A Dive into Sufism

Guest Post and Text by Kaushal Mathpal, a DelhiByFoot community member. (Pictures by Ramit Mitra and Shweta Berry)

Kaushal is a practicing lawyer in the Delhi Courts but when he is not pitching his case in front of a Judge of a Court, this wanderer at heart takes his notebook and camera and hits the streets of his adopted city, Delhi. An unfortunate accident last year rendered him immobile but gave him ample time to pursue his long desired dream of penning down his thoughts as a traveller, an explorer and seeker of knowledge. He blogs about his travels and discoveries on Rediscover Your Dreams.

Recently, my appetite for travelling has brought me closer to one of the most intrinsic community of our country i.e. the Muslim or Islamic Community. My earlier post on the Nizamuddin Dargah would reveal how I loved exploring the culture and customs of the people, which unfortunately I had never come in contact earlier so closely. My earlier little encounters with the community had given birth to the inquisitiveness to acquaint myself more with the notions of the community and find answers to certain questions which had been swinging in my mind for a long time.

My quest for fathoming the concepts and beliefs of the community made me sign up for a Sufi Baithak’ (A discussion on Sufism) organized by DelhiByFoot’ in association with ‘Kunzum’ The ‘Baithak’, first of its kind (Sufi Baithaks were usually held in private family gatherings, festivals and functions), unlocked the heavenly doors of the spiritually rich Sufi culture and traditions to general public and how the customs have evolved over the span of several centuries. The 3-hour chat and musical interactions took place at the ‘Kunzum Cafe‘, aptly situated at the 2nd Sultanate city of Delhi, Hauz Khas.

DBF’s Sufi Baithak was organised at the Kunzum Cafe in Hauz Khas Village, for a small and select group of Sufi Music lovers and people wishing to know more about the Sufi way of life.

Ramit Mitra, founder of DelhiByFoot, welcomed the participants with an introduction of the evening programme’s format and the rationale behind the Baithak. He touched upon briefly the similarities of Islamic Sufism and the parallel Hindu Bhakti movement in India and hoped that this humble beginning by DBF, which was but a dip in the vast ocean of Sufi Heritage in Delhi, would reaffirm DBF’s core philosphy to present more and more unique cultural experiences to people of Delhi.

Ramit then handed over the Baithak discussions to Syed Ajmal Nizami, who was to lead the evening’s talk. Ajmal Ji is one of the descendants of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya close family and also the families entrusted with the care of Nizamuddin Auliya’s Dargah (mausoleum) and his spiritual legacy for more than 6 centuries. He was accompanied by Qawwalls trained in Sufi music and who later presented the unadulterated version of Qawaallis in between the interactive sessions.

DBF Sufi Baithak
Syed Ajmal Ji initiated the Baithak with a beautiful shayari: “Ye na dekho ki log chand hai, Ye dekho ki iraada nek hai”. (If the purpose is virtuous, it doesn’t matter even if there are few followers).

He thereafter edified the gathering on the basic tenets and concept of Sufism or ‘Tasawwuf’ , before he moved on to the splendid history of Sufism dating back to 1000+ years in time, followed by tales of present-day Baghdad where such Sufi Baithaks were common and organized and the attendees were treated to different levels of teachings, trainings and even sherbets according to their age. However, when Chenghis Khan invaded the region, he destroyed and plundered everything that came in its way and gradually the Indian Sub-Continent region became the epicenter of Sufism. Mr Ajmal then articulated the story of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya and how soon he became the face of Sufism in the world.

The Qawaalls and Syed Ajmal sitting on the right

Syed Ajmal Ji narrated some beautiful anecdotes from the life of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya and his favourite disciple Hazrat Amir Khurso, who is attributed for creating thousands of verses, poems, riddles, couplets in Arabic, Persian, Awadhi, Khadiboli and with inventing and improving 2 important musical instruments like Sitar, Tabla and formulating various Taranas (a composition of classical vocal music in which certain words based on Arabic and Persian phonemes are rendered at medium or fast pace). Hazrat Amir Khusro is also accredited for creating countless Qawaallis in the service of ‘The Almighty’ and his Guru Nizamuddin Auliya.

 The Baithak then progressed to the concept of Sufism and the genesis of the word “Sufi”. Syed Ajmal enunciated number of origins of the word Sufi among which I absorbed one to my heart. It is said that the word Sufi originated from the Arabic word Safa which means purity and clarity. Thus, Sufi means a person whose heart is pure and clear from all the materialistic adulterations and the one who respects everyone. I strongly believe that the other origins explained by Syed Ajmal also conveyed more or less the same meaning.

Upon hearing the above definition and origin of the word Sufi, it felt that what it aimed to convey, resembled the teachings embodied in the manuscripts of Hindu religion (which I have been following in recent past). The only difference lies in the nomenclature. It made me comprehend that every religion in its original, traditional form is secular and only aims to serve humanity towards the goal of achieving Nirvana. It does not makes any distinction among its beneficiaries and treats every human being equal, irrespective of their religions. It is very clear from life and teaching of Sufi Saints or Hindu Saints who never made distinction among people on the basis of religion. It is only the when the minds get infected with impurities and misguided fundamentalism, a feeling of hatred and intolerance arises among the masses which leads to unfortunate events, which multiplies it further.

As all the participants gather around for informal discussions with Ajmal ji and the Qawwalls over hot cups of Kahsmiri Kahwaa and Sheermal

In between the discussions swinging from Sufi traditions to anecdotes to Kalaams (verses/couplets) and to Q&A sessions, the evening was bestowed with heart-warming Qawaallis from the Qawwalls (Sufi Singers) who have practiced the Sufi music in its traditional and non-commercial pattern, from a tender age. The small acts of respect for their ancestors by the Qawwalls, who touched their ears whenever the Saint’s name was uttered during Qawallis or discussions, made us realise the importance of such customs.

The Qawaallis filled the venue with an altogether different aura and energy which can only be embraced and understood by the heart and cannot be described in words. The soulful music and the raw energy of the Qawwalls. The cries of ‘Waah, waah’ by all participants rent the air. The fragrance of Incense sticks and ‘Attar’ made the ambience perfect for all of us that evening.

Sufi Baithak DelhiByFoot

Even though the Qawaallis were in different languages including Arabic, Persian, Punjabi, Urdu and many times I could not understand each word’s meaning, but Syed Ajmal and the accompanying Qawwalls elaborated their essence, meanings and multiple interpretations of the verses to the gathering. The beautiful Qawallis touched the hearts of everyone present proving once again that music has no language and boundaries. Sufi music is no different and the language of music does not lies in its words but it floats in the air through its rhythm which can be imbibed by every listener!

After several rounds of discussion and elegant Qawaallis, the Baithak or Mehfil (as they call in Urdu) finally culminated with the famous Qawalli “Damadam Mastkalander….” and some Kashmiri Kahwa along with another delight- Sheermal (a sort of fluffy mildly sweet bread) which according Syed Ajmal has been an integral part of such Sufi gatherings.

The Baithak was certainly an eye opener for people like me who have very little knowledge about the vibrant Sufi culture and customs and I would definitely like to thank DelhiByFoot’, Syed Ajmal Nizami and the accompanying Qawalls for bringing out such a novel concept to promote our culture and making us part of something which will relish forever in our hearts.

One for the Shutterbug!