Kashmiri Sufiyana Music: A broken note

‘There is a need to institutionalise Sufiyana gharanas’
Kashmiri Sufiyana Music: A broken note
Representational Pic

For him music was the language of feeling and of passion, whereas enriching poetry he would sing was the language of reason, describes Mushtaq Ahmad Saznawaz, a prominent Sufiyana lead music artist about his legendary father and sufiyana music maestro, Ustad Ghulam Muhammad Saaznawaz.

He goes on to say when you would strike a chord with him—asking him about his musical journey, he would take you to his early life rhythmically and share his stint with the then Sufiyana legends. In Jammu and Kashmir, Ustad Ghulam Muhammad Saaznawaz has a vast contribution in Kashmiri Sufiyana music from playing various ‘Maqaams’ (raggas) and using some of the rich poetry in this genre.

Ustad Saznawaz was among the very few masters of Kashmiri Sufiyana music – popularly known as Sufiyana Mausiiquii across Jammu Kashmir, who would know how to carry forward this genre of music. He left a legacy of Sufiyana Mausiiquii behind as his sons, including Mushtaq, have been leading from the front to preserve and promote this dying form of music.

‘Story of Sufiyana & Saznawaz’

Sufiyana music maestro, Ustad Ghulam Muhammad Saaznawaz was born in 1940 at Danamazar, Safa Kadal area of summer capital Srinagar.

Since his childhood, Saznawaz started learning the art of Sufiyana from his father, the music maestro, Ustad Ramzan Joo—who too had earned name and fame from all quarters here. A child prodigy, Ustad Saznawaz was able to play all the five instruments like Santoor, Sitar, Tabla, Saz-e-Kashmir and Madham - All these instruments are vital in Kashmiri Sufiyana orchestra – the combination of all the five instruments musically called as ‘Panjhatheyari’.

“My father had seen difficult phases of Sufiyana music. He learned and mastered the art from his father and uncles as our family was bestowed with the music maestros. Our family (Saznawaz family) became instrumental in making Sufiyana a national and people’s music in the region,” donning a traditional Karakul (Skull Cap), Mushtaq Saaznawaz says.

“With the limited resources back then, their (my father and forefathers) contribution and commitment towards promoting the Sufiyana can never be ignored,” he says.

He says that Ustad Saaznawaz, a passionate and committed disciple of his father, Ustad Ramzan Joo, started accompanying him during the live Radio musical shows or orchestras which earned a lot of fame among the culturally enriched people of Kashmir Valley.

“Some of the ragas and maqams that we used to play during time became so popular that we used to get our fans visiting us every day at our residence,” he says.

“That was the only golden period of Sufiyana Mousiqi, which I have ever gone through,” holding mallets, (Qalams) in his hands,” says Saznawaz.

Having seen his dedication and commitment towards playing the traditional Kashmiri Sufiyana, the authorities at Radio Kashmir were really impressed by his presentations and he was later employed at Radio Kashmir as staff artist where he subsequently earned his name and fame.

‘Institutionalising Sufiyana’

Ustad Ghulam Muhammad Saaznawaz had to face a tough time in creating a space for the Sufiyana music lovers. Few years back he started an institution, ‘Saaznawaz Sufiyana Training Institute’, where he was imparting free teaching to students to keep the Sufiyana tradition alive and the strings of santoor sticking. However; Mushtaq says that unfortunately this place would remain mostly deserted as he would hardly get any young students to learn the art.

“Even after he opened a school to teach Kashmiri Sufiyana Music free of charge, this school didn’t not attract many students from Kashmir because of social prejudice among the majority of Kashmiris,” he says. “This is sad but it’s true that still musicians are considered as of a lower class and as if they cannot do something useful that’s why they chose to be musicians,” sobs Mushtaq Saznawaz.

Ustad Saaznawaaz is among very few masters of Kashmiri Sufiyana music, who had mastered certain Maqams in Sufi Mousiqi. Some of the other Sufiyana artists say that the most tragic part of Kashmiri Sufiyana music would be that with the maestro Ghulam Muhamad Saznawaz, the art will be lost to posterity.

