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Uttar Pradesh

Tejpal Singh and Group

“Melodies of humility and enthusiasm.”

Uttar Pradesh is blessed to have the two major rivers Ganga and Yamuna, passing through the state, making it highly fertile and super viable for agriculture with intensive cultivation. To meet Tejpal, we reached a small village named Baad near Agra. The location for filming Tejpal Singh and his group was literally between a lush green agricultural field. As we reached the spot, we could see Tejpal and his group singing a Devi Geet in a small temple and couldn’t resist being a part of the Satsang. 

Tejpal hails from Baad village of Agra district and has been a dedicated folk artist of the region. He has a senior diploma degree in vocals from NCZCC (North Central Zone Cultural Centre), Allahabad. Under the guidance of Shri Rajendra Prasad Sonariwale, he gained the wisdom of Braj folks. Tejpal was one of those artists who came from an initiative named Chaukhat ki Gunj, which was started during the lockdown to support the subsistence of local folk artists. 

Meeting with him and the group was indeed an overwhelming and gratifying experience because, at the end of the day, all the hard work that the foundation puts in is solely to empower artists like Tejpal. They perform with all their heart but somehow, at times, fail to get attention. He is from a family of Jats and lives with his father, wife, and four children. He is an ever-smiling person, and his sweetness, as a human being, can be felt in the music. He belongs to the Agra Gharana.  

Tejpal has a very dedicated group who look up to him with utmost fondness. Motiram, 52, is a Tabla Player and is trained by the prestigious Agra Gharana. He has done Prabhakar in tabla and has a senior diploma in vocals. Even though he has a classical background in music, he still considers himself to be a folk musician first. 

His proficiency is in the folk music of Braj (Braj ke lokgeet). He was also very instrumental in nurturing the younger members of the group. 

Gopal Singh, 22, a Dholak Player, is also a disciple of Motiram. He is still at a very nascent stage of his musical journey, but under the supervision of Tejpal and Motiram, he is improving his skills in no time.  Omprakash, 49, who is a sweet maker by profession, plays the Jhinka for the group. Srinath, 48, gracefully plays the Matka with spoons, a very simple yet sweet instrument. Apart from matka, he also plays dholak at times. Kedar Sharma, 45, a carpenter by profession but a musician by heart. He admires Tejpal a lot and considers him to be his biggest influence and guru.

It is very overwhelming to see respect and admiration among the group members. Any group can move ahead when there is compassion between the members for their music, and, it is quite evident in this one. They leave the audience mesmerised with their performance on the songs like ‘ Banaye deyo naath’ – 

“Tumne sabki dayi hai banaye,

(Hey! Lord, you have made everyone’s life)

Banaye deyo naath humari hai”

(Make our life too worthy) 

The group is proficient in folk forms like Rasiya, Languriya, and Krishna bhajans. As a group, they have been performing for the last 20 years. Before the Covid 19 pandemic, they were getting 7-8 shows per month, but the earnings made out of it have never been sufficient to meet their family needs. They are always worried as to how they are going to sustain the living for themselves and their families, and hence many of their members are into other professions for a living. Despite the problems coming their way, they have never left the path of the following music in their lives. They have ardent faith in music. To them, the future looks scary, but they are pretty optimistic.

They believe in singing and presenting their music with a sense of authenticity in lyrics and music using their traditional instruments and have made appearances in all the cities like Bharatpur, Mathura, and Agra. The group performs in local festivals and fairs. It was for the first time that the group was recording their songs. This feeling of seeing the artists performing with such enthusiasm motivates us their joy and happiness is our biggest inspiration.

Pavan Goswami and Group

“Ethereal celebration of lights in the forest of Govardhan.”

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” Martin Luther King Jr.

With the setting sun, the light from the Diyas reverberated through space as if to instil upon the blessings of Radha, on her birthplace. Radha is also referred to as the divine counterpart of Krishna. She is the embodiment of devotion, the essence of love for Krishna. To experience the spectacular dance from the Braj region of Uttar Pradesh, we met Pavan Goswami and his troupe. The group excels in Charkula nritya. By the time we set everything up for the performance, it’s all dark.  In this dance form, veiled women balancing large multi-tiered circular wooden pyramids on their heads lit with 108 oil lamps, dance to the strains of ‘Rasiya’ – songs of Lord Krishna. 

