Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 3, Issue 40, Tuesday May 23, 2006




Mystical Sufi music staging a comeback

Sufi music is a unique style of music that transports listeners into spiritual ecstasy, and it originated sometime in the 14th century. It is the music of submission and surrender that bonds humans with spirituality and mysticism, transcending all religious boundaries. It connects with the heart.

Sufi music started in dargahs and mazaars years ago. In the beginning it was only performed in the shrines of the saints. Sufi saints used music as vehicles to send messages of peace, tolerance and love. In the Indian continent Sufi music arrived with the advent of Islam. With Sufism, saints from Persia and Arabia brought in Sufi music.

Today it has metamorphosed into a singing culture. Sufism exists in various forms with different music all over the world. From Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, India, Morocco, and even in the US each Sufi sect has different music, styles and beliefs.

Its mass spread is attributed to Fakirs who travelled to different parts of the world and picked up local tones and styles giving birth to many new forms that still continues to mesmerise us.

The range of Sufi music in this continent includes the highly structured genre of qawwali, kafi and various regional genres of similar ethos. Hazrat Moinnudin Chishti, Hazrat Khwaja Bakhtiar Kaki, Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, Baba Farid and Amir Khusrau have all been great Sufi poets who spread their message through hymns and qawwalis.

Contemporary singers like the late Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Abida Parveen from Pakistan, Indian Shubha Mudgal, Mohammed El-Sheikh Juma of Sudan, Rumi of Iran, the Whirling Dervishes of Turkey, Baul singers and Lalon enthusiasts from Bangladesh or even sufi-pop groups like Junoon or our very own Bangla have all contributed in re-vitalizing this unique religious singing. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan was a phenomenal success during his time. Abida Parveen and Shubha Mudgal succeeded in mesmerising many more with their husky yet appealing voices.

In Bangladesh Lalon's songs are accepted as the most spiritual form of music. Among the contemporary singers Farida Parveen creates sensation in every stage when she sings. Shamir Hossain, Chondona Majumdar or Mamun Nadia has admirers all over the country.

The most influential and pure form of sufi music can be found in the greater Sylhet area. Dargah of Shahjalal is the focal point in the area. Shah Nur, Radha Raman or Jalal Uddin Kha renowned among the old school of spiritual music. Alauddin, Shah Abdul Karim, Mostofa are more contemporary.

Nadia, Kushtia and Manikganje houses some other forms of sufi music like Maijbhandari. Baisnob songs also spreads spiritual message and falls under the category of music with spiritual essence.

Today the fusion of sufi and pop music is gaining huge popularity among the young listeners. Sufi pop is the most modern form of Sufi music. Thanks to fusion bands like Junoon or singers like Kailash Kher, Jawad Ahmad, sufi music is a rage these days. With their lyrics and sleek presentation, riding on fusion music and 'sufi-pop', Junoon went to the top of sub-continents charts and more importantly in to the heart of young people. Kailash Kher and his Allah ke Bande sells like hot cakes. Pakistani sufi pop artists Jawad Ahmad's “Ucheyan majajah wall” has sold over 1.2 million copies. When Rabbi Shergill sang Bulla ki jaana mein kaun, instantly he found his place under the sun, and captured the spotlight on Sufi music.

The message of Sufism even found acceptance all the way to Europe and America. In the west a fusion of Sufism is providing an alternate way to attain mental peace. These fusion is however, frequently criticised by contemporary purist sufi musicians. They refer it as being tainted with materialism and commercialism.

Tainted or not, the bottom line is after all these years the mystical sufi music is staging a resounding comeback and its
here to blow away all the others and spellbound many souls.

By Shahnaz Parveen

Soul music

This week, we're making a spiritual journey through music. Since everyone's talking about Sufi music, we feel that the coverage will be incomplete without a more localised off-shoot of this genre: baul music.

The Bauls are members of a mystical group in Bangladesh, and in West Bengal, India. Some are Muslims, some are Hindus, and each sub-group celebrates its own religious festivals, but come together on certain occasions. They live together in "akhras" or monasteries; a Muslim baul may have a Hindu guru, or a Hindu baul may have a Muslim spiritual guide. Bauls believe that the human body is a miniature world, with the Sain, the Master, dwelling within.

The cult of baulism draws its beliefs from ancient tribal faiths, Hindu and Buddhist philosophy and cults, from the mystical form of Islam (Sufism). Baulism, like faqirism was developed as a composite mysticism incorporating sexo-yogic practices taken from Buddhist and Hindu Shahajiya cults. The practitioners see no contradiction between their baulism and Islam or Hinduism.

Lalon Shah [1774-1890] was a Baul faqir (ascetic, mendicant), considered the greatest and most prolific composer amongst Bauls. His compositions are richly layered with metaphors and underlying meanings, and are largely symbolic.

1) Ham'd and Naat: Songs of praise and devotion. The boat theme regularly features in this type of songs, where the boat signifies the human soul, with God/Allah as the helmsman, the river being life, and the shore being the ultimate destination.

2)Murshid Totto: Knowledge of the murshid, or spiritual guide. Bauls maintain a spiritual guide/guru/prophet according to their respective religions, who acts as a sort of intermediary between Man and God. Lalon's songs refer to the Islamic Prophet Muhammad as the murshid, and calls him the 'messenger of love'.

3)Atma-totto: Spiritual and metaphysical knowledge. These songs deal with self-discovery; finding love i.e. God, within oneself.

4)Deho-totto: The ruling philosophy behind these songs is that the human body is the seat of knowledge; it is a microcosm, and the Master (God) or Sain, is refered to here as the Elusive Bird, which sits within a cage that is the heart. To find Him is to open one's heart to the Truth and to Love.

5)Param-totto: Knowledge of the ultimate. Devotional songs that ask the devotee to look beyond texts and seek Truth/Love within oneself. These songs maintain that total devotion ultimately leads to the Maker.

6)Jiggasha: The question. This is where Lalon speaks in the voice of the new devotee seeking guidance from his guru.

By Sabrina F Ahmad

On the cover

We're humming to the tunes of our heart this week. Join us on this spiritual journey as we explore Sufism and baulism, their faiths, and most importantly, their music. See page 2 centre and 8 for related stories.
Photo: Amirul Rajiv


The summer sun is so hot that if we could actually look at the sun we would see it wearing an astral pair of sunglasses. Choosing the right eyewear is important not only as a matter of fashion but also for health and safety reasons.

Get framed
Frames are available starting from dirt cheap 50 taka to wallet busting, eye watering five figure fashion statements. Do bear in mind that in most cases you will be hard put to find any difference between the two polar price opposites.

Ban on UV
Ultraviolet (UV) protection is very important cause it can damage your eyes. Whatever the frames may be the lenses need to be capable of shielding your eyes from UV rays. With cheap dark plastic all it does is reduce the amount of light entering but not the UV. Dark plastic simply makes you iris open wider allowing more UV rays to enter.

Glass or plastic
Lenses are available in different materials such as glass, plastic and composites. Photosun lenses darken in sunlight while some plastic lenses can reduce glare which is helpful for driving. While plastics are light and durable they scratch very easily.

Look like a star
The important thing is to choose a style that suits your face. Generally rectangular frames suit roundish faces. Old styles are also back in vogue such as the classic big shades that cover half the face. These are better suited for people with longish, sharp featured faces. Think J Lo and Bono and if you think you look like them then go right ahead. Of course if you only THINK you look like them then it might be a problem.

By Ehsanur Raza Ronny



home | Issues | The Daily Star Home

2006 The Daily Star