Mohammad Yaqoob Sheikh

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A Sufiyana Ceremony by

Mohammad Yaqoob Sheikh and members

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Synopsis of Soofyana Mosiqi
Soofyana Music is traditional Music of Kashmir to present this music .The Musicians sing the song and at the same time play an instrument, Bhands play this music on Surnaie and its own Musical Instruments i.e Saz-e-Kashmir ,Setaar , Santoor, Tabla and Dholke as per their tradition .

The tradition of this Music is day by day vanishing with the death of Ustads .Some of whom were the recipients of Sangeet Natak Akademi Awardee Winners .

Kashmir in ancient days had rich tradition of the arts of Music heart touching dance from the 8th to 15th centuries A.D there was construable development in the fine arts and Music .The Soofyana Music speaks probably like those the Greeks .

The Art of Music and dance had religious sanctity and royal patronage ,during the 10th to 11th centuries A.D Raja Lalta Detya was a patron of the Music /Dance while as the kings like Horsha and Jayasimha were Musicians and poets ,later in 1339 A.D during Muslim rule there was further impetus to the fine Arts and Music amongst the Muslim ruler Zain –Ul- abdin ( 15th Centaury) encouraged them rather tremoundly. To his court flicked expert Musicians ,dancers from Iran and Turan singers ,dance and Musicians of great standing from Yarkand ,Samarkand,Tashkand, Kabul, Panjab and Delhi used to attend annual festivals of these arts .Srivarah his court historian was a Muscian and a great lover of art.He reach the spectators and singers who know literature thetoric and phylosiphy and apriciate it merits young women proficient in Music processed sweet voice and with genuine ordour for song graced actors sang various songs to the dance tune and every kind of music and the sangstress utsawa who was even like cupid’s arrow charming to the eyes and proficient in dance both swift and slow entranced every body.

Later the Muslim kings like Ali Shah and Hassan Shah invited some Musicians from Karnatka who populerise

d a number of Karanatki raginis in the land.

With the advanced days this dance and music was changed through Soofyana music known as Hafiza Nagma ,But after some time the tradition Kashmir ignored totally the dance of these Hafiza , and the professional “Gharana dar” Musicians and singers have adjusted a young age of trained boys with long hairs as known as “ Bhand Nagma”.The Bhands have sang Soofyana Music on its own instruments mentioned above and the young boy ( Bhand Bacha) and one ustad was dancingon the Rythem of instruments and have given full action of the song poem to the viewers .The ten Soofyana Muqams enclosed will be performed classical and traditional with ‘Sur’ and ‘Talas’ accordingly.

Copyrigt © 2011 National Bhand Theatra.

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IT IS now an almost silent string in the soul of a once singing people, who even till the 1980s woke daily to the rhythms of an ancient Persian music form. But SufianaMousiqee, the only classical form of Kashmir, is slowly stirring again. Young girls are learning the ancient form for the first time ever, even as families of earlier maestros turn their backs on their own tradition. Mohammad Yaqoob Sheikh, 50, and a rare maestro, runs a one of- a-kind Sufiana school from his home outside Srinagar, in Kralpora. And he teaches anyone willing to learn, regardless of gender.

The first girl came to Sheikh in 2001, five years after he started teaching Sufiana. Shabnam had grown up listening to Sufiana music on radio, in her grandmother’s lap. “One day without telling anyone at home I came here. I liked it immensely and persuaded my family to let me learn Sufiana,” says Shabnam. “Without my grandmother’s help I wouldn’t get my family’s permission.” She brought along a few more girls including her cousins. Today Shabnam leads an all girls Sufiana ensemble of seven that has performed in many Indian cities and shared stage with the likes of Abida Parveen.

Shabnam is now an empanelled artist in All India Radio’s Kashmir station. She still cannot afford a Santoor of her own. Her ensemble includes Sami Jan, 20, the first Kashmiri female Sufiana tabla player. During the Dogra rule that lasted until the mid-20th century, Kashmiri women known as haafiza sang and danced in the royal court but never played any instruments used in Sufiana like Saz-i- Kashmir, santoor or tabla. That tradition had also died more than a century ago.

