Mysticism & Folk-Consciousness in the Sufi Song

“Dama Dum Mast Kalandar” and the emergence of Sufism in India
Pallavi Mishra

Pallavi Mishra

Assistant Professor, Government PG College, Doiwala, Dehradun



Abstract: The song Dama Dum Mast Kalander is an evident example of the presence of folk in the city. Bearing a transnational nature, this folklore (as is a definite feature of folklore), cannot be rooted out by modernity. Modernization as such, had been traumatic for many social groups in the Asian nations. The inclusive, secular note in the song has made it a number that is refreshing, energetic, universal and permanent. It is liberating; emerging beyond groups, factions, boundaries, identifying connections that would otherwise go unnoticed. Ever since it is sung, the audience of the song has nodded and swayed to its lyrics and music. As it is sung and played over any stage of the world, a spontaneous connection between the audience and the singer gets created and the listening automatically turns participatory. The song gets transformed into a cultural behavior that gets communicated to the group through the mode of performance that is ritualistic, verbal and expressive, personal joy that becomes public sharing of that joy. Mysticism, being the temper inherent in an artist reveals the element of cosmic oneness and its experience of it within him; it can be called the source of the origin of the “Vision” that inspires him deep within and bursts forth through the created artifact, which, in this context, is a “song”. The singer of the song, inadvertently, becomes a mystic.

Key Words: Unio mystica, Sufism, Dhamal, Customs, Rites, Collectivity, Folklore, Consciousness.

Almost every Sufi singer over the sub-continent has immersed himself into the magic of “Lal Meri Pat Rakhiyo Bala”. The universality inherent in the song and its mysticism has touched the chord of every human heart irrespective of the border-lines simultaneously overlapping all religious boundaries. It is the inherent characteristic of any folk-song that it can bind people together and thus can resonate with its global, local, national or international audience. Deeply connected to the social process and its functioning any folk-song cannot exist on its own and needs to work within the context of society and community; simultaneously maintaining standard cultural values while doing so. In the song, we can perceive an unending pursuit for that Divine that is omnipresent in all elemental forms. A loving impulse for the Divine restricts the moralizing strain to some extent and there is a sense of immersion in the love and power of the Divine whose presence inside the hearts is in the form of love. Passionate and ecstatic, spiritual and entrancing, Sufi music and this song in particular, acts as a uniquely valuable bridge between East and West reflecting the most accessible, liberal and pluralistic aspects of Islam. The song acts as a strong cultural symbol that advocates national and ethnic pride.

 Written and sung in the honor of Sufi mystic saint, “Hazrat Lal Shahbaz Qalander” (Usman Marvandhi), every word of his name used in the qawwali has a meaning- he was known as Hazrat (Holiness), Lal (he wore red robes, also mothers fondly call their kid as Lal in Punjab and nearby region, Shahbaz (Shah- King and Baz- Falcon, king of Falcons and in Iranian mythology represent godly figure who led them to victory, divine spirit), and finally Qalander (a Qalandari- a Sufi saint, poet, mystic, noble man). He settled in Serwan (Sindh, now in Pakistan) and tried bringing peace between Hindus and Muslims.

 (O, Laal meri pat rakhio bla jhoole Laalan, Sindri da Sehran da, Sakhi Shahabad Kalandar, Dama Dam Mast Qalander, Ali dam dam de andar)
“O the red robed, may I always have your benign protection, Jhulelal (as he was affectionately called). O master, friend and Sire of Sind and Sehwan (Or Serwan), The Red robed God- intoxicated Qalander, The Lord in every breath of mine, glory be to you.”
Nicholson writes, “...the Sufis adopt the symbolic style because there is no other possible way of interpreting mystical experience. So little does knowledge of the infinite revealed in ecstatic vision need an artificial disguise that it cannot be communicated at all except through types and emblems drawn from the sensible world, which, imperfect as they are, may suggest and shadow forth a deeper meaning than appears on the surface.”

(Char Charaag tere baran hamesha, Panjwa mein baaran aayi bala jhoole laalan O Panjwa mein baaran, O panjwa mein baaran aayi bala jhoole Laalan, Sindri da Sehvan da, Sakhi Shahabad Qalander, Dama dam mast Qalander, Ali dam dam de andar)

“Your shrine is always lighted with four lamps, and here I come to light a fifth lamp in your honor. Here, I come with fifth O master, friend and Sire of Sind and Sehwan (or Serwan), the red robbed God- intoxicated Qalander, and The Lord in every breath of mine, glory is to you.”
 A deep, tender, ethereal feeling omnipresent inside a poet, a singer of the soul and of the Divine, finds none who sings as if he had a deep communion with the Over soul and has felt His presence, his soothing calmness and divinity through this oneness. The song reflects the inner truth of Sufism, a belief system and discipline free from the confines of time and place, that people from diverse cultural backgrounds and all walks of life, who are, yet, seeking a common pathway to an eternal and transcendent truth, can call themselves Sufis.

