Qawwali is a style of devotional singing, rooted in the mystic tradition of Sufism. It dates back to the XIII century, the time when the Chishty Order established in India. The art of Qawwali grew from fusion of Persian poetry, poetry in Urdu, Punjabi and Sindhi, and Hindustani music, traditionally it is performed at tombs of saints (shrines) in India and in Pakistan.
Qawwali have traditional forms: a hamd, a song in praise of Allah, a na’at, a song in praise of Muhammad, and special hymns, in praise of Hazrat Ali and other saints – Manaqabat. These three forms make the core of Qawwali repertoire, though it is not limited just with them. Qawwali may appear in the form of the Ghazal (common lyric poetry in Farsi and Urdu, supposing mystic Sufi content), the Kafi (a genre of lyric poetry in Punjabi, also having Sufi rendering), the Vai (a genre of lyric poetry in Sindhi, reminding the Kafi), the munajaat – praises and thanksgiving to Allah, usually sung in Farsi. It is remarkably that the author of the munajaat was Jalaluddin Rumi.
The duty of a singer-qawwal is to narrow down the distance between the Creator and His creatures. Those, who feel themselves separated from their source, can be reminded about their true roots by qawwali. This is a singer-qawwal’s doing. The attribute of a good singer-qawwal: whatever he sings he merges with it. Lyrics captures a qawwal, and his listeners feel it. A singer-qawwal just disappears during his singing and become a channel to transfer a message hidden in the devotional singing.
Despite outer simplicity of their melody, qawwali is a rather complicated musical style, requiring perfect hearing and vocal, skill of playing national folk instruments and even an appropriate psychological training to keep the auditoria’s attention. As since the dawn of the time the founders of qawwali – musicians -Sufis – have been best known for the ability to get their auditory in a state of real ecstasy with their songs!
Initially qawwali were listened only in India and in Pakistan. The oldest Chishti texts of XIII century prove the utmost significance of listening to music in that brotherhood. Court chroniclers also note that opposing music lawyers argued its lawfulness, but every time governors of the Delhi Sultanate found Sufis’reasons for the benefit of music to be convincing enough.
The true place for qawwali is at shrines of great Sufis, dargahs or in khanakas, being special centres for sessions of Sufi brotherhood members led by the Peer or assigned sheikh. Participants of session are sited according to the hierarchy. The senior Sufi leads the session. The ritual supposes donations in paper banknotes. Money changers attend great celebrations to provide all wishing with small banknotes. Those, who have a special feeling about the song, dedicated to a beloved saint, come up to a master of sessions and give cash, to be distributed to musicians afterwards. If a listener notices that the song is touching someone else, he can fist come up to that person and put the money into his hand, to make a common donation to the master of sessions.
Still since recently the qawwali music can be heard also at social events. And only at social public performances listeners give money directly to musicians.
Qawwali singing is most often the sound of men’s voices of various tonality, accompanied with the Indian Harmonica, the Tabla, the Mridangam and hand clap. Nowadays musicians play modern musical instruments, including such as the Harmonica and the Clarinet; but use North-Indian drums and hand clap for percussion.
Listeners’ response to qawwali depends on their level of awakening. A performer, in his turn, responses to certain mood of listeners, and his performance can be tuned to this mood. That is why qawwali repertoire includes also simple modern songs. Some of such songs are love songs, called ishq-e majazi, songs about love of a man to a man, unlike ishq-e haqiqi, songs about love of God. All qawwali are ishq-e haqiqi and are sung only about this.
In the 20th century Chishty music have enlarged its audience significantly at the level of mass culture due to opportunities of sound recording industry. Initially it happened in colonial India, and now this is already a global phenomenon. Since some time the Mumbai filmmaking industry has been using music based on ghazels in Urdu, being very closely related to qawwali in their themes, rhymes and sizes. At the beginning the circle of listeners and admirers of qawwali in the West was extremely narrow. It included only music experts interested in folk music. But alongside with penetration of qawwali music to Europe, Japan and America, which became real not only due to distribution of sound records, qawwali performances on international stages, and in motion pictures (“The last temptation of Christ”), the circle of its devotees and admirers has enlarged substantially.
The sources used in the article:
- “Pesni sufijskih mistikov”, journal “Sufi” Nr 37, spring 1998, pp.16-19 (“Песни суфийских мистиков”, журнал Суфий)
- “Sufism”, Karl V.Ernst (translated to Russian by A. Gorkavoy. М.: ФАИР – ПРЕСС, 2002. – 320с.)
- Materials from the web-site www.sknews.ru