There is some soul music in everyone's life. With a number of Bollywood hits, regular qawwali performances at the dargahs and Sufi festivals in the city, there's hardly anyone who is untouched by Sufi.
Be it AR Rahman's 'Kun faya kun' from Rockstar or Abida Parveen's Ramooz-e-Ishq, Sufism sweeps generations and boundaries. To add to its popularity, the Sufi form of the music, qawwali, has got a new lease of life with different festivals being organised across the country. "Earlier, qawwali was seen only at dargahs. Now it has become a stage performance," says Ghulam Sabir Nizami, a qawwal at Nizamuddin Dargah, and a descendant of one of the disciples of saint Nizamuddin. He, along with his brother Ghulam Waris Nizami, are popularly known as the Nizami brothers.
This weekend, the stage has been lit up with performances of the likes of Abida Parveen, Ali Zafar, and Hans Raj Hans at the ongoing Jahan-e-Khusrau festival, celebrating its tenth year. "With the pressures of modern living, the popularity of Sufism shows that people are looking for something pure to connect with," says filmmaker Muzaffar Ali who launched the fest over a decade ago. Besides Sufi music, Jahan-e-Khusrau highlights the tradition of syncretism and plurality. (See box for more festivals).
Besides the fests, qawwali is traditionally performed at dargahs by the descendants of the disciples of the saints. Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya's dargah is one such popular venue. Every day, after sunset, the shrine witnesses a packed courtyard with enthusiastic devotees singing in synchrony with the qawwals to achieve their union with God.
Other places to experience this devotional music in the city are Inayat Khan's shrine in Nizammudin, where you can even enroll for Sufi music classes. There are also weekly performances at Khwaja Bakhteyar Kaki's tomb in Mehrauli, one of the oldest dargahs in Delhi. If popular Sufi music is your beat, head to Shalom and Kasbah in GK-1, N-block market on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
Sufi music is traditionally celebrated in the form of qawwali. The followers seek to unite with God, with qawwali as the medium. "Indo-Pak Sufism is rooted in the classical tradition of Islamic mysticism as it developed in the Arab and Persian culture area between the ninth and eleventh centuries," writes scholar Regula Qureshi in her book Sufi Music of India and Pakistan: Sound, Context and Meaning in Qawwali.
While many may consider qawwali - with newer instruments and diverse lyrics - as 'evolved', purists dismiss the Bollywood versions as merely popular songs. "For example, 'Pardah hai pardah' from Amar Akbar Anthony is not really qawwali," says Nizami. "Qawwali is a form of ibadat (prayer). It transports you to another world. From current Bollywood, songs such as 'Khwaja mere khwaja' (Jodhaa Akbar) and 'Kun faya kun' do put you in a trance."
But the beauty of Sufism lies in its acceptance by one and all. Lawyer and an avid Sufi fan, Kabeer Shrivastava, 26 describes his faith thus, "The greatest asset of Sufi poets lies in the words they use. It is about love and longing, more like a teacher and pupil relation."
Rumi, the great Sufi poet, aptly described this love affair.
'When I am with you, we stay up all night
When you're not here, I can't go to sleep
Praise God for those two insomnias!
And the difference between them.'