A Persian and central Asian connection that Kashmir has preserved for six centuries, Sufiana Mousiqee has now atrophied. The master practitioners are gone, the youth aren’t interested and the easy availability of light and film music has relegated sufiana to barely an echo.

But Sheikh, who was initiated into the Sufiana tradition by his maternal grandfather and maestro, Ghulam Mohammad Qaleenbaaf, wouldn’t let it die. “When my grandfather passed away, I felt the sufiana music in my soul and started practicing seriously,” says Sheikh, who did not let the initial discouragement from family and friends, dampen his passion for the music and the zeal to preserve it.

The Qaleenbaaf Memorial Sufiana Music Institute began with a single boy interested in the music, amid the chaotic and politically unstable 1990s. All that this sufiana institute has is Sheikh, his personal set of music instruments, and forty-odd students, girls and boys learning at his home, some for nine years. In summers, little children from schools around his Kralpora neighbourhood join him in bustling numbers. Sheikh teaches them all for free.

It hasn’t been easy. Unfriendly locals (“people are dying in Kashmir and you want children to learn sufiana music”) forced him to move four times and he’s had to “entertain soldiers” who came searching for militants disguised as music students.

But, Sufiana Mousiqee remains in the margins. Sheikh’s own children don’t want to learn it. “It’s not entertainment. It is like prayers, you cannot force it on anyone,” he says. His daughter serves tea while Shabnam practices with her guru.

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Rediscovering Kashmir’s Forgotten Classical Music