(Hind Sind (some also sing Ghanan ghanan) peera Teri naubat vaaje, Naal vaje ghadiyaal bala jhoole laalan, O naal vaje, O naal vaje ghadiyaal bala jhoole Laalan)
“Let your heroic name ring out in Hind Sind (or lets the gongs bell loud), Let the gong ring loud for your glory day and night by the people (ghadiyaal- watchman, symbolism of night.”

 (Har dam peera Teri khair hove, Naam-e- Ali Beda paar laga jhoole laalan, O naam-e-mAli, O naam-e-Ali Beda paar laga jhoole Laalan, Sindri da Sehran da Sakhi Shabaaz Qalander, Dama dam mast Qalander, Ali dam dam de andar)
“ O Lord, may you prevail every time, everywhere, I pray of your well-being, In the name of Ali, I pray to you to help my boat cross in safety (in the river of life)” A mystic has apprehensions of a world of divine reality behind and within the ordinary world sense perceptions.

The song, a replica of the love for God is the quest for the absolute truth as the truth finds its absoluteness in God. Love can happen when there is a foundation of faith that becomes the basis of the relation between the seeker and the sought. As E. Underhill remarks, “It is name of the organic process which involves the perfect consummation of the love of God...it is the art off establishing his conscious relation with the absolute.”

McGinn notes that the term unio mystica, although it has Christian origins, is primarily a modern expression. McGinn argues that ‘presence’ is more accurate than union since not all mystics spoke of union with God, and since many visions and miracles were not necessarily related to union. He also argues that we should speak of “consciousness’ of God’s presence, rather than of “experience”, since mystical activity is not simply about the sensation of God as an external object, but more broadly about “new ways of owing and loving based on states of awareness in which God becomes present in our inner acts.
It is necessary to remember that the verbal explanation of an experience is different from the experience itself. The word ‘water’ or its description does not quench thirst, its drinking does. Imagining the Divine will not lead to understanding the Divine, inner discovery will. Ceremonies will not open the door towards unity; Divine unity is attained through passing from the limited self and dissolving in Divinity, without any medium.

 Sung by Sayed Muhammad Usman Marwandi, also known as Lal Shahbaz Qalander, a Sufi philosopher poet; the mysticism and the quest for divinity in the song made it into an immortal piece with which every human soul connects spontaneously. Lal Shahbaz Qalander belonged to the Suhrawardi order of Sufis and Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai, Makhdoom Bilawal and Sachal Sarmast were his noted disciples. ‘Qalander’ is a type of dervish who is generally dressed in beggars’ clothes, likes poverty and austerity and has no permanent dwelling. He was lal(red) because of his red attire, Shahbaz due to his noble and divine spirit that soared like a falcon higher and higher in the boundless heavens and Qalander since he belonged to Qalandria order of Sufis and was saintly exalted and intoxicated with love for eternal being of God.

Preaching brotherhood among Muslims and Hindus; this mysticism attracted people from all religions. “Shahbaz” denotes a noble and divine spirit and Qalander his Sufi affiliation. The inner sanctum of his shrine is about 100 yards square with the silver canopied grave in the middle. On one side of the marble floor is a row of about 12 inch high folding wooden stands on which are set copies of Quraan for devotees to read. Folk architecture is concerned with all traditional aspects of buildings, the shapes, sizes and its lay outs, the material used and the tools and techniques of building, the sites chosen and the placement of these buildings. On the other side of the marble floor, beside a bundle of burning joss sticks are rows of diyas lighted by Hindu devotees. The Hindus regarded him as the incarnation of Bhartihari, the saintly brother of King Vikramaditya, who is believed to have worshipped Shiva at the venue where lal Shahbaz’s shrine is situated with all its glory and grandeur.

Customs evolve gradually and hence they are obeyed mostly in a natural, spontaneous manner. Once established, they gain grounds to become firm and are implicitly obeyed with least resistance by the majority of the people. The sole justification for following the custom is that it has been in existence since a long time. To quote McDougall, “The ends and purposes of many customs are lost in the midst of antiquity. No single theory or explanation can be offered about the origin of custom. Numerous customs have arisen in different ways to satisfy the varied needs of man.” The art, crafts, songs of the folk denotes a connectivity that renders unity and a sense of oneness implying a strong sense of collectivity amongst the masses.

