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The art of Qawwali

Musicologist talks about the origins of the art form

SAMAA | - Posted: Mar 9, 2020 | Last Updated: 12 months ago
Posted: Mar 9, 2020 | Last Updated: 12 months ago

The who, what, when and how of Qawwali was recently discussed at a session on the Sufi art form at the Karachi Literature Festival.

Writer and musicologist Ally Adnan explained that Qawwali was connected with Ishq-e-Haqiqi and Ishq-e-Majazi; it isn’t just about the love you feel for your children, spouse, parents but also the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and God.

Many believe that Qawwali came into being in the last 1400 to 1600 years ago but researchers claim that it has been around for far longer.

In ancient times, mantras were sung repeatedly in sur and laye until roohani kehfiyat overcame the singer. Mantras, according to the musicologist, were a form of Qawwali and were sung when people went to the temple for medical treatment, justice, education or ask for someone's hand in marriage.

“Qawwali belongs to anyone who loves the art form. It is not just limited to Muslims,” he added.

According to Adnan, Muslims first came in the region in the seventh century and settled in Samatra, India. “At the time, they were mostly traders who brought in goods and spices from what we now call Iran, Turkey and Afghanistan,” he said.
By the 12th century, Sufi poets, scholars and writers became popular. “Back then, the Hindu caste system was in place and the Dalits (untouchables) were not able to do anything, they weren’t even allowed to listen to music or get an education,” the writer said.  “The Sufi poets extended their arms to the Dalits with their message of brotherhood and harmony. They shared music, dance, education and philosophy with them.”

Amir Khusro
Qawwali had spread across the sub-continent by the 13th century, however, different forms of Qawwali existed in different cities.

Lakhnavi Qawwali was different from Qawwali in Banaras while Dehli's Qawwali was differnet from that in Calcutta.

Amir Khusro, who was a student of Nizamuddin Auliya, was a great musician and Islamic scholar of his time. He gave birth to a new form of Qawwali which we now call "Khusro Qawwali".

Pandit Gopal
“When Alauddin Khilji ruled Hindustan, a court musician by the name of Pandit Gopal, expressed a wish to sing a song for the ruler,” said Adnan. “He told Khilji that the song would take a while to finish as it was long and tapped into six different genres, was written in Sanskrit and had 28,000 stanzas.” It took Pandit Gopal several weeks to present his song.

When Khilji finally heard it, he was upset as he did not understand a word. Gopal told Khilji to find someone better than him or declare that he was the biggest singer in the state.

According to Adnan, Khilji summoned Nizamuddin Auliya to the palace and told him to bring his disciple, Amir Khusro, to respond to Gopal's song.
Khusro asked Khilji for some time to prepare. After a month, Khusro appeared before the ruler with 12 children. These children, in response to Gopal's 28,000 verses, presented 28 verses that included gul, khel, naqsh, qulbana, qol and tarana.

It is said that when Gopal heard Khusro’s work, he became a disciple of Khusro himself.

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