Charkula is primarily performed on the third day after Holi to celebrate the birth of Radharani. Some legends have it, on getting the news of Radha’s birth, her grandmother was happy, and that she emphatically rushed out of her house with the Charkula on her head, to announce to the entire village that Radha has come to see the light of the earth, Since then Charkula has been a popular and loved dance form of Braj, performed during various occasions of festivities.

Every cultural aspect of Braj has some of the other connections with Lord Krishna and the beautiful tales of Gopis and Radha, hence how was it possible for a dance form or a song, a story or a legend of Braj to remain unblemished from Krishna’s leelas. Trying to figure out how to work in the dark Govardhan forest and as the team was brainstorming, our eyes suddenly witnessed the other Avatar of Pavan Goswami in Krishna’s attire through the lights generated by the lamps on the Charkula. We had our Eureka moment, and without any further ado, we decided to light the location with candles and earthen lamps. To keep the monkeys away from our equipment, who became more active after sundown, we circled the area of our counsel with light.

Charkula dance is a symbol of happiness as well as joyful bliss. Krishna raised the mount Goverdhan and as if to re-enact the Govardhan Leela, the dancing damsel Braj raises the 50 Kgs Charkula on her head while performing the Charkula dance. Wearing long skirts reaching the toes and a blouse, the dancing damsel covers her body and face with the odhani, and with its lighted lamps on her head and in both the hands, she dances, synchronizing her steps with the beat of the drum. Her movements were limited, because of the heavy load on her head. The group gave a stunning performance and enchanted everyone on the song ‘ Sawayin dekho toh achak chadh aayo Rasiya’- 

“Bansi Bare Mohana,

(Oh! Winner of hearts! Flautist Krishna)

Bansi tanak baja,

(Please, play the flute)

Teri Bansi ne mero maan haro,

(Your flute has taken my heart away)

Mohe ghar aangana na sohaye”

(Now I no longer feel good in my place, my home)

She cannot bend her body, nor can she move her neck. Despite these limitations, the slim, sturdy, and courageous dancer dances, gliding, bending, pirouetting to the tune of the song. The climax is reached, when enraptured by the collective merriment of the occasion, the singers also start dancing, and, with the swift beat of music and movement, the onlookers find themselves carried away by the rejoicing. 

After experiencing a scintillating performance by Pawan, and the entire Charkhula group as we were coming out of the forest, we saw majestic Kusum Sarobor sparkling in full moonlight. A sight we will carry in our hearts for a long time. 

Hari Babu Kaushik and Group

“In sync with spirituality and devotion.”

After spending some heart-wrenching time in Braj, trying to understand its folk music and to capture the pulse of this land, Hari Babu Kaushik was a divine treat with his Haveli Sangeet. Haveli sangeet is a form of music that traces its origin to the historical traditions of temple-based music. One of the most essential components of this music is Dhrupad. Haveli sangeet is more sophisticated in comparison to the bhajans we listen to. Haveli sangeet is a beautiful fusion of classical music and folk.

To meet Haribabu and his group, the team reached Vrindaban, a very sacred place for the Hindus. According to Indian mythology, Lord Krishna spent most of his childhood days in Vrindavan. To receive us, Mayur Kaushik, Haribabu’s son, was waiting at the Akshaya Patra temple. The Akshaya Patra Foundation is a committed non-profit organization responsible for feeding millions of underprivileged children in India. Their motto is to eradicate hunger and malnutrition from India. 

From there, Mayur Ji took us inside the temple for the flower arti(Phool-arti), a ritual in which people offer flowers to the deity. The entire documentation team was in a state of awe after watching the beauty of Radha-Krishna deities carved from white marbles. Along with Haribabu Kaushik Ji, the team joined the Satsang and sang the melodies of Krishna Bhajan with all the emphatic devotees over there. With a sense of contentment, we went to the spot where we planned to document Haribabu’s performance. Unfortunately, we couldn’t, because of the ongoing construction work, and it lead to some improvisation on our end. A special crowd-controlling team, was hence formed, to manage the flow of vehicles passing by. But eventually, the entire documentation came out very well.


