Friday, August 8, 2008

Kanhaiya Yaad Hai Kuchh Bhi Hamari - Farid Ayaz Ensemble

Kanhaya Yad Hai Kuchh Bhi Hamari from Tasawwuf on Vimeo.

Poetry of Nawab Hilm of Hyderabad, Deccan. Raag Des recited at the Hindu Mandir in Montreal. What a wonderful performance by Farid Ayaz & Abu Muhammad Qawwals that has left warm and lasting memories for South Asian Montrealers.

Those who were unable to attend missed a very special event, but can get a feel of it through this video.

The Qawwals' tour of Canada was sponsored by the Kabir Cultural Centre.

Historic performance of Sufi Devotional Music

On a balmy spring day in April 2008, the South Asian community in Montreal made history by organising a Qawali performance at the local Hindu Mandir . The performance received overwhelming response, and the audience was moved both emotionally and spiritually.

Qawali is traditional, Muslim Sufi music, performed mainly in Pakistan and India. The tradition of this art form in India/Pakistan, dates back to the time of the revered Indian Sufi saint, Amir Khusrau Dehelvi, who wrote verses for Qawali and composed musical renditions that are still very popular to this day. However, the roots of the art of Qawali reach back to 8th century Persia where its early forms were performed as part of the Sufi "Sema" ritual. The Sema is a pivotal ritual of devotional prayer and meditation, common to all Sufi schools. This is performed in a variety of way; whirling, chanting, singing and playing music on special musical instruments like the "ney" (reed flute), are all parts of the Sufi's efforts to search for, and forge, direct connections with the Divine, and reach a state of spiritual ecstasy. Qawali is one such medium of the this quest. The emphasis is on the verses and their hidden meanings, rather than the musical artistry.

In the 13th century, Amir Khusrau, a Sufi devotee of the Chisthi Sufi school, shaped Qawalli by fusing its Persian roots to Indian dialects and musical traditions.
A disciple of Khawaja Nizam-uddin Aulia, one of the many Sufi saints of Northern India to spread their ideas and teachings that originated from the far reaches of the Islamic world of Persia, Central Asia and Turkey. Nizamuddin himself was born in Badayun and traveled at the age of twenty to Pakpattan where be became the disciple of Baba Fariduddin Ganj-e-Shakkar and later became his successor. It was a time of exploration of ideas and search for knowledge. There was a great surge and movement throughout Asia by teachers, scholars, monks, sufis and philosophers who traveled widely exchanging thoughts and sharing teachings. This movement was facilitated by the vigorous trade that was carried out through the length and breath of the region and along the fabled Silk Route.

These ideas and teachings were unique as they were not confined to any one strict religious dogma, but embodied principles of inclusion and openness. The emphasis was on good governance, citizenship, spiritual and moral elevation through meditation and good deeds. Sufism, Buddhism and other similar schools of thought, found purchase in these means of transmission.

Qawalli is a popular and revered form of devotional singing and because of its Sufi soul, rooted in the belief in universality and oneness of all, is enjoyed by people of many religious persuasions in South Asia. The one to bring this art form to Western ears was the great Pakistani Qawal Nusrat Fateh Ali, who pioneered the popularisation of Qawali in North America and Europe. Today there are many Qawali lovers around the world and its popularity is steadily growing. Part of this growing and flowering is the essential message of universal tolerance, love and inclusiveness contained in the lyrics, that is particularly appealing to people world-wide in these turbulent and unsettled times.

In Montreal, an organisation called the Kabir Cultural Center (KCC) named after the famous Indian saint Kabir Das, strives to build bridges through cultural activities to bring the South Asian diaspora closer to the mainstream Canadian community they live within. As part of its efforts, KCC organised a Qawalli performance in 2007 and again in 2008, of the famous Qawals, Farid Ayaz and ensemble of Pakistan. This Qawal "Gharana" or musical family, traces its lineage back to a favourite disciple of Hazrat Amir khusrau, and they maintain and preserve the traditional forms handed down through the generations. Their group has been awarded the highest accolades by the Pakistani Government and their musical genius is acknowledged the world over.

After hearing the spell-binding performance, the Hindu Mandir approached the group for a performance at their temple, to which the group readily agreed and on the 6th of April, history was made by a performance of Sufi, devotional music at the Mandir. The group performed works by Amir Khusrau, their spiritual teacher, and also works by Kabir Das. The audience was enchanted and deeply moved. The performance had special significance because it coincided with the NAVARATRI (New Year's) celebrations. Indeed, what better way to step into a new year but with a message of peace, inter-faith harmony and good-will, and the significance was appreciated by both the performers and the audience.

It was a performance that will be long remembered with the hope that its message will bring the communities of South Asia, closer together and indeed build a bridge that spans ideological, cultural and religious differences.
Kudos to KCC and the Hindu Mandir administration for its foresight and forward looking initiative. Bridges built by steel and concrete, erode with the passage of time, but the ones built in hearts endure and strengthen with love and commitment.

Kiran Omar

Bhajjan sung by Farid Ayaz Qawwal

It was a fabulous event last evening, followed by a most unlikely double-first today, the first time ever that Farid Ayaz Ensemble has sung in a Hindu temple and the first time that the Hindu Temple in West Island has ever had a Pakistani group (and devout Muslims) singing on their premises.

This later event was even more remarkable for the great appreciation from the audience at the temple, the money showered on the artists and the great fraternity displayed by the Sufi artists in all their singing and communication to the audience. Special thanks go to Arif Bhai and Kiran Behan for bringing the artists from Pakistan and bearing the brunt of all the logistics.


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