Sufi in the palace

Singers enthral guests at Taj Falaknuma Palace; their rich voices and rustic charm melts away urban stress.
Traditional Langhas and Manganiyar sing songs that are passed on, as a form of the oral history of the desert.
Traditional Langhas and Manganiyar sing songs that are passed on, as a form of the oral history of the desert.

HYDERABAD: Monsoon is around the corner. It does great wonders to my city, Hyderabad.

After two months of intense heat, when it rains and cools the place completely, the dreadful summer is forgiven. Mangoes are missed but the fragrance of jasmine still lingers and the koel’s singing slowly fades out.

The freshly washed city wears a romantic look and that is when you fall in love with Hyderabad all over again. I recollect one such lovely evening during monsoon and pleasant memories fill my mind, taking me back to that day.

As the car wound its way up the hill, higher and higher, like a woman’s veil revealing the pretty face behind, Hyderabad revealed itself at dusk.

A royal carriage with horses awaited at the entrance, to take me back in time, on a regal path. Treading the route taken by the Paigahs and the Asif Jahis, the coach stopped in front of the Falaknuma – set against the blue sky the edifice truly looked like the “Mirror of the Sky”, fully justifying its name.

More popular as the Taj Falaknuma Palace, one can’t but admire its beauty and the respect accorded for heritage by its restoration.

Gol Bungalow, Taj Falaknuma Palace
Gol Bungalow, Taj Falaknuma Palace

Gol Bungalow is the place where every evening, exclusively for the resident guests, a Sufi qawwali is arranged at dusk.

Overlooking the vast city, with a beautiful canopy above, one gets transported to a different world, listening to Sufi music sung by traditional Langhas and Manganiyars, brought especially from Barmer in Rajasthan.

They are famous for their classical folk music. Being hereditary professional musicians, they were under the patronage of wealthy landlords and aristocrats for generations.

Their songs are passed on, as a form of the oral history of the desert. The traditional benefactors of the Manganiars are Rajputs, while the Langhas have a similar relationship with the Sindhi-Sipahi, a community of Muslim Rajputs. 

Sufi philosophy is universal in nature, though some Muslims consider Sufism outside the sphere of Islam.

While all Muslims believe that they are on the pathway to God and hope to become close to God in Paradise after the “Final Judgment” – Sufis believe that it is possible to draw closer to God in this life itself.

They aim to please God by working to restore within themselves the primordial state of fitra, described in the Quran. In this state, nothing one does defy God, and all is undertaken with the single motivation of love of God.

Sufism, which is a general term for Muslim mysticism, was originally a response to the increasing worldly power of Islamic leaders who attracted negative attention for their lavish lifestyles, including gold and silver tableware, extensive harems and numerous slaves and retainers, that stood in contrast to the relative simplicity of Prophet Muhammad’s life.

The typical early Sufi lived in a cell of a mosque and taught a small band of disciples, proving that through self-discipline and concentration on God, by quelling the self, and with a passion to be one with God, it is possible to maintain a union with the divine in which the human self melts away.

Dressed in white pathani suits and topis, the Rajab Ali group of eight singers set off through their music, to turn away our hearts from all else but God, to travel into the presence of the Divine. Their rich voices with a rustic charm melted away the urban stress and the associated maladies.

A strong presence beckoned and took me along to an unknown world that is filled with peace and bliss.
Sachin Tendulkar and his wife Anjali were sitting at the next table and listening to the music. Though Taj Falaknuma hosts many celebrities, the young qawwali singers were quite excited to have Sachin in the audience. After the concert, Sachin posed with them for pictures.

Sattar Langha, the main singer in his teens, beamed saying, “Oh! I am a great fan of Sachin.” For all I know, Sachin himself was admiring the boy’s singing. Sporting a pretty Rajasthani ajrak scarf around his slender frame, Sattar is totally a different person when he is performing.

Blessed with a rich voice and a true desire to be one with the Divine, he sings with a gusto that totally mesmerises.

After ‘Allah Hu’, I requested for ‘Chaap tilak’ and they obliged. Raag Bilawal unfolded with impressive taans in young Sattar’s incredible voice, as the kadthal kept the beat.

When they moved on to ‘Damadam mast kalandhar’, the Joie de vivre was contagious, with everyone clapping.

None of them is formally trained in classical music, but they sing perfectly, never straying from the grammar of the raag. Roshan Ali of the group disclosed, “Sangeet hamaraa ang ang mein hai. We listen to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, Abida Parveen et al, do riyaz and master those tunes.”

In Carnatic music, he admires M S Subbulakshmi, “Unki layakari, adakari bahut hi ache hain.”
Sufis believe that it is possible to draw closer to God in this life itself. It’s true, listening to Sufi music at dusk when light meets dark, you are closer to the ultimate truth!

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The New Indian Express