It was in the mid-1970s, I was but a young teenager. We were on a family holiday, driving to Agra and then stopping at Fatehpur Sikri before heading home to Delhi. Even at dusk the land was parched, the heat suffocating. The air was filled with the haze typical of a summer evening in the hot plains of India. The few tourists who had braved this summer day had already gone home and there was an eerie stillness in this huge and spectacular fort, one of my favourite monuments in India.
What a feeling to be almost alone there! A girl with her head full of dreams, I wandered around the almost empty fort hearing sounds of the days long past. I heard Tansen singing for Akbar in the middle of the lake. I heard the anklets of the dancing girls who were the chess pieces in the huge courtyard-chess board. I heard the Hindu queen singing her evening prayers and the chatter of the women of the harem. I heard the clanging of swords, the neighing of horses, the deep rumble of men talking war. I heard the sounds of a harmonium and singers whose voices bounced off the empty walls of the fort, taking them up up up towards heaven. But wait..that was not my imagination, that was real!
I followed the sound and found myself in a huge mosque. In the middle of the courtyard was the Dargah of Sufi Saint Salim Chisti (1478-1572). In front, there were four men sitting on the floor with a couple of harmoniums. There was no audience but the ancient walls of the fort, the Saint in his tomb, the heavens above and me. Time stood still. How long did I stand? I don’t know. My mind, my body, my spirit were all immersed into that wonderful music. Something happened inside me that day. Years later I still yearn for that moment when I was the music and the music was I.
They were Qawwals and though I do not know which song they were singing that day, I can still feel their voices inside me 35 years later. I fell in love with Qawwalis on that day. I will love this wonderful form of music till the day I die.
Of the hundreds of Qawwalis I have heard since then, the poetry of Amir Khusrau Dehlavi (1253-1325) is particularly dear to me. He is considered to be the ‘father of Qawwali’. One of the most influential men in the history of Indian Music, he was a poet, a composer, a Sufi saint, a scholar, a philosopher, a musician, and a linguist to name just a few of his accomplishments. Born in Uttar Pradesh, India, his was part Turkish, part Indian and wrote poetry in Persian and Brij Bhasha (a language close to Hindi). He was a disciple of Sufi Saint Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya (1238-1325).
I present to you two of Amir Khusrau’s well known poems in one performance, Main To Piya Se Naina Laga Ayi Re and Chhap Tilak Sab Chini sung by the Wadali Brothers from Amritsar, India. See footnote for lyrics and translation. How I love this poetry! The poet says ‘I play the game of love with my darling, if I win, he is mine, if I lose I am with him’. Ah, how we long for a loss such as this! He says ‘My delicate wrists with green bangles, you have held them tight with just a glace.’ and ‘You have made me your bride with just a glace’. This intoxicating God that Amir Khusrau sings of, he is mine. Never mind that I am a true Hindu and the poet talks of his Allah, if this picture is right, they are one and the same.
This particular video is by Puran Chand Wadali and his son Lakhwinder Wadali. What a handsome team they make! I adore the voice of the elder gentleman. Here is an article about these Qawwals.
Footnote (Lyrics) :
Sourced from various internet sources, have tried to verify aurally but no guarantees of accuracy!
MAIN TO PIYA SE NAINA MILA AYI RE
खुसरो रैन सुहाग की मैं जगी पी के संग
तन मोरा मन पिया का जो दोनों एक ही रंग
खुसरो दरिया प्रेम का जो उल्टी वा की धार
जो उबरा सो डूब गया जो डूबा सो पार
खुसरो बाज़ी प्रेम का मैं खेलूँ पी के संग
जीत गयी तो पिया मोरे हारी पी के संग
मैं तो पिया से नैना लगा आयी रे
गर नारी गँवारी कहे सो कहे
अब जो होगा सो देखेंगे
सच कहती हूँ क्या डर मोहे
प्रीत करी कि मैं चोरी करी रे
सोहनी सुरतिया मोहनी मुरतिया
मैं तो हिरदय के बीच समा आयी रे
खुसरो निजाम के बल बल जैय्या
मैं तो बिनमोल / अनमोल चेली कहा आई रे
मैं तो अपनी छब बना के जो पी के पास गयी
छब देखी जो पीया के मोहे अपनी भूल गयी
Khusrau Raen Suhaag Ki, Mein Jaagi Pi Ke Sang
Tan Mora Man Piya Ka, Jo Dono Ek Hee Rang
Khusrau Darya Prem Ka, Jo Ulti Wa Ki Dhaar
Jo Ubhra So Doob Gaya, Jo Dooba So Paar
Khusrau Baazi Prem Ki Main Khelun Pi Ke Sung,
Jeet Gayi To Piya Moray, Haari, Pi Kay Sung
Main To Piya Say Naina Laga Aayi Re
Gar Naari Ganwari Kahe So Kahe
Ab Jo Hoga So Daikhen Ge
Sach Kehti Hoon Kya Dar Mohe
Preet Kari ki Mein Chori Kari Re
Sohni Suratiya, Mohni Muratiya,
Main To Hirday Ke Beech Samaa Aayi Re
Khusrau Nijaam Ke Bal Bal Jaiyya
Main To Binmol / Anmol Cheli Kaha Aayi Re
Main to Apni Chab Banaa Ke Jo Pi Ke Paas Gayi
Chab Dekhi Jab Piya Ki Mohe Apni Bhool Gayi
छाप तिलक सब छीनी रे मोसे नैना मिलाइके
बात अगम कह दीनी रे मोसे नैना मिलाइके
प्रेम भटी का मदवा पिलाइके
मतवारी कर दीन्ही रे मोसे नैना मिलाइके
गोरी गोरी बईयाँ, हरी हरी चूड़ियाँ
बईयाँ पकड़ हर लीन्ही रे मोसे नैना मिलाइके
बल बल जाऊं मैं तोरे रंग रजवा
अपनी सी रंग दीन्ही रे मोसे नैना मिलाइके
खुसरो निजाम के [बल बल जाए ]/ [बात जो लागी ]
मोहे सुहागन कीन्ही रे मोसे नैना मिलाइके
छाप तिलक सब छीनी रे मोसे नैना मिलाइके
बात अजब कह दीनी रे मोसे नैना मिलाइके
Chhāp tilak sab chīnī re mose nainā milāike
Bāt agam keh dīnī re mose nainā milāike
Prem bhaṭī kā madvā pilāike
Matvālī kar dīnhī re mose nainā milāike
Gorī gorī baīyān, harī harī chuṛiyān
baīyān pakaṛ har līnhī re mose nainā milāike
Bal bal jāūn main tore rang rajvā
Apnī sī kar līnhī re mose nainā milāike
Khusro Nijām [ke bal bal jaiye] / [baat jo laagee]
Mohe suhāgan kīnhī re mose nainā milāike
Bāt adham keh dīnī re mose nainā milāike
You’ve taken away my looks, my identity, by just a glance.
By making me drink the wine from the distillery of love
You’ve intoxicated me by just a glance;
My fair, delicate wrists with green bangles in them,
Have been held tightly by you with just a glance.
I give my life to you, Oh my cloth-dyer,
You’ve dyed me in yourself, by just a glance.
I give my whole life to you Oh, Nijam,
You’ve made me your bride, by just a glance.