New Delhi: They come
from Pakistan but carry eight centuries of the Indian capital's
Islamic musical history on their shoulders. The Karachi-based
troupe owes its allegiance to Sufi saint Amir Khusrau who founded
the qawwali genre of devotional music.
Fariduddin Ayaz Qawaal and Party, hailed as one of the top five
ensembles in the sub-continent, describe themselves as the "true
torchbearers of the Delhi Qawaal Bacchon ka Gharana" founded by
Saamat Bin Ibrahim - a young disciple of Amir Khusrau - in the
"We have kept alive the 777-year Delhi gharana of qawwali music
though we live in Karachi," Ayaz told IANS in the capital.
In the middle ages, the exponents of the Delhi gharana were groups
of children. The indigenous gharana captures the spiritual soul of
the Delhi sultanate with its childlike and boisterous music and
The music is a blend of Sufi, traditional Indian classical ragas
and 'thumris' - short ditties.
Ayaz and his troupe of 10, comprising siblings, cousins and
children, were here to perform at a private soiree. Ayaz is the
son of veteran Pakistani Delhi Qawaali exponent Munshi Raziuddin,
who left India after partition.
Raziuddin is the grandson of Qutab Baksh or Tan Ras Khan, who
tutored the last Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar in devotional
music and doubled as the emperor's legal advisor.
"We are part of India's royal Muslim history. Our family resided
at the Chandni Mahal in the Chandni Chowk area of the city. The
palace was gifted to my ancestor Ustad Tan Ras by the last Mughal
emperor," Ayaz said.
Raziuddin's family fled Chandni Mahal to Hyderabad during the
Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 and left the country in the early 1950s after
partition, the musician said.
The Delhi school of qawwali is often considered the pioneer of
qawwali music in India. Qawwali flourished in Allaudin Khilji's
court and at the Delhi shrine of Sufi saint Nizamuddin Auliya,
whose disciple Amir Khusrau was.
"The school (gharana) is unique because it is associated with
child musicians unlike other schools of qawwali that flourished in
Gwalior and Lucknow," Ayaz said.
A south Indian scholar named Gopal once visited the court of
Allaudin Khilji and "posed a set of religious and mythological
questions in the course of a theological debate to the badshah,"
"The question was made of 28,000 sentences and was sung as a verse
by the pundit. The king, who was busy taming murderers and
criminals, assigned poet Amir Khusrau the task of framing a
fitting reply. The poet wanted six months to reply," Ayaz said.
After six months, he assembled a team 12 children led by one of
his prime disciples, Shamaat Bin Ibrahim, Ayaz said.
"Khusrau penned the 'kalams' (verses) and instructed three child
vocalists to reply to the south Indian scholar with 'taans' -
classical music notations. The poet wrote a code of musical
conduct for the 'kalams' to be sung and it became the first
qawwali musical verse sung for the common man," Ayaz said.
The qawwal, on whom the Pride of Pakistan honour has been
conferred, is full of stories.
"One day, Hazrat Amir Khusrau was sitting by the Yamuna river.
Across the bank he spied a blind minstrel and his mute son. And
the poet was filled with a sudden desire to hear the blind fakir's
song," Ayaz said.
"He called out to the minstrel, who said his 12-year-old son could
not hear or speak. Someone had to show the way. Khusrau told the
minstrel and his son to chant Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya's name,"
As soon as the musician chanted the saint's name, the boy's power
of speech and hearing was restored.
"The minstrel placed the boy under Khusrau's care. The boy, Saamat
Bin Ibrahim, became the founding father of the Delhi gharana. We
follow in Saamat's footsteps," Ayaz said.
The musician is critical of contemporary qawwali as popularised by
"The qawwali shown in movies is almost like musical muqabala
(tug-of-war) often between a man and a woman that slides into a
show of flesh. True qawwali is sung by one man, backed by
repeaters and musicians," he said.
"I want to say Delhi Qawwali is alive and well," he said. The
troupe has performed across the world.
(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)