Haveli sangeet primarily is a form of worship in which the offerings are presented to the divine.  Haribabu started with a solo sarangi performance as an offering to awake Lord Krishna from his sleep, followed by a song on Krishna’s Srinagar. All the songs that they performed depicted the very essence of Lord Krishna and his daily activities.  Haveli sangeet emphasizes more on the spiritual aspect rather than entertainment. Haveli sangeet is meant more for the seekers of the divine. During the research trip, we crossed paths with one such seeker, who is a follower of Lord Krishna’s consciousness. He was currently trying to find the path of his spiritual quest to the Lord through Haveli sangeet under the close guidance of Haribabu Kaushik. He was also present for the documentation, with a simple wish of getting a chance to listen to his Guru, singing the verses of Krishna.

Hari Babu Kaushik comes from Mushti Margiya Samprada, established by Prabhu Vallabh Acharya. It takes the form of devotional songs sung daily to Krishna by the Pushtimarg sect. Apart from being a majestic vocalist with a divine voice to support even at the age of 78, he is also a renowned and respected Sarangi player. He belongs to a musical family from generations they are into Haveli sangeet. The generation next is also taking up their traditional music with utmost care and empathy. 

Kriti Kaushik, 20, Haribabu’s granddaughter, is also a member of his group. She expresses her concern over the lack of popularity of the haveli sangeet and aspires to take the art form ahead with more dedication. According to her, more people can experience this divine musical tradition if they knew about it. It was very heartwarming to see such young minds being so committed to this dying art form.  On asking why Haveli Sangeet is on the verge of extinction, Hari Babu firmly pointed out a lack of understanding of the form among the general audience. Moreover, the decline of the Haveli Sangeet, in recent times, is due to the lack of trained mentors and schools that can pass on the Heritage of Haveli sangeet to the next generation.

The group has a beautiful blend of young and experienced musicians with highly experienced artists. To name, these are Manmohan Kaushik, the lead vocalist; Mayur Kaushik, a Harmonium Player, and singer; and Mukesh Kaushik, a benevolent Sarangi Player; Pt. Mohan Shyam Sharma, who accompanies tabla and Pakhawaj(a double-headed drum); and Kriti and Sourav. Sarangi and Pakhawaj are two very crucial instruments used in Haveli Sangeet. The intricate patterns and improvisations woven by Mohan Shyam Ji and Hari Babu created a dialogue that we were spellbound seeing and listening to such artistry..

To get the depth of Hari Babu’s voice, a very unique, micing pattern, was designed and the result that came out of it was simply amazing. It was one of the best documentation of the entire Braj journey, and the experience of recording and shooting such elegant artists was gratifying.


Jagdish Brijwasi and Group

“Pitch perfect to the colours of Braj.”

From the lanes of Mathura and Vrindavan, the spirit of Holi has spread all over the world. Holi is a celebration of not just colours but also life and love. In Braj, Holi is celebrated to commemorate the divine love of Radha for Krishna, which can be found in the folktales and folk music of Braj.  Holi in Braj is famous in the entire world, and on this trip, we experienced the different colours of Braj and its diversity. But the trip wouldn’t be complete without listening to the region’s famous holi geet, which is also known as Faag at times, as it is also celebrated to welcome the arrival of the spring season.

To experience phaag, we ushered in to meet the very charismatic singer and performer of Mathura, Shri Jagdish Brijwasi, 54, a brilliant harmonium player and singer. He excels in playing the tabla as well. He started his musical journey as a ghazal singer but could not hide away his devotion to folk music and the divine, which got him into Braj Lok geet and bhajans. He has a strong Hindustani, classical base with a visharad degree credited to him by North Central Zone Cultural Centre (NCZCC), Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh.

He leads a folk group that has Ravi Joshi, 35, who sings as the chorus, a self-taught musician. He regards Jagdish very highly and considers him as one of his prime inspiration, who has guided him thoroughly in his musical journey, Amarjeet, 50, plays Dholak, Nakkara and is also a part of the chorus, Suresh Chand, 55, plays Manjira and Percussions, Parvez Ali, 25, plays harmonium and Brijwasi Nagar, 23, plays Tabla and Dholak.