A devotional dance known as dhamal, being a frenzied and ecstatic swirl of the head and body, is a special ritual that is performed at the rhythmic beat of the dhol (a big barrel shaped drum), some of them being of giant size and placed in the courtyard of the shrine.
Any item having artistic or utilitarian functions that is handmade and has been passed down by tradition come under crafts as it has immense aesthetic appeal and requires workmanship. Bells, gongs, cymbals and horns make a thunderous din, and the dervishes, clad in long robes, beads, bracelets and colored head-bands whirl faster and faster in a hypnotic trance, until with a final deafening scream they run wildly through the doors of the shrine to the courtyard beyond. The clothing worn for the ritual and the positions of the body during the spinning is highly symbolic. The song creates a strong sense of body- awareness and is psychologically determined.

Despite being a dance, drama and theatricality are absent, while a genuine self-assurance takes over with a frank satisfaction in the participatory music. For instance, the tall camel-hair hat represents the tomb of the ego, the white cloak represents the ego’s shroud, and the uplifted right hand indicates readiness to receive grace from visionary God. Mysticism involves an explanatory context, which provides meaning for so-called mystical and visionary experiences, and related experiences like trances. Dan Merkur writes, Mysticism may relate to any kind of ecstasy or altered state of consciousness and the ideas and explanations related to them. In a similar vein, Peter Moore asserts that mystical experience may also happen in a spontaneous and natural way, to people who are not committed to any religious tradition. These experiences are not necessarily interpreted in a religious framework.

Human love provides a paradigm for divine love in many bhakti traditions, and folk versions of great love-tales are continuous with these traditions. In Sufism, great seers and mystics have penned immortal lyrics celebrating God as the eternal lover and the aspirant soul as the eager bride or expectant lover. The seers significantly compose their lyrics in colloquial idioms and regional languages as opposed to priestly and ritual languages. Any kind of folklore has been continuously enriched by this mystic stream and ordinary feelings are often clothed in the words of traditions. Through their transcendence, their relation to God is such that in them the Divine personality seems to reflect itself and through them is revealed to his followers, and the Grace of God is dispensed to those who invoke God in his name. The song is a dance with mysticism ushering in a quest for direct personal experience of God.

Born in Arabia, it came to India following the Muslim conquerors. The Sufi saints of India belong to the category of “Good- conscious men” as characterized by Tagore, who stood above all narrow and parochial divisions of society, stroving to find a unity for the heterogeneous elements that make up its totality. The Arabs laid stress on asceticism and disciplining of the body, while the later Sufis in Iran and India; under influence of Greek philosophy, Platonic Ideology, Christian faith, Vedantist thinking, Buddhist lore etc. believed in leading an emotionally rich life. They wrote poetry, read it aloud in Dayars (circles), sang and danced. They had faith in God, loved the Prophet but maintained that the Murshid or Guru could also lead to realization of the Divine reality. The Indian Sufis laid stress on repeating the holy name (Jaap), concentration (Dhyan) and meditation (Habsk,m-i-dam). Sufi maintained that the soul has been separated from the Divine reality and supreme mission of human life is to achieve reunion with God.
Sufis have the belief that there are four stages in one’s journey to realization.
(a) Leading a disciplined life as prescribed in Islam. (Shariat)
(b) Following the path delineated by the Murshid or Guru (Tariqat)
(c) Attaining enlightenment (Haqiqat)
(d) On realization of truth, getting merged with Divine Reality (Mariat).

Sufism in India was not confined to influencing a specific place or a shrine or a mosque and its units. Its impact was felt on the culture of the people, on the entire interlocking aspects such as environmental, geographical, social, artistic, economic and devotional.
Sufis helped Islam spread generously into prior polytheistic populations. Following the entrance of Islam in the early 8th century, Sufi mystic traditions became more visible during the 10th and 11th centuries of the Delhi Sultanate and after it to the rest of India. A conglomeration of four chronologically separate dynasties, the early Delhi Sultanate consisted of rulers from Turkic and Afghan lands. This Persian influence flooded South Asia with Islam, Sufi thought, syncretic values, literature, education and entertainment that created an enduring impact on the presence of Islam in India today. Sufi preachers, merchants and missionaries also settled in coastal Bengal and Gujarat through maritime voyages and trade. Various leaders of Sufi orders, Tariqa, chartered the first organized activities to introduce localities to Islam through Sufism. Saint figures and mythical stories provided solace and inspiration to Hindu caste communities often in rural villages of India. The Sufi teaching of divine spirituality, cosmic harmony, love and humanity resonated with the common people and still does so today. Sufism invoked secular and value based traditions, contributing to social harmony and peaceful co-existence when it was most needed. It helped in the process of acculturation and assimilation of a large mass of population that settled in India followed by the attacks on South Asia. The roots of Sufism espouses a well-founded and thorough going interpretation of religion focusing on love, tolerance, worship of God, community development and personal development through self-discipline and responsibility.

