A SUFIYANA RETREAT
In 1947, at the time of partition, the mass exodus of musicians to Pakistan damaged its cultural landscape beyond repair. This includes the decline and gradual disappearance of the four major gharanas of Punjab—Shyamchaurasi, Talwandi, Haryana Dhunga and Kapurthala—where the finest Dhrupad gayaki evolved in the tradition of Gurbani kirtan. The dwindling charisma of Qawwali and the divine music of the Chishti Sufis of the South Asian region is safeguarded and sustained by a small village called Maler Kotla in Sangrur district in Punjab.
On its musical caravan, the team was fortunate enough to find Anwar Ali ji from Maler Kotla, which is also referred to as the musical capital of Punjab. Anwar Ali is truly a musical person by nature. He has the exceptional flair to convert any conversation into a melodic Sufiana phrase which touches the heart of the listener. This unique style is his USP. An experienced and dedicated Qawwal, Anwar Ali has been into Sufi and Qawwali singing for a very long time. The rhythm of Qawwali is in his blood. With more than three generations of musicians from Sarandhi gharana in Maler Kotla, his grandfather Rehmat Qawwaal Ji has played a vital role in building up his interest in Qawwali music.
Qawwali is a type of music pursued by Sufis to stimulate religious spirituality. The roots of Qawwali date back to the 11th Century with the tradition of ‘sama’, (spiritual concerts) which predate the birth of Muhammad. Shaikh Nizamuddin Auliya, who was a follower of the Christi school of Sufism, extensively used music as a medium for his prayer gatherings. However, the godfather of Qawwali is said to be Amir Khusru from the 13th century, a prominent musician and philosopher who mixed elements from Turkey, Persia and India in the creation of a new music. The Persian moqquams beautifully unite with the Indian ragas. The variation, improvisation and repetition are carried out to such an extent that the music becomes hypnotic and meditative, leading to a trance-like state.
It requires a lifetime to learn the art of Qawwaali. Anwar Ali started his ‘riyaaz’ (training) at a tender age of just 5 years. He was deeply inspired by his uncle who kindled his love for the strength of Qawwaali to convey a spiritual message. To draw and hold the attention of a heterogeneous audience is the skill that the best Qawwal (performers of qawwali) excel at. Thus transforming the state of consciousness of the audience in order to make them more receptive to the content is one of the fundamental reasons for the existence of this type of music. Anwar Ji often sits and reminisces his childhood days: he says, the relief, the peace of mind he used to feel while listening to his uncle sing Sufi proses, and their gentle, calming effect was unparalleled. His uncle’s melodious voice still echoes in his head.
Anwar Ali and his group can be seen feeling the beats of the Qawwaali music with their bodies: The rhythm in the form of drums (tabla, dholak and pakhwaz) and synchronized hand-clapping. Once after performing at a show in Ludhiana, he was offered a show in Hongkong because of a recording of his performance there which was sent to an event manager in Hongkong. He still recalls that experience of flying away from the country for the first time, and performing in front of people who were unaware of the wordings, but were connected by a mutual feeling of harmony because of the music.
He is concerned about how the identity of Qawwal musicians is at risk. A myriad of hidden gems are lying in the dark, but he was optimistic and hopeful that with Anahad’s initiative they would get a platform to showcase their talent, and interact with the contemporaries.
Anwar Ali ji breaks up ‘Sangeet’ as ‘Geet Ke Sang’, meaning together with the ‘sur’. He believes that music is therapeutic and it leads to the nourishment of the soul. It heals one from the inside, without taking anything in return, unlike love. Anwar Ji never misses even the slightest opportunity to present a spontaneous ‘sher’ on the bittersweet nature of love and how it drives people crazy, to limits one cannot even imagine. Bidding the team goodbye, he greeted us farewell, singing-
Nachaya tere ishq ne, nachaya tere ishq ne.
(Your love makes me crazy)