Jagdish Brijwasi made this group around 4-5 years ago, and since then, he is managing and taking care of the members. The groups have performed everywhere in India and Africa, Nepal, etc.  The group is fluent in various folk forms from the region of Braj, but expertise in Holi geet and Mayur Nritya. From Folk songs to light music, the group gives mesmerizing performances every time they are on the stage. They love to sing in Darbari and Shivranjini raga. The group has strong classical knowledge, which can be seen in their performance. For the group, music is like God, whom they worship every day of their lives. The group aspires to go around the world and share more about the rich cultural heritage of the Braj region.

“Jo saiyan aaye Braj me ulat ke,

Hori me khelungi Shyamso daatke.”

“Faagun beeto jai taanak gori,

Rasiya te batarai lijo.”

Jagdish expresses, “Music is my god, my worship. And I owe everything to music”. On asking what prompted him to get into music, he said he once heard someone performing, “ Maa ke parivaar aur saraswati ke darshan” and “Tu mehelo ki Rani from Dharamveer, and that just changed his life.  He considers Mallu Bhai, Ameer Sahab, Ghulam Sabir Sahab, Rajendra Krishna, Dr Hari Charan Verma as his gurus, and speaks very highly of their teaching as well as calibre in the field of music. Most of his songs are written in a similar style. He has also sung in films like Sajan Tere Pyaar Mein, Sun Meri Soniye with singers like Vandana Vajpaiy.

“Phagun beto jai sakhiri,

(The season of Phaag will get over, friend)

Phagun Beto jai tanak gori “

(The season of Phaag will get over, lady)

From Folk songs to light music, the group give such mesmerising performance every time they are on the stage. They love to sing in Darbari and Shivranjini raga. The group has strong classical knowledge and one can see the same in their performance. For the group music like God whom they worship every day of their lives. The group aspires to go around the world and share more and more about the rich cultural heritage of the Braj region.

Jwala Prasad and Group

“Notes of surrender and reverance.”

About 23 km from Mathura is Govardhan, a place with many legends associated with it. The most known legend, where Krishna is lifting the Govardhan hill, to protect the villagers defeating the ego of demigod, Indra, who threatened to bring in a flood if he is not worshipped. It is a very sacred pilgrimage site. Many people come here to do the Parikrama, as a mark of remembrance to Lord Krishna.

To set the location, we reached Kusum Sarovar in Govardhan. Surrounded by lush green forests, dotted with vibrant flowers, Kusum Sarovar is a serene spot. According to popular belief, Lord Krishna and his Gopis met at this pond. It’s said that Goddess Radha would come here under the pretext of collecting flowers for her friends but would secretly meet with Lord Krishna and have playful conversations.

It has been quite a journey, as we were moving ahead with this documentation. It felt more grounded as we were swaying to the breeze that carries the melodies of Radha-Krishna in Braj. The artist whom we are meeting here was multi-talented and generous, Jwala Prasad, a humble soul to the core. He is originally from Doora in Agra, but he chose to be at Govardhan for the documentation.

Jwala Prasad is a very veteran artist of this region. Apart from being an amazingly talented singer, he is an equally good flute player and a percussionist. He is also responsible for nurturing many renowned musicians from this region. Jwala Ji is very respected and admired for his sincerity and commitment towards folk music, and we could feel it during his performance. Jwala Ji is a highly acclaimed AIR artist, who believes that music is closely associated with our culture. He says, “Music is keeping us rooted to our traditions and cultures, and folk music is the pulse of it.” Jwala Prasad draws all his inspiration from his mother, Chandu Devi, also an AIR artist. She not just motivated Jwala Prasad but was also instrumental in getting Satoshi Devi, Jwala Prasad’s wife, and daughters to take up music seriously, who eventually became the core members of Jwala Prasad’s musical group.

His group included his wife Santosi Devi, 50, an A grade artist from AIR, Agra, she gives all the credits to her husband, who also happens to be her guru, for all her achievements. Her voice added so much pathos and vulnerability to their performance that one could feel the melancholy in the air. She supports Jwala Ji perfectly in the chorus. Another member of this group is Rita Saikya, who is also the daughter of Jwala Prasad Ji, her vocal harmonies in the chorus compliment her parent’s singing meticulously. 