Mohammad Yaqoob Sheikh places his santoor on a wooden stand and picks up a pair of finely carved wooden mallets or kalems. He holds them carefully between his index and middle fingers. A deep, gripping sound fills the room as he strikes the metal strings of his santoor with the mallets. It’s the kind of music that brims with life.
Sheikh stops, looks up and smiles. “Beautiful, isn’t it? The world just ceases to exist for a while,” says the 53-year-old top-grade Sufiana artist who works in Radio Kashmir. The sound of the hundred-stringed Kashmiri santoor is indeed very rich and distinctive. No doubt it is used as an accompaniment to Sufiyana Mausiqi, the soul-stirring music of Sufis.
Sufiyana Mausiqi is the classical music of Kashmir, the cradle of Sufism in South Asia. It is a choral, spiritual style of music in which a group of musicians sing and play various instruments simultaneously. A Sufiana ensemble comprises four to seven people and sometimes even more. A group leader sings the main lines of the song and usually plays either a santoor or a saz-i-Kashmir. The songs are a mixture of Persian and Kashmiri Sufi poems, the hymns of Sufi mystics. Though the language seems almost foreign sometimes and is hard to keep up with, it is the rich, sonorous voices of the singers and the beautiful pieces of music that keep listeners captivated until the performance ends.
A product of cultural intermingling, this form of music is believed to have come to Kashmir from Persia (Iran) around 500 years ago. The impact of Central Asia and particularly of Persia on Kashmir’s art and culture has always been evident in the cuisines, architecture and handicrafts of Kashmir. Likewise, Kashmiri music too has imbibed and retained many aspects of Persian music. Despite this influence, the Kashmiri Sufiyana Mausiqi is unique and not found anywhere else, according to Sheikh, who was initiated formally as a pupil at the Cultural Academy when he was about 15-year-old.
“I have travelled the world and participated in numerous events, but I have never felt that any other form of music is similar to ours. In fact, whenever I performed with English and Iranian artists, they told me how different and beautiful Kashmiri Sufiyana Mausiqi is,” he says. The difference, he adds, is not only in the structure of the instruments and the way they are played across the musical world, but also in certain words. “We say maqam(mode) but Indian classical musicians call the same thing a raga,” he says.
Some thirty-years ago, it would have been easy to find a performance of this ancient form of music in various festivals, cultural events and other mehfils. Now, Sheikh says, such performances are rare. Amidst growing popularity of folk and light music and more than a decade long insurgency in Kashmir, Sufiyana Mausiqi has gradually faded away from the social and cultural life of Kashmir.
Qazi Rafi, a top light-music singer who is very fond of Sufiyana Mausiqi, says that the widespread interest in Sufiyana Mausiqi is dying out due to a number of reasons. “There is no proper training being given to students. Also youngsters these days are not that fluent in Kashmiri, let alone Persian. These are the two major languages of Sufiyana Mausiqi,” he says. He feels that people tend to prefer light music more because Sufiyana Mausiqi is quite hard to learn and understand. It has many maqams and taalas. The easy availability of western and Bollywood music has also contributed to its decline, he says.
After years of neglect, only a few performers of this centuries-old music are left today. The old maestros have passed away and Sheikh puts the number of Sufiana artists in Kashmir’s radio station so low that “they can be counted on one’s fingers”. A small number of people now-a-days can play saz-i-Kashmir, a spiked fiddle, which is the Kashmiri rendition of the big Iranian Kemencheh and is played with a bow. Sheikh says that the recent all-girl rock band controversy too has been bad news for Sufiyana Mausiqi. “Many girls stopped playing after that. They were scared. It was very unfortunate,” he says.
Some things have already been lost forever. “Of the total 180 maqams, only around 40 maqams remain today,” informs Sheikh. The trance-like dancing called Hafiz Nagma that accompanies Sufiyana Mausiqi has also disappeared altogether. Legend has it that the female Hafiza dancers who performed in the royal court during the Dogra rule in Kashmir were banned when the Maharaja denounced their dance as disgraceful after he felt that it had ceased to be a spiritual form of dance.
Worried about this once-celebrated music that was vanishing, Sheikh opened his own music institute to provide free training to all those who shared his passion for music. The Qaleenbaaf Memorial Sufiana Music Institute was started in 1996 and has had students as young as 13 years old studying under the tutelage of Sheikh. They have been coming in great numbers too, even though it takes eight to nine long years to learn and master Sufiyana Mausiqi. While many of them have participated in various shows of All India Radio, Doordarshan, Sangeet Natak Academy, Cultural Academy etc, some others have gone on to become empanelled artists in the Kashmir station of AIR.
It all began in rented rooms where Sheikh first started giving music lessons to his students. Besides many young boys and girls, Sheikh’s classes also lured militants who demanded to know what he was up to and army men who came looking for the militants. “But once they had heard us play, they would calm down and let us be,” recalls Sheikh. “We were never bothered again.”
Today Sheikh’s students gather at his house in Kralpora, Budgam, a venue devoted to learning and preserving Kashmir’s Sufi music. Sheikh has built a separate hall in his house for his students where they can practice for as long as they want. And they don’t have to buy any instruments. Sheikh provides them with his own set. “It’s because these instruments are very expensive, each costing nearly Rs 20,000,” he says.
Besides santoor and saz-i-Kashmir, other music instruments used in Sufiyana Mausiqi are the Kashmiri sehtar, a long necked stringed instrument played with a wire plectrum called mezrab; the rabab, a short-necked lute, which when plucked produces a very thick sound and the Indian tabla, which is the only percussion instrument used in Sufiyana Mausiqi. Tabla, in fact, has replaced the wasul or dhokra, a two-sided drum that was used earlier and is now virtually extinct.
Sheikh has this entire collection of instruments lying in his hall, waiting to be held and played by anyone willing to learn. The hall also displays old, framed photographs of a young Sheikh and his troupe playing together in concerts around the world. One photograph shows Sheikh standing with the Indian santoor maestro Pandit Bhajan Sopori. In others, Sheikh is sitting and playing a santoor with his female students who are wearing bright colored pherans and performing on stage. Sheikh has collected so many photographs over the years that he has made two big albums out of them.
The gharanas of Sufiyana Mausiqi in Kashmir have inherited this music from their ancestors. It’s something that is passed down from one generation to the next. Sheikh began practicing when he was six-year-old, after watching and emulating his maternal grandfather, the legendary Ghulam Mohammad Qaleenbaaf who came from a non-musical family. But Sheikh’s own children are not interested in learning music. So he is teaching others, as many as he can. “My heart swells with pride when people tell me that I haven’t let my grandfather’s legacy die with him,” he says.
Sheikh feels that there is a lot that can be done to revive Sufiyana Mausiqi. “We can start by giving music classes in schools and colleges. Setting up small music schools in districts and offering scholarships to students would help a lot,” he says. “The government should organize concerts and provide a platform to students so that they can showcase their talent and encourage others to join as well.” In other Indian states, he says, students have good facilities of accommodation, training and even scholarships. “Their future is set before they even know it,” says Sheikh.
“We have been organizing programs and concerts in which prominent Sufiana artists participate. Recently, we had a music festival in SP College where Sufiyana Mausiqi was very well received. Peoples’ interest in it has diminished over the years but it won’t become extinct,” says Khalid Bashir Ahmad, Secretary, J&K Academy of Art, Culture and Languages.
Some other musicians from distinguished gharanas have also started giving music lessons to youngsters. They too, like Sheikh, are struggling to save something very precious to them from sinking into oblivion. “I will always be here and even if my class has one student,” he says, “I will still teach him.”

