Mohammad Yaqoob Sheikh sits with musical instruments around him. He places the Santoor before him and holds the wooden mallets or Kalem between his fingers and softly strikes the metal strings of Santoor. The tunes from the Santoor fill the room followed by the Sufi Kalam (verses) that Ustad Yaqoob, sings in Persian language.
Ustad Yaqoob is a well-known maestro of Kashmiri classical music called SufianaMausiqi.
SufianaMausiqi is a mystical music of Kashmir where the verses are about God and his prophet (saw). The spiritual performance is done by a group of artists along with Santoor, Tabla, Dolak, Saaz-e-Kashmiri and Sehtar. The musical form involves singing of Sufi lyrics in mehfils or religious gatherings.
SufianaMausiqi has Maqam like there are Ragas in Indian Classical Music. “There are 12 Maqams in Sufiana Music which are further divided into 2 branches. It gets divided furthermore and becomes 160 Maqams,” Ustad Yaqoob said.
Maqam-e-Arhaq, Maqam-e-Raast, Maqam-e-Asfahan (Khamanch), Maqam-e-ochak (Zaerafgan), Maqam-e-Buzarg (Todi), Maqam-e-Behag (Hijaz), Maqam-e-Bosalekh (Danaseeri), Maqam-e-Bahar (Ushaq), Maqam-e-Husaini (Zarqasht), Maqam-e-Zangula (Nihavind), Maqam-e-Nava and Maqam-e-Rahavi (Baste Nigaar) are the twelve Maqams in Sufiana music.
The twelve Maqams are believed to cure twelve diseases if heard at the proper time. “Hakeem used to cure people with this music. Usually in downtown Srinagar, people used to go to Hakeem for treatment and they were told to listen to Maqam for the prescribed time period. Such is the effect of the music. However, it has limitations of time. The Maqam for morning cannot be said in evening or any other time,” said Ustad Yaqoob.
Ustad Yaqoob along with his cousins has learnt the music from his maternal grandfather, Ghulam Mohammad Qaleenbaaf.
While recalling his childhood days Ustad Yaqoob said, “We have started learning at a very tender age that we were made to sit on pillows to play the tabla. Even after all these years, I am 61 years old and still in the process of learning.”
There are 20 to 25 Taals or rhythms in one Maqam. And every rhythm has a number of beats which a Sufi artist has to practice and remember. Some of the Taals are Neemdol, Rawani, Saetal, Chambal etc. Most of the Sufiana Music is in Persia. “One should have knowledge of the Persian language. Even though it is in Kashmiri language too, one who doesn’t know Persian language struggles with it,” he said.
It includes Manqabat- a Sufi devotional poem, Naatiya- poetry in praise of Prophet Mohammad (saw), Qawalis – a style of Muslim devotional music and Sama-a-Sufi ceremony performed in the remembrance of God.
Talha Jehangir Rahmani, Broadcaster, Programme Executive, Incharge Music, All India Radio, Srinagar said the art form is as old as civilization. He said that Sufi music got much importance in the era of Zain-ul-Abideen, a ruler of Kashmir. “It is not any street performance. It is a special performance where people gather together. It is about devotionality,” he said.
“Zain ul Abideeen called the experts from Iran to make Saaz-e-Kashmir for a specific purpose in Sufiana music. The instrument is specially used for Kashmiri SufianaMausiqi and it keeps on playing continuously till the end even after everything stops,” he said.
Ustad Kamal Bhat, Abdul Aziz Sheikh, Mohammad Abdullah Tibet Baqal, Ustad Ghulam Mohammad Saaznawaz, Ustad Ghulam Ahmad Qaleenbaaf, Ustad Rehman Joo and Ustad Mohammad AbdullanSeatari were some of the legendary Sufi artists of Kashmir.
“Two Gharanas are following the legacy. Saaznawaz and Qaleenbaaf are still associated with the art at present,” he said.
The 8th generation of Saaznawaz Gharana, Ustad Shabir Ahmad Saaznawaz, said that the gatherings of SufianaMausiqi still happen at some places. “One of the religious gatherings in Safa Kadal, Srinagar is still going on from the last 150 years. The music form is about verses about God and it should have the right listeners,” he said.
