Growing popularity of Sufi music

A C Tuli
The origin of Sufi music is traced to 8th century Persia (present-day Iran). Popularly, it is associated with the growth of Islamic culture all over the world. There are, however, many people who believe that Sufi music is of pre -Islamic origin.
Some old Persian literary works support this belief. But Sufi music is now so popular that it is no longer girt in by religious boundaries. It is sung in many Asian countries, with of course suitable local variations introduced in it.
Advent of Sufism in India is associated with Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti. He introduced the Chishtiyyah order (tariqas) of Sufism in India. He came from Afghanistan in 1192 AD and started living in Ajmer in 1195. Centuries after his death, with the support of Mughal rulers, his shrine became a place of pilgrimage. Mughal emperor Akbar used to visit this shrine every year. The basic aim of Sufi teachings is to spread the message of love and harmony among human beings irrespective of their caste and creed.
The earliest form of Sufi music introduced in the 12th century India was qawwali.
This genre of singing was the creation of Amir Khusro, the court poet-singer in the reign of Alauddin Khilji. He was a disciple of Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti. He evolved the art of qawwalisinging in India by blending the traditional singing style of Indian music with the traditional singing style of Persian Sufi music.
Traditionally, a qawwali is sung by a group of singers. While two lead singers sing, each one of  them giving the words of the qawwali a different nuance through variation in the tone and pitch of his voice, others in the group repeat those words after them to the accompaniment of rhythmic clapping. In the beginning qawwalis were sung at the dargahs (shrines) of Sufi saints and fakirs.
By singing a qawwali, a devotee aspired for divine union with Allah, or the Supreme Power that has created this universe. But as the time passed, this traditional way of qawwali-singing was not strictly adhered to.
Apart from the dargahs (shrines) of Sufi saints, qawwalis also began to be sung at musical concerts. Then, the content of the qawwali also gradually underwent change. Its singing was not always an expression of a devotee’s desire to genuflect before Allah and seek His blessing.
It could also be a lover’s yearning for union with his beloved. The ‘shama’ and ‘parwana’ imagery began to be used in qawwalis, particularly in qawwalis that were written and set to music for Hindi films.
And with the passage of time, the commercial angle mattered more and more when qawwals began to be paid for their performance. Today, Sufi music, of which qawwali-singing is an important form, is freely used in Bollywood films, at musical concerts where entry is by ticket, and in reality music shows on TV channels. Sufi singers are of course handsomely paid by Bollwood filmmakers and producers TV music shows.
Eminent Pakistani and Indian Sufi singers who have sung for films and TV channels are Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (‘Duma dum mast kalandar’) , Abida Parveen (‘Mera sohna sajan ghar..’), Ghulam Mustafa (‘Piya Haji Ali’), Kailash Kher (‘Allah ke bande hansde…’), A. R Rahman (‘Khwaja mere khwaja dil mein sama ja’), Rabbi Shergill (‘Bulla ki jana me kaun’), Roop Kumar Rathore (‘Maula mere Maula…’) and a few others.
Strangely, it is not unusual for eminent Sufi singers of today to deplore rank commercialization of Sufi music as it is now being used in films or sung in reality music shows on TV channels. But, equally strangely, the very people who slam the popular audio-visual media for debasing Sufi music are not abashed of singing for the same media.
Most of the Sufi singers who eulogize this divine form of music and set store by its sanctity and loftiness do not hesitate when they receive an offer to sing Sufi songs in Bollywood films or in music shows on TV channels.
Recently, Pakistani pop singer Atif Aslam, who heads the team of Pakistani singers now participating in the TV show ‘Sur-Kshetra’, was heard saying that ‘Islamic mysticism’ was losing its value in Bollywood commercial space. “I think Sufism is losing its value, “said Atif Aslam, “for every song that has the name of Allah does not make it Sufi at all.”
This amounts to taking a parochial view of Sufi music. First of all, Sufi music has now transcended religious boundaries and acquired a wide secular appeal. And then the simple question is: If singers think that Bollywood has cheapened and trivialized Sufi music, then why do they sing for Bollywood films?
Atif Aslam has already sung for Bollywood films and is still open to further assignments from Bollywood filmmakers. He is also looking for roles in Bollywood films. Wouldn’t it be more appropriate on his part to say that, thanks to Bollywood and  Indian TV channels, Sufi music today has become far more popular than ever before? People, cutting across religious boundaries, listen to Sufi music, and not just enjoy it but also appreciate its spiritual profundity and the message of universal brotherhood it gives to mankind in general.
Bollywood composers and singers have made a significant contribution to Sufi music. Talented singer Kailash Kher’s voice is eminently suitable for singing Sufi songs. Then, one of the most popular Sufi songs from films in recent times was A R. Rahman’s, ‘Khwaja mere khawja dil mein sama ja’, in ‘Jodha Akbar’.
A.R Rahman who has composed this Sufi song is also its singer. Written by Kashif, this song is an immortal creation of A.R Rahman. It has been widely appreciated by music lovers across the Indian sub-continent. The song is a tribute to Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti who was a Sufi saint of the Chisti order.
If Sufi songs of this eminence can be created by talented music directors, then it is uncharitable to say that Sufi music is losing its value in Bollywood space.