A Sangeet Natak Akademi awardee, Ustad Saznawaz was also honoured by ‘Tulsi’ award by Madhya Pradesh.

Another living maestro Ustad Muhammad Yaqoob Sheikh, the grandson of legendary master Ghulam Muhammad Kaleenbaaft, figures among AIR’s three top-grade composers in Kashmir, along with Saznawaaz. Sheikh has the distinction of being the first maestro who trained someone outside the gharana. Sheikh, who has trained over 50 students in Sufiana, including over 15 girls for the first time in over 100 years says that the “Sufiyana has been restricted to Radio Kashmir studios”. He says that nothing was being done on the state level to attract attention towards this dying art.

“Kashmir has a distinction in a lot of things, Sufiyana was one such quality. If we don’t start feeling for this art, we will lose a treasure,” he says.

“Our artists die unsung,” he says, “But the government is busy organising events that have no relevance to us and to our culture.”

Ustad Sheikh believes a lot can be done to revive Sufiyana Mausiqi. He urged the government to organize concerts and provide a platform to students so that they can showcase their talent and encourage others to join as well.

“In Kashmir, if you want Sufiyana to survive, we need to start giving music classes in schools and colleges. It needs mass participation and setting up small music schools in districts and offering scholarships to students would help a lot,” he says.

He says that organising programmes and concerts in which prominent Sufiyana artists participate should be encouraged across the Valley as peoples’ interest in Sufiyana has diminished over the years.

Kashmiri Sufiyana Music (classical) is usually known as Sufiyana Kalam. Sufiyana is a word derived from Sufi which means mystic and Kalaam means poetry. This music is acoustically based on divisions of different maqams, the way Indian classical music is based on various ragas. The maqams are sung at appropriate hours during the day or night.

‘Documenting Dying Sufiyana’

There is not much work done on Sufiyana to preserve it or make it available for masses. However, in a move to pay tribute to the Sufiyana masters, a series of films tracing the history of Kashmiri Sufiyana music across Kashmir. Films on Kashmiri ‘Sufiyana Music' have been made by some of the local filmmakers, aiming to document the lost legacy of this genre of music.

These handful of films, mostly done for DDK, attempt to throw light on various aspects of Sufiyana as an art, its evolution and the artists. However an in-depth research is yet to come up which can show the richness of Kashmiri Sufiyana music which still has a chance to enthral and reverberate across the picturesque Himalayan Valley of Kashmir.

“We have been organising programmes and concerts in which prominent Sufiyana artists participate. This year only, we had organised a music festival in SP College where Sufiyana Mausiqi was very well received,” says an official at J&K Academy of Art, Culture and Languages (JKAACL.

However, he also believes that peoples’ interest in popular Sufiyana has diminished over the years. But he immediately claims that it won’t become extinct as many organisations like JKAACL were busy organising festivals and various state level events for promoting this genre of music across the state.

“Again, organising events or festivals can be one of the efforts to save this genre of music. There are many other things that can be done like, organising workshops or series of lectures for the artists where they are taught it in detail,” he said, adding “the Music and Fine Arts College now doesn’t come under our supervision, I think that too can play a vital role. But we can help in promotional activities and I believe we are doing our best in that.”

He said that the government was also working on documenting the various genres of music across the region.

‘On Historical Note’

‘Films on Kashmiri Sufiyana Music' - a film on Kashmir’s dying Sufiyana, traces the theme historically, profiles many exponents, and explores diverse renderings of Sufiyana music and highlights musical instruments used in this genre. Though no credible information is available as to the period of its origin, some historians believe that Sufiyana music was introduced in Kashmir in the 15th century. They also believed that during the reign of Sultan Zain-Ul-Abideen, the popular king Kashmir has known, Sufiana music received a major boost.