Their extensive repertoire of traditional Braj tunes is punctuated by songs, many of their compositions beautifully carrying the essence of the land. Jwala Ji’s group was unique, as they mostly performed their own composed songs. Another crucial member of the group is Suresh Chand, a very charming person in his late 50’s, who carried a sweet in the entire performance. He backs up the vocals and harmonium. He and Jwala have been friends for a long time now. They started their musical journey together and have helped one another in their musical endeavours with utmost care and compassion.

Their music is a beautiful blend of traditional folk and classical music, melancholic melodies and intuitive interplay merge to unique effect, creating a soundscape that absorbs you into it immediately. The location decided for the performance of Jwala Prasad, was in a forest just next to Kusum Sarovar. We reached the place and were welcomed by a troop of monkeys. Initially, we were a little sceptical of doing the documentation there, as we did not know how to avoid the sound of the monkeys, and we also had to take care of our equipment. But to our surprise, the moment Jwala Prasad and his group started singing, the troop of monkeys went into a trance. That was indeed a special moment, of how music can connect with nature and its creatures.

Jwala Prasad and his group performed a wide range of songs, they started with a  Devi bhajan, praising the strength of the goddess and asking for her blessings, followed by their own composition. The third song was a hindola geet, a song that was sung for Krishna, while gopis rocked him on decorated swings. The last song was again a self-composed melody, where they shared the story of Lord Ram’s marriage with Sita. Their music showcases their instrumental music, in a very dynamic way. They had to be careful while writing their songs that it does not dilute the aesthetics of the folk music, Braj.

Prem Kumar Sharma and Group

“A performance led by faith.”

Just like when you talk about Braj, one immediately associate it with the divine love of Radha-Krishna, the land of Braj is also known for its belief in cows. Here, cows are equally respected and worshipped. After documenting artists from the core of Mathura and Agra, understating and listening to forms like Rasiya, Djikri Bhajan, phaag, and hori, we arrived at a remote village through an off-road driving experience in the district of Hathras. To our utmost surprise, the location where we had to document Prem Kumar Sharma was a Cowshed (Goushala). Initially, we thought it would be difficult to record there as we had no clue how to avoid the sound of the cows during their performance. But we were astonished by the cooperation we got from the villagers and their cows. 

Prem Ji is a very down-to-earth person, and his humility was shining through his presence and conversations. We first met during the research trip, and since then, his groundedness has won our hearts. Prem Ji has inherited musical skills and knowledge from his father Shri Asarfi Lal Sharma, who inspired him to take up music as a profession. For formal training, he reached out to Lala Chandomal Ji, to be his Guru.

During the documentation, they performed some unique and rare folk forms of Braj like Bahar, Hathrasi Tadda Rasiya, and Kalanga. It was only after meeting him that we got enlightened about the fact that Braj ki rasiya is different from Hathrasi rasiya. Though it is assumed that rasiya has its origin in Braj, but with time there have been some variations with respect to different regions. How Hathrasi rasiya evolved is still not very well known. It is believed to be a subgenre of Rasiya. Some believe that it emerged during the 20th century. It is an akhara (club) based style, where the performers are involved in Musical poetic duels known as the jawabi kirtan. The first song that they performed was a “Bahar” song that began with a lyrical verse :

“Mere baal sakha dukh paaye hain bhaare,

(Oh my childhood friend you have had your share of problems)

Baal sakha dukh paaye bhaare itt cho naay padhaare”

(Dear friend, why didn’t you come to me earlier when you had so many problems)

As Prem Ji started singing, we could feel the grief and a deep sense of melancholy instantly, such as the impact of his performance that it just wrenched the hearts of everyone who were present there, and many were in tears after that. It took us some time to get over it before heading to his next performance.  Prem Sharma and his group have been performing together for a while now. Though none of the members in the group, including Prem Ji, have proper formal musical training but the love for music that they possess in their hearts has bound them together for years now. The group is a good fit of young and old, from Prem Kumar Sharma, 63, who is the eldest, to Navneet Kumar Bharadwaj, 28, which beautifully reflects Prem ji’s intent to carry forward the tradition of passing on their musical talents down to the future generations.

