City Faith – Beyond Thursday Evening Qawwalis, Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya’s Dargah
The world of sufi music.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
You can find it in the Lonely Planet and in most city guides. Even William Dalrymple has written about it in his Delhi memoirs. It also appears in the Bollywood hit Rockstar.
The Thursday evening qawwalis at the Sufi shrine of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya draw a full house. Once a week the shrine’s little courtyard fills up beyond capacity.
As it happens, a few weeks ago, the shrine’s khadims (the traditional caretakers) brought the curtain down on this popular spectacle. “There was too much noise, too much crowd, too many instagrammers! The dargah’s sanctity was getting affected… and some travel guides even started charging a fee for showing the qawwalis as if this is a ticketed concert,” a young khadim told The Delhi Walla, adding that the closure is temporary.
But today I wish to celebrate a lesser-known, though equally beautiful and enchanting, tradition of Hazrat Nizamuddin’s shrine–Salaam.
Every evening at 10, when the dargah is almost empty, the doors of the 14th century Sufi saint’s grave-chamber are ceremoniously closed for the night. This is when a handful of qawwals, who have been performing here for generations and generations, stand up and gather in the middle of the courtyard. They start offering a Persian prayer said to have been written by Hazrat Nizamuddin, and everyone else in the courtyard is summoned to stand up in deference to the saint. I don’t know Persian, but someone tells me the song has something to do with blessings of the next morning’s breeze.
At this late hour, the qawwals no longer feel the need to perform for a broad audience, nor to resort to surprising notes and theatrical tricks. Their rendition is soft, sincere and emotional. Since there is no accompanying harmonium or tabla, there is a nakedness of the voices too.
As the song draws to a close, the qawwals bend down to kiss the marble floor. Then they leave. The last notes of their sacred offering linger a little longer after they are gone.
Beyond the obvious, the serene