(Nausheen Naseer is Izhar Wani intern in GK)
(Courtesy of NAUSHEEN NASEER)

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Maqam (Station) and Haal (State)

The various stages of self-awareness on the Sufi path are known as ‘Maqamat’, or the ‘stations’, which are attainable through continuous spiritual practices and sincere efforts. However, ‘haal’ or ‘state’ can only happen by the Grace of God.

Rumi has described these stages poetically as: ‘Maqam’ is the (King’s) being alone with the bride while ‘haal’ is like unveiling of the beauteous bride.

To elaborate these stages further:

‘MAQAM’ represents a spiritual station, where the seeker finds him after sincerely treading the spiritual path for a while. With gradual polishing of the mirror of the heart through meditative exercises, he keeps on becoming aware of the spiritual subtleties behind the physical realm. With each breakthrough, he finds a new level of awareness. In this process, his previous level of awareness serves as the ‘Maqam’ where he becomes stationed till he moves on. Maqamat or Stations can also be perceived as the ascending rungs of the spiritual ladder. With continuous spiritual practices, a seeker ascends on this ladder. While moving from station to station, he may be touched by the special Grace or HAAL from time to time.

HAAL occurs spontaneously as a spiritual gift. While walking in the spiritual forest amidst pathways decorated with dancing trees and perfumed flowers, a soft cloud appears on the horizon, engulfs the seeker while quenching his spiritual thirst then moves on leaving him in a state of awe. In this state, a seeker neither expects what comes to him from the unseen world nor has the slightest idea about the nature of experience. He is simply taken over by an overwhelming compassionate power. It reflects a state, where a door opens out of nowhere and breeze from the garden of eternity surrounds the seeker and colours him with its perfume. A realm of ecstasy prevails due to unbearable display of beauty. This state of Hal comes and goes on its own. A seeker can never claim such a state due to its extraordinariness and his ordinariness. It always happens as a Grace.

Such stages are not some concrete milestones depicting progress on the Sufi path step by step rather reflects inner spiritual development. This is why; there exists no consensus among Sufis on the number and details of these stages.

About RAM Chandrakausika राम च 51

Ram51 is a researcher in the various fields of Musicology, Philosophy and History as well as old languages. One of his first topics is the wide scope of Indo-arabic cultures as represented in various art-forms religion and history. Below a list of selected Research topics which sum up partitionally the task of anthropological Frameworks in totaliter : Sanskrit Hinduism and Mythology Hindustani Music, The Muqhal Empire Gharanas from North India Kashmir Sufiyana The Kashmir Santoor Traditional Folk Music from USA Philosophy in Orient and Okzident Genealogy of musical instruments Ethnomusicology, Arabic Maqams, No Theatre fromJapan, North american poetry, Cultural heritage of mankind and Islamic architecture... View all posts by RAM Chandrakausika राम च 51

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