Culture & History

The Art of Qawwali, Presentation, Language and Context

The Art of Qawwali, Presentation, Language and Context
Published On: 03-Aug-2022

Article by

Aqdas Hashmi

The devotional music known as Qawwali, which is meant to convey a strong message, is characterized by strong voices and synchronized claps. An ensemble of 12 male performers usually conveys a religious message through music and song based on Sufi poetry. The texts usually deal with divine love (ishq), separation (hijr, firaq), and union (visal), with the music symbolically reinforcing and illustrating these concepts. Qawwali incorporates Iranian and Central Asian poetic, philosophical, and musical elements into a North Indian foundation, blending popular music with classical traditions. The texts cover Arabic and Persian in the same way, but the main text body is usually in a simple idiom form of an Indian language: Urdu, Hindi, Purbi, Punjabi and so on. 


The interaction between the audience and the musicians is essential for the performance of a Qawwali, and the performers frequently repeat and dwell on passages that strike a resonant chord in the audience. The effect of energetic hand-clapping, both repetitive and forceful, tends to induce a trance-like state in the audience. People who have been induced into a trance by Qawwali frequently describe a flying experience. Koumudi Mahanta in his article “Ritual and Music: A Sociological Analysis of the Dimensions of Qawwali” said that "Flight" imagery is also used in so many Sufi texts in their quest for divine union. Qawwali performers develop the skill of capturing and holding an audience's attention. He claims that Qawwali breaks down language barriers and brings people closer to divinity. He accomplishes this by attempting to alter the audience's state of consciousness in order to make them more receptive to the syncretistic and mystical content. The form has been honed over generations, and it is said to uplift the audience even if they do not understand what is being spoken. In Qawwali, form and content are intertwined, and only a thorough understanding of both is possible. When the lead singer is expressing the anguish of being separated from a faraway loved one in content, for example, the music is changed to long extended sections to highlight the distance, while lyrics expressing union are compressed in a fast repetition.


The Qawwali used to be accompanied by a double-headed drum (dholak), a bowed lute (sarangi, dilruba), and an earthenware jug. Today's instrumentation includes a front row of hand-pumped harmoniums, with either a dholak or a pair of drums (tabla) in the middle of the second row. To increase the resonance of the tabla's larger left drum, freshly kneaded dough (atta) is applied to the center.


Despite the religious tendency towards music from wholehearted acceptance to complete rejection, the doctrinal council of Islamic mysticism remained in the name of Qawwali, a popular source of happiness in colonial Punjab. Qawwals presented mystical poetry fluid in Persian, Hindi, and Urdu (in this order in terms of prestige) replacing individual and group segments, which is characterized by repetition and correction. Qawwali music was an offering of mystical poetry, which awakened mystical emotions such as joy in a gathering of listeners with spiritual needs that were diverse and changing. Qawwali event structure such as opportunities, setting, seating arrangements for Sufi devotees and artists procedures, listing processes and answers of gathered devotees. It was also very important to give birth to happiness at the time of Samaa.


Qawwali emerged as a form of music in which divine love was praised and love was the last messenger. According to RB Qureshi The Sufis patronized Qawwali and Samaa because they assessed the value of music in Indian culture. However, what distinguishes spiritual music appearing in Qawwali performances are certain restrictions imposed from within the Sufi order in order to maintain its purity and to keep it in tune with the basic tenants of the religion so that the spiritual realm, a Qawwali invoked, worldly deviations are not compromised.


The function of Qawwali music, according to its place in the ideology of Sufism, is to serve the offerings of Sufi poetry, awaken mystical sentiments in a gathering of listeners with spiritual needs which are both diverse and changeable. Qawwali songs attributed to Prophet Muhammad go beyond writing songs; autobiographical writings because a group of singers praised his life, achievements, high position as an apostle, pious legacy, his beautiful relationship with God and his followers, and his wonderful example because of knowing God. The songs reflect the longing to meet him, or more accurately, to prepare for his presence in the audience or the sacred field of music devotion. There are many themes in these songs, praise of the Prophet is an important theme. The devotion of the Prophet to teaching others to seek peace, to live in peace with oneself and with others, and to end human suffering. Qawwali music, its presentation, in its cultural context, and transcendental poetry raises the question of whether the Sufi is devout.

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