Sometimes an artist’s creation becomes more famous than the artist himself. Take the case of the popular thumri “Baju-Band Khul Khul Jaaye”. Classical singer Faiyaz Khan of the Agra gharana immortalised the thumri in an early 1940s recording. Later, many singers including a young Kumar Gandharva, brought out their own versions of the song. But few listeners probably know that the thumri has been composed by Sufi saint Amir Khusrau.
Composed in the raga Bhairavi, the thumri talks of how mesmerised the heroine is under the spell cast by her beloved. “One should not read ordinary meaning into the song,” said Agra gharana vocalist Shounak Abhisheki. “Here the beloved is none other than the Supreme being and the song is spiritual in its content and nature.” Abhisheki will sing the thumri at this fortnight’s Khusrau-Kabir festival organised by Banyan Tree Events.
The festival will explore musical spirituality through the works of the two Sufi poets. In the Sufi philosophy there is a concept of a rehnuma, a spiritual guide, who shows musicians and listeners the path to bliss. Under the guidance of a rehnuma such as Khusrau and Kabir, musicians articulate in song and poetry a gamut of mystical experiences for the spiritual benefit of their audience. Sama bandhna (to build a bridge or create a spiritual atmosphere) is a term often heard in this context. Through the act of listening, the audience can achieve a link with their living spiritual guide, with saints departed and ultimately with god. The Khusrau-Kabir concert will be an attempt to evoke this feeling.
Amir Khusrau was a thirteenth-century philosopher of Sufism, a poet and a multi-dimensional personality. Many inventions and discoveries are attributed to him, such as the creation of the sitar and the tabla. During his lifetime, when Persia and India had close relations, Khusrau mastered the Persian language and culture, studied Persian music and welded some of it into Indian tunes to create ragas like Shahana and Bahar. He worked with contemporary musician and Kirana gharana founder Gopal Nayak to produce a treatise on poetics and music.
Legend has it that Khusrau was having a musical contest with Nayak in a princely court when he came up with the musical form called tarana. When Nayak started to sing Sanskrit verses at a very high speed, Khusrau – who did not know Sanskrit – responded by singing apparently nonsense syllables like “Da Ra Na Dere Tom”, which became the tarana we know today. It is believed that those syllables were actually Persian equivalents of the names of god – Khusrau was a devotee of the Sufi saint Nizamuddin Auliya.
Khusrau is also credited with the creation of the qawwali form. “Bollywood has trivialised this form of music,” said qawwal singer Chand Nizami who will perform at the festival. Nizami and his troupe which is based in Delhi belong to the Qawwalbachche – literally, “children of qawwal” – gharana which is supposed to be one of the original sources of the present day khayal form. “We are direct descendants of the Sikandar gharana which has a history of over 700 years,” said Sohrab Nizami, one of the four main qawwal singers who will sing at the festival. Most of the qawwalis composed by Khusrau are based on ragas and raginis. “Man Kunto Maula” is based on the raga Bhoopali, “Chhap Tilak Sab” – a crowd favourite – is based on Yaman. Sohrab Nizami said they will try and sing as many as possible. The Nizami Brothers also plan to sing some Kabir compositions.
Another group known for their performances of Kabir compositions is Prahlad Tipanya and his family troupe, based in Maksi near Indore in Madhya Pradesh. Their format of presentation is somewhat different from a straight-up vocal performance. It is akin to the narrative form of katha – at one point, Tipanya begins an ex tempore discourse on the philosophy of Kabir while his troupe continues to sing. Tipanya’s sincere singing style often strikes a chord in the audience.
Kabir’s message of social and religious harmony has been acknowledged universally. There also is an element of renunciation and mysticism in Kabir which was reinforced by classical singer Kumar Gandharva’s musical interpretation of his songs like “Ud Jayega Hans Akela” or “Hirana, Samajh Bujh Ban Charana”. Shaunak Abhisheki said he will sing “Bin Baaja Jhankar”, a song about awakening the hidden energy (kundalini) through meditation and spiritual pursuits. “The song means ‘the sound emerges without anything actually being struck’,” said Abhisheki.
By Amarendra Dhaneshwar on June 08 2012 11.31am