Music has always been present as a rich tradition among all Indian religions. As an influential medium to disperse ideas, music has appealed to people for generations. The audience in India was already familiar with hymns in their own languages. Thus, Sufi devotional singing was instantly successful among the populations. Music transmitted Sufi ideals seamlessly and sufi traditions encouraged poetry and music as part of education. ‘Sema’, is a ritual that began with the inspiration of Merlana Jalaluddin Rumi (1207- 1273) and was influenced by Turkish customs and culture. Rituals have social dimensions and can be easily observed in a group as it keeps the personal actions of an individual at bay and refrains from the recognition of personal egos and interests. Being an expressive form of a religion, rituals consist of a number of rites and a number of verbal or non- verbal communications. Contrary to popular belief, the Semazen’s goal is not to lose consciousness or to fall into a state of ecstasy. Instead, by revolving in harmony with all things in nature- with the smallest cells and with the stars in the firmament- the semazen testifies to the existence and the majesty of the Creator, thinks of Him, gives thanks to Him, and prays to Him. An important characteristic of this seven centuries old ritual, is that it unites the three fundamental component of human nature: the mind (as knowledge and thought), the heart (through the expression of feelings, poetry and music), and the body (by activating life, by the turning). These three elements are thoroughly joined both in theory and in practice as perhaps in no other ritual or system of thought.

Sufism spread widely with their teachings packaged in popular songs accessing mass demographies. Women were especially affected; often used to sing Sufi songs during the day and in female gatherings. These songs lift a barrier between gender and mystical experience. It makes it possible for women to be able to spiritually eschew a patriarchal ecclesiastical structure while remaining privy to mainstream interpretations of doctrine in the development of their spirituality. The experience of knowing God mystically comes from experiencing a feeling of pure love, regardless of gender. It rejects the connotation of vulnerability associated with women; by giving a meaning to their freedom. The tendency to be behind veil maintaining their Muslim identity gets subdued when it comes to participate and sing this song.

 One of the biggest contributors to the musical Sufi tradition was Amir Khusro (d.1325) known as the disciple of Nizamuddin Chisti. Amir was known as the most talented musical poet in the early Muslim period in India. Amir Khusro furthered the Chisti affiliation through this rising Sufi pop culture within India. Sufi scholars travelling from all over continental Asia were instrumental and influential in the social, economic and philosophic development of India. Besides preaching in major cities and centers of intellectual thought, Sufis reached out to poor and marginalized rural communities and preached in local dialects such as Urdu, Sindhi, Punjabi, Persian, Turkish and Arabic. Sufism emerged as a moral and comprehensive socio religious force that even influenced other religious traditions such as Hinduism. Their traditions of devotional practices and modest living attracted all people. Their teachings of humanity, love for God and Prophet continue to be surrounded by mystical tales and folk songs of today. They were firm in abstaining from religious and communal conflict and strived to be peaceful elements of civil society. Furthermore, it is the attitude of accommodation, adaptation, piety and charisma that continues to help Sufism remain as a pillar of mystical Islam in India.

Rumi, Hafiz, Bulleh Shah, Amir Khusrow, Khwaza Ghulam Farid are prominent Sufi poets. Deeply connected to the tradition of Sufism, this song undergoes continuous change in the way it is sung by different singers and is simultaneously continuous.
Abida Parveen, a Pakistani Sufi singer is one of the foremost exponents of Sufi music, considered the finest Sufi vocalists of the modern era. Sanam Marvi, another Pakistani singer has recently gained recognition for her Sufi vocal performances.

There have been instances of syncretic cooperation on music on Islamic and Hindu theme. The national poet of Bangladesh, Kazi Nazrul Islam, wrote a lot of Islamic devotional songs for the mainstream of Bengali folk music. He also explored Hindu devotional music by composing Shams Sangat, bhajans and kirtans, often merging Islamic and Hindu values. Nazrul’s poetry and songs explored the philosophy of Islam and Hinduism. A. R. Rahman, Asrar Shah, a Lahore based Sufi singer, Bengali singer Lalan Fakir, Junoon, a band from Pakistan, created the genre of Sufi rock by combