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Present in a layered past

Fareed Ayaz and Abu Muhammad’s qawwali rendering in Lahore’s Masjid Wazir Khan evoked many traditions of music that have survived the test of time

Present in a layered past
Photo by Nida Kirmani

It was a befitting tribute to Amir Khusro that one of the leading qawwals of the country Fareed Ayaz/Abu Muhammad enthralled the audiences at the two day concert in the compound facing the historic Wazir Khan Mosque last week.

There are many forms that have been attributed to Amir Khusro but at the same time many of the bandishes too. During the heydays of kheyal, many bandishes sung by the kheyaliaas were attributed to him especially those with the pseudonym Nijamuddin, Nijamuddin Aulia, Mehboob e Ilahi or Deeni Baksh. There were said to be compositions by Khusro, especially, doubly emphasised when his spiritual mentor Nijamuddin or Nijamuddin Aulia was also named in them.

As very few kheyaliaas are left, particularly in Pakistan, most of the bandishes attributed to him have become part of the qawwali repertoire. There are many bandishes that are also sung in other forms like the geet and ghazal. The proof lies in the treatment of the lai, the tempo, because over decades or probably centuries, the song format has come to dominate. The bandishes which may have been sung in other forms are now rendered in the song format particularly with its emphasis on the “madh lai”.

Qawwali has evolved over time and is one of the most hybrid of forms. In an age that does not stress on the purity of form, actually encourages eclecticism, the genres that were more open to change have prospered while others have withered away. The qawwali uses the text in its musical format, and it could be kafi, ghazal, dohe or dohre, marsiya, naat, mussasdus, rubai, hamd, manqabat or just the generic lyrical form popularly known as the geet. There is no limitation of language as well. It may have smatterings of Arabic and then one sizeable chunk of Persian, Urdu and the various other languages more spoken in the area like Punjabi. In the more traditional qawwals who originated from the area around Delhi, the local dialects were profusely used to connect with the audiences who were more familiar with the nuances of those varied dialects.

Then, in its musical rendering, it switches from one raga to another, from one rhythmic cycle to the next and it does not limit itself to the lyrics but incorporates the sargam, bols of the taranas and also the musical vocal imitation of other music instruments, one example being tirvat.

Munshi Raziuddin remained to the last a qawwal in the traditional mould, despite tremendous changes that have racked this genre of music. Listening to him was a throwback to a bygone era when qawwali was basically an extension of the creative expression built around the shrine, and even while evolving its own semi-autonomous form, did not sever the umbilical chord with its origins. Following Munshi Raziuddin, his progeny Fareed Ayaz and Abu Muhammad take great pain to stay faithful to the traditional sequence of qawwali.

Many have traced its origins to the musical inheritance straight to Medina and sahaba but the genre of qawwali, as it is known, is an expression of the South Asian environment. It is not surprising that all qawwals trace their antecedents back to the era of Amir Khusro.

Much in the life of Amir Khusro is documented and escapes undue and scathing investigation of scholars and researchers. Much that was ordinarily documented in material or tangible form has been the preserve of literature and the practices at the shrine and the court. His prose and poetical works have fortunately survived the ravages of history and have come down centuries to be quoted and referred to in the constant reaffirmation of cultural practices.

What could not be documented in tangible terms was his contribution to music.

Khusro is attributed with the creation of musical forms like kheyal, qawwali, qalbana, manqabat, tirvat, tarana, creation of many raags and then the invention of various instruments like the sitar and tabla. The supposition may not withstand strict investigation and scrutiny as has been pointed out by some of the most respected scholars and musicologists but the fact that it is held like an article of faith by the practicing musicians has its own intrinsic worth and value.

Certain sites in the walled city have been more visited than others especially by those who do not live in the walled city because these have been developed as tourists attractions. The food street in the vicinity of the Badshahi Mosque and the Lahore Fort has been a magnetic draw because of its splendid view. For some time now, the Wazir Khan Mosque, too, draws people who otherwise do not venture into this part of the city.

The Lahore Art Foundation Trust has been supporting various arts forms. Due to the work of Aga Khan Foundation and the Walled City Authority, these pockets now attract tourists, or people are drawn to specific events like this one; the walled city is thrown open, exposed and introduced to them as well. There is need to develop such sites more for people to be attracted to this part of the city for its historic wealth and layered past.

Sarwat Ali

The author is a culture critic based in Lahore

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