The Various Nuances of Qawwali – Roohani Sisters

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A lot many musical forms came into existence in the Islamic World. These musical forms were introduced by Hazrat Ameer Khusrao and were considered as a part of Qawwali form and pattern of singing. Talking about Ameer Khusrao, who was a profound genius and a great musician of 13th century, after becoming the disciple of Nizamuddin Auliya, developed a liking for several forms of Indian Music, which resulted in breaking the old traditions of music and “creating these new musical forms.” the most popular of all is Qawwali.

Regula Burckkardt Qureshi in his book sufi music of India and Pakistan mentioned that :

“Qawwali considered as music is a group song performed by qawwals, professional musician who perform in groups led by one or two solo singers. Qawwals present mystical poetry in farsi, hindi and urdu in fluid style of alternating solo and improvisation. The rigorous drum accompaniment on the barrel shaped small portable harmonium, usually in the hands of the led singer, underscores the song melody- A Qawwali song normally defines with an instrumental prelude on the harmonium then  an introductory verse is sung as a sole recitation  without drums,  leading directly into the song proper; a mystical poem set to strophic tune and performed by the entire group of Qawwals.”

The Qawwali as we have read and seen, holds the same pattern of singing even today. Yes, a lot of different musical instruments are definitely being used in Qawwali performance today but the traditional Qawwalis which we hear in Dargah still follow the ‘thet dhunein’ in comparison with the popular ones. Qawwali is observed to be a very flexible and vast structure which includes various other musical forms as well (which have been introduced by Hazrat Ameer Khusrao). A brief description of some of those musical forms has been given below:

  • Qaul : referred to poetic composition in which some sayings of Prophet or a verse from Quran was incorporated in a particular Raga. In other words, the idea was to transform an Arabic prose into a musical form without disturbing its meaning. Since it was not always possible to do so, a few syllables of Tarana were added to balance the Raga in which the piece was composed.
  • Qalbana : This kind of song is a mixture of Arabic and Hindi words. One of the differences between Qaul and Qalbana is that Qaul involves the use of the bol of Tarana along with Arabic words, but in Qalbana, Hindi words are also used along with Arabic words. Another important difference between these two forms is that Qaul is sung in any One Raag, whereas while singing Qalbana, many number of Taalas and Raagas are used. Some Musicians also call it as “Taal Sagar”. But, it is not sung much today. The reason being that as the Taal changes with every Raag/ Tukda, the preparation and familiarization involved in it increases a lot because then it becomes very important for the Tabla accompanist to remember and understand as to where and when the Taal needs to be changed.

The best example for Qaul and Qalbana will be ‘Man Kunto Maula’ based on an Arabic Raag ‘Sanam Ganam’ , the lyrics of which are as follows:

Man Kunto Maula, Fahaza Ali Ul Maula

Dara dil, dara dil dare daani

Hom tom tana na na na, ta na na na re

Yalali yalali yala yala re

Which means, “if I am your Master, then Ali is your Master too.” Hazrat Ameer Khusrao was so inspired by this saying that he composed it keeping in mind the Indian Classical Raag and taal system. The taal which he refers to is sitarkhani (16 beats). In the same manner, there are a number of qauls and qalbanas which were composed by Hazrat Ameer Khusrao.

Sufi music spread its wings mainly in India, Turkey, Baghdad, Pakistan and Bangladesh. As far as Sufism in west in concerned, a universal spiritual movement called Universal Sufism was founded by Hazrat Inayat Khan while travelling throughout the west  between 1910 and  1926, based on unity of all people and religions and the presence of spiritual guidance in all people, places and things. A form of Sufism, and a branch of the Chishti order, it has its roots in the traditional framework of Islam but does not exist within it and is characterized by respect for other devotional tradition.

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