japanese sounds with Kashmiri music. There will be films on Sufism and much more,” says Muzaffar Ali, the festival organiser.
Another attraction of this festival is a performance by Pakistani artist Abida Parveen. “Working with Abida has always been a unique and different experience. She is great with the selection and composition of lyrics,” says Ali. Jahan-e-Khusrau also aims to connect the youth to the mystic world of Sufism. “The youth is taking to this genre and it’s mainly due to the contemporisation of this form,” says singer Rabbi Shergill, who will perform at the festival. Performers from US, Turkey, Egypt and Japan will add to the magic.
Delhi’s famous qawwal families perform weekly in the city’s premier sufi shrine. Besides eagerly waiting for annual sufi music festivals, the city’s dedicated sufi music lovers go each Thursday evening (6.30 pm) to the shrine of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya. As the dargah’s in-house qawwals break into sufi love songs, the mood goes electric. As exciting as ticketed concerts, you sit right alongside the singers and watch their eyes popping out, hands slicing the air, and faces dissolving into momentary madness. These qawwals — almost two dozens are present at any given Thursday performance — are the superstars of Delhi’s sufi music scene. They not only sing in the shrine but are also invited to perform in upper-crust Delhi’s evening soirees. They are in high demand overseas, too. Europe and North America are their regular destinations.
Divided into five groups or ‘parties’, the qawwals live in their own little world. Each group is comprised of a single family. Some family lines are ancient. Two houses, with similar names, stand out — Nizami Khusro Bandhus and Nizami Bandhus. They are related by marriage and both groups claim to have been singing in the dargah for 750 years. Here the parallels end. The Khusro Nizami Bandhus have an impressive pedigree. Its patriarch, Ustad Meraj Ahmed, is a direct descendant of Ustad Tanras Khan, who was a royal singer at the court of Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar.
The family is known for singing qawwalis in its pure form. Even his rivals acknowledge Ustad Meraj’s grip over the Persian language.
In contrast, Nizami Bandhus are considered to be as good with devotional qawwalis as they are with Bollywood chartbusters. “Khusro Bandhus are fit for a mehfil while Nizami Bandhus are good for collecting crowds,” says Altamash Nizami, a dargah khadim. Both families also sing Hindu bhajans. “We also perform at cocktail parties,” says Shadab Faridi Nizami of the Nizami Bandhus.
Occasionally, tensions arise when families compete for contracts to perform at private functions — where the money is. The concerts are too few and the groups too many; inevitably, the clans clash. However, on Jummeraat (Thursday evenings), all the parties sing together. There is no squabbling for the primary position. Money offered as nazrana is shared equally. And all look like one happy family.
- Mayank Austen Soofi
Nizami Khusro Bandhus
Anyone interested in the ‘pure’ form of qawwali cannot afford to overlook this family. Headed by Ustad Meraj Ahmed, it claims to have descended from one of the 12 original qawwal bachhe. They were the first people trained in Sufiana music by Amir Khusrau, the 14th-century Persian poet considered to be the father of qawwalis. While Ustad Meraj has curtailed his performances due to old age, his five sons are carrying on the legacy. Catch them on Friday evenings at Sufi Inayat Ali’s dargah in Nizamuddin Basti.
Chand Nizami and his two nephews can always be depended upon todeliver electric performances. Chand became the head after his elder brother Gulam Farid died in 2007.