Notes on Qawwali

(This post follows and borrows from Of The Envoy of The Forlorn )

Qawwali is like sailing. The qawwals create the sea and the waves & the winds in it. The listener floats on water, rocking with waves and travelling ahead with the winds.

But in the times of torrents, the old art is being lost. The torrents work great to evoke a sense of awe, but they would drown you as easily. And sometimes the boat would just sit, waiting for the wind, which may never come. All that listener could do then is to abandon the boat and wade across the rather narrow seas now-a-days.

Finding the right balance is the real art. The winds, the waves, the depths have to match. It is then that the qawwali transforms into an exploration. Visions of past, references that trigger memory form a part of the vast sky that the qawwal transforms with every verse. Girahs then serve as a dive into the ocean. You could lose yourself there and decide not to swim back. Or the small dives would make you realize the changing form of the clouds or the color of the sky that you failed to appreciate before. Takraars would push the boat gently towards the shore. They set the pace of the journey. But the shore too is travelling with you. The qawwal has the power to make it seem farther and distant.

The listener is not totally passive. The boat could be abandoned any moment and that is enough of a power. In the age of media players and online streams, the next track button is more than a luxury. But more importantly the listener has to be attuned to what is being painted. Understanding it all is a gift that few of us possess. But whatever bits and pieces resonate, show the path forward. Even the perception of the depth of this sea is based on listener’s ability. The qawwal paints but the listener can transform it with the viewing.

“Dil darya Samundrun Doonge, Kon Dillan Diyan Jaane” ~ Hazrat Sultan Bahoo

Even though the qawwali happens in the space which is outside of the listener, the sea painted is within the heart of listener. It is a gentle prodding of the heart which can set it off on a direction and journey of its own. It is here that the internal and the external unify and the result of this can be ecstatic for many. It is in this space that the qawwali starts being more than a mere performance, more than a collection of verses and voices and beats put together. It then is collaboration between the listener and the qawwals. This to me is the main difference between a khanqahi recital and a qawwali performance. The khanqah allows for mixing of the spaces.

Coming back to the seas, Rasheed Ahmed Faridi and party best had the ability to shrink time. It is hard to tell the passing of hours with the kind of atmosphere that they created. The most striking thing about their performance was that it was without any break. It flowed flawlessly. Even though they play with the pace of waves, direction of them, even rock the boat gently, but they don’t overdo it. It would never startle you to the point that you lose interest. This party best found the match of all the variables. But it isn’t a static match. The equilibrium moves with every bol, every taan. It is in the grasp, moving a little ahead, continuing with the journey.

I would end this post with two Qawwalis that evoke the darya in dil.

Bakhshi Salamat Qawwal


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