Historians trace the King saying that “Music is a powerful art which can bring greenery and freshness to dry plants.”

Historians also say that for centuries, Kashmir has had a history of invasions by outside forces to subjugate people by perpetual use of force and apart from persecution and plunder; the worst hit has always been the culture of the picturesque land. They say that Sufiyana music, a very old tradition, was like a string that would amaze people for years together.

“The music that entertained people for a long time is on the verge of extinction, because of societal inaction and due to changing trends in Kashmir. The string of Sufiyana has almost broken,” noted singer and music composer Munir Ahmad Mir says.

“Unless and until society doesn’t learn to respect art and artists, every art will have to face the situation across Kashmir,” he adds. He also says that for Sufiyana, an urgent action was needed to save it from extinction.

Only a few families in Kashmir practiced this musical genre, whereas the maestros like Ustad Ghulam Muhammed Qaleenbaaft, Ustad Ghulam Muhammed Saaznawaz and Ustad Abdul Ghani Ganaie (Namtahali) contributed to impart to their family members and were/are practicing artists.

The maestros inherited from their forefathers – the elite class of masters like Ramzan Joo, Sidh Joo, Abdullah Shah, Muhammed Abdullah Tibetbaqal and Qaleenbaaft– the art of Sufiana Mousiqee and devoted their life to the art which unfortunately is dying due to public insensitivity.

“Not only this classical Kashmiri music (Sufiyana) genre but I think all the forms of music in Kashmir are at the verge of death—reason being government apathy and our insensitivity toward the art and artists,” Valley’s popular vocalist and music composer, Waheed Jeelani says.

“Due to the lack of a state cultural policy, the government doesn’t have any plans to revive, promote or preserve the contribution of our legendary Sufiyana or the artists,” Jeelani says.

He also blames what he calls some of the highly “influenced authors and poets” who take money from the government or New Delhi in the name of “culture” and spend on their own activities known to them.

“These people (poets and authors) get funded by the government at every level,” he alleges.

He says even former governments had approved crores for digitization of writings of some authors across J&K, but nothing was done on the music front. “In performing arts including our Sufiyana music neither these artists are considered for any award nor any step is taken to preserve their rich and huge contribution,” laments Jeelani.

Artist’s community in Kashmir say that the indifference was primarily the direct result of lack of government and state patronage.

Sufiyana Kalam is the most exemplary form of Kashmir’s classical music. Initially linked to the spiritual tradition of Sufism, its repertoire is made up of vocal and instrumental compositions called maqam, which are centred on the interpretation of sung mystical poems in Kashmiri, Persian and Urdu. This music is traditionally played during long night sessions called mehfil, during which the spiritual master (pir, shaykh) and his disciples come together to meditate on the meaning of the verses, all the while letting themselves be penetrated by the beauty of voices and instrumental timbres.

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.”

‘Revival of Sufiyana’

Many initiatives were taken in recent times to revive this genre of music. However it couldn’t reach to its logical conclusion. In north Kashmir’s Ganastan area of Sumbal Sonawari, the village reverberates with mystical voices of five young girls. These young girls are playing a musical instrument and singing melodies of Kashmiri Sufiyana Mausiiquii (music).

Music critics say that the entry of girls into sufiyana was a sigh of relief. “In recent years, girls have come forward and showed interest in learning this music and this was supposed to be a positive sign,” music critic, saxophone player and founding member Kashmir Rabab Academy, Ruhuallah Mirza says.

“More and more youngsters should come forward to take this musical legacy ahead then we can see some great signs,” Mirza says, adding “‘There is a need to ‘institutionalise Sufiyana gharanas across Kashmir and patronise them for wooing more and more youngsters to this art form.”

Famous theatrist and actor, Ayash Arif, while commenting on the music scene of the region, says that there were many initiatives needed to uplift the standard of the artists of the region. “We have a rich legacy. Sufiyana music has the distinction of being a unique genre in the Indian classical musical scene and we all must do our bit to preserve it.”

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