As a group leader, Prem Ji is also responsible for sticking the group together and keeping them motivated towards music as half of the members are into other professions to sustain their livelihood. The group comprises seven members in total. They have Pawan Kumar Rajput, 35, a harmonium expert, equally holds command over Kanjari, a dedicated and devoted musician who never let his vision issue come as a hindrance in his life and musical growth. Navneet Kumar Bhardwaj, 28, plays Dholak, is a self-taught musician. He credits everything to divine grace. He wishes to devote more time to music and aspires to be a well-known musician in the country. Harpal Singh, 52, sings with Prem Sharma giving him company as chorus, whereas Bipin Kumar Sharma, 37, and Om Prakash Nayak, 62, both play important roles in the chorus singing of the group. Salim Baba, 60, a true gentleman, plays an instrument called “Tasha”. 

“Music is life, and it does not just calm your ears and minds, but also your soul. It’s so powerful that it relieves you at the time of despair.” After their performance for the documentation, we had a very personal conversation with him over a cup of tea and pakoras made with an extra touch of love and compassion by Prem Ji’s wife. As we moved on with the conversation, Prem Ji got a little emotional when we asked him about the melancholic voice of his, and with teary eyes, he shared some of his tragedies that ended his musical life as he stopped singing for many years.  

Monika Tomar and Group

“Unveiling the love story of Radha and Krishna.”

Braj as a region has many mythological and religious connotations attached to it. In Hindu beliefs, it is one of the most important places of pilgrimage. Mathura is believed to be the birthplace of Lord Krishna. In Brajbhoomi, the love of Radha-Krishna blossomed, the stories of their eternal love are very prominent in all the art forms of Braj. To witness such a dance form, the team contacted Monica Tomar, the lead dancer of the Mayur Nritya Dance Group. Mayur Nritya draws its inspiration from the ethereal episodes of love between Radha and Krishna. This dance form has its origin in the Braj region of Uttar Pradesh. 

The story narrates that Radha was grieving for the love of her beloved Lord Krishna in separation. Seeing Radha in such pain, Lord Krishna decides to console her by the sight of peacocks, whose feathers Krishna wears on his crown. Mayur Nritya is a very vibrant and colourful dance form and engrosses one immediately in its charm. The dance form has a beautiful blend of Birth Ras and Shringar Ras. The dance form involves magnificent dramatic characteristics and facial expressions apart from its graceful dancing moves. Witnessing Mayur Nritya for the first time, the audience can sense how the beautiful love stories of Radha & Lord Krishna are strongly engraved in the hearts of the people and the artists here in Braj. And the strong devotion that every artist shares for their art form is so evident in their performances.

Monica Tomar is a classically trained dancer and is currently in her 6th year of Kathak. Apart from doing stage shows, she also teaches dance in Dr RM Shah Global Public School. Though she does all forms of folk dances of Braj, Mayur Nritya and Charkula nritya hold a special place in her heart. Her dance group specializes in Mayur Nritya & Charkula nritya and involves very dedicated and devoted artists. These artists are trying their best to pursue their passion as a full-time profession. The dancers in the group exhibit a performance quality, valued for their artistry. Shika, who played the character of Radha Rani skillfully, communicated and interpreted the ideas of her despair from being away from her beloved in her given movement vocabulary she captivated everyone. 

Their group is highly appreciated by their audience because of their visuals. It can end disbelief by communicating ideas through emotions. Their dance is beautifully accompanied by a group of musicians, led by Sachin Brijwasi, who is a folk and bhajan singer of great repute. They sang rasiyas like “tohe mor baanake naachaungi man mohan baansi dhaare.” Their melodies beautifully encompassed the story of the love between Lord Krishna and Radha. How Lord Krishna, with his eagerness to please his beloved, transforms into a peacock and dances. 

The music group also has equally experienced Shyam Goswami, 38, a manjira player and chorus singer, and Sourav Kaushik, who plays with all his heart. For tabla, the group has the very young and vividly talented Vikash Nagar, who is just 16 years old. Interestingly, he came along with his father once to watch the groups’ performance but ended up putting on a splendid performance by himself. India is so blessed to have such skilled artist and is indeed a matter of great pride that we belong to a country with amazing and unique cultures and forms to exhibit. 