Some artists believe that Sufi Music, which is as old as time, is dying silently.
Ustad Shabir, Head of Department of Sufiana Santoor, Kashmir University said, since 2015 the department is functioning but the number of students is less because the students find less scope in this field. “Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s Government had promised that they would open a school for Sufiana Music. The land was given in Budgam but apart from laying the foundation stone of the building, no further development was seen,” he said.
In order to keep the traditional old music alive, some artists have started training youths by setting up their own institutions where they provide free of cost training.
Saaznawaz family runs an institute, Saaznawaz Training Institute where they provide free training to students. Apart from training, they provide musical instruments and food to students who want to learn Sufiana music. Currently, the institute has 10-15 students. Among them are the children from their own family who they believe would carry forward the legacy.
In order to introduce females in the music form, Ustad Yaqoob had played a major role. He was the first one to start training female students along with males in his institute, Qaleenbaaf Memorial Sufiana Music Institute which is recognized by the Government of Jammu and Kashmir.
He said, “I have prepared groups of females earlier but I don’t take any female students now. Girls after marriage couldn’t continue. The institute is just for teaching students. It’s not a source of income for me. I provide them with instruments for learning as well.”
Initially there was no participation of women in classical music. Then Hafiz Nagma came into existence where a woman would sit and sing Sufi lyrics while the rest of the men of the group would play musical instruments. The style also died long back after it was banned by the then Dogra Maharaja.
One of the students of Ustad Yaqoob, Irfana Yousuf, a final year student studying in Kashmir University got interested when her father, a Sufiana artist, Mohammad Yousuf Beigh used to practice with his group members. She and her sister Rehana wanted to learn SufainaMausiki and their father supported them.
Irfana and Rehana have received training from Ustad Yaqoob. “One of my friends got interested in SufianaMausiqi. Others joined us too and this is how our group was formed. We are working for the revival of the Sufi Music because it is part of our culture,” she said.
She said that the reason behind the decline of its popularity is that the listeners are very few. “Usually, old people listen because it is difficult to understand for the younger ones. Its compositions are very tough and their meaning is hard to understand. For elderly, it was food to their soul and they would never get bore with it,” she said
She also believed that the government’s apathy is behind the dying of Sufi music in Kashmir.
Recalling her father’s struggle, she said that while living in a village, it was difficult for him to find a teacher. She said, “The financial condition of the family was not good and nobody supported him initially. He sold some things and got Santoor for Rs. 5,000. He had no Kashmiri Sitar. He got a bat and tied some thread the one used to make carpets, around and used to practice during night time. Today, we have got many musical instruments. My father has struggled a lot but he never failed.”
She further added, “Just like our father, we will not fail too. We want to teach new generations and there is a hope that more people will come forward to learn if authorities provide a little help.”
Manzoor ul Haq, a government approved artist, said that behind its setback is the decline of the Persian language and popularity of contemporary music. He said, “Our culture has suffered a huge loss with the introduction of new languages and trends.”
He has heard from his elders that in Srinagar, religious gatherings used to happen every day and artists would earn good livelihood. He said, “Now an artist has to look for other means of livelihood to support his family. Authorities have failed to support the art and the artist,” he said.
As per Ustad Yaqoob out of 160 maqams, only 60 maqams are available now and rest have died with the passage of time.
Ustad Yaqoob said the masters of this art were always few in numbers. “Nowadays, students don’t have patience to learn. It is something which a person cannot learn in two or three years. It’s a vast subject and one has to remember many things. Moreover, it has no future to offer. Most of my students do other meager jobs to support themselves. How can they rely on this when it has no scope further? It’s their passion which is holding them up,” he said.
While talking about the decline, Shabir Ahmad Saaznawaz recited verses of Kashmiri Sufi poet, Khwaja Habibullah Nowsheri (R.A)
KemateNagmechiZanenKehinMordeDila. AhlidilJumlebejanandKhareedare Sama. (Those whose hearts are dead will never know the value of Sama, only those who have remembrance of God in their hearts, know the value.)