Apart from performing the traditional way, she is also given credits for choreographing Braj Vandana, Makhan Leena, Charkhula. At the age of 38, she has already established herself to be a prolific dancer with no doubts, but she’s blessed with a philanthropic heart. She has been very instrumental in teaching dance to young dancers from the marginalized sections of the society, and once they get to imbibe the art well, she makes them a part of the group and carries them along for her performance. “Dance is my lifeline, and whatever I have achieved, it became possible only because of dance. I want to dedicate my life to dance and wish to keep performing till my last breath.”

Saying this she and her group gave a dazzling performance on:

“Ek din shri kunwar raadhika mor kuti aai,

(One day, Krishna and Radha came to the peacock garden)

Mor wahan ekhu naay paaye

(But they didn’t find any peacock there)

Jaan priyaa man utkuntha prabhu”

(Radha got worried as Krishna was upset)


Azeez Khan and Group


Braj is not just the land where the love of Radha and Krishna blossomed but is also the place where the Mughal Emperors reached their cultural and architectural pinnacle. Sufi saints like Salim Chishti and Amir Khusrow emoted their divinity through Sufi Kalams. To experience such a performance by Azeez Chishti Ji, who also happens to be the Chief Qawwal of Salim Chishti Dargah, we headed to Fatehpur Sikri. Fatehpur Sikri has a rich cultural and historical heritage. It happened to be the capital of the Mughals during the reign of Akbar. The majestic grandeur of the city can be felt even today. Due to time constraints, we could only visit Buland Darwaza. Heading towards the main gate and walking up forty-two steps, we could feel the strong vibrations of the Azan around us, and with the sun rays of the golden hour falling on the red and buff sandstone gateway was a breathtaking experience. 

Being in a trance-like state with this visual, we saw the inscription on Buland Darwaza reading,’ The World is a Bridge, pass over it, but build no houses upon it. He who hopes for a day may hope for eternity, but the world endures but an hour. Spend it in prayer, for the rest is unseen.’ Buland Darwaza is the highest gateway in the world and is the epitome of Mughal architectural mastery. The moment we entered, a flock of pigeons flew over us, with a few kids rushing in our direction to smite us with their sweet charm and poetry. 

The sky that day was clear, and the reflection of Salim Chishti’s Mazar, which is another marvel of Mughal architecture, on the reflecting pool was something from which you just can’t take your eyes off. With all this awe and amazement, we suddenly saw a person in his 60s moving his fingers effortlessly across the keys of the harmonium and singing in his full-throated mellifluous voice, belting out one of the Kalams of Amir Khusrow just in front of the Dargah. We instantly understood this was Azeez Chishti. He holds the experiences from singing with his father Noor Mohammad Qawaal, who happens to be his Guru. His journey has been remarkable, from singing for All India Radio to becoming the Chief Qawwal of the Dargah.

As a conversation evolved around him, we discovered that their family has been performing at the service of Hazrat Salim Chishti Dargah for generations. Azeez Ji himself has been with the shrine for the last 50 years. Azeez Chishti’s forefathers have been part of Akbar’s court and used to get a salary from the royal treasury. The whole Dargah experience was quite captivating, where we got a chance to spend some time with our spiritual self in the true sense. To film Azeez Ji and his group, we chose the campus of a college named MBD Intercollege in the village Dura in the district of Agra, surrounded by dense green fields.

There, with his qawwali team, he gave an exuberant performance. They performed Nat sharif,” Na ming hanam che majhol”, a Kalam by the great Sufi Saint Amir Khusrow, and it was followed by “Kahun Kaise Sakhi”, a beautiful song of divine love. 

“Kahun kaise sakhi, mohe laaj lage, 

(What to tell you, my friend, I feel very shy)

Mohe piya ki nazariya maar gayi,

(My beloved has made me fall in love with his eyes)

Maine laaj ka ghoonghat khol diyo”

(Keeping my shyness aside I have confessed my love in him)

Due to a lack of financial growth in the musical field, these artists have to look for other jobs to earn a livelihood for their families.  Currently, at the age of 60, Mohammad Azeez Chishti, despite being an amazingly talented artist who has done so much for generations, had to struggle for financial assistance. He is a severe diabetic patient and had to take Insulin to keep his sugar levels in control. When asked, he was unwilling to teach his coming generations the art of qawwali as he fears that the future ahead is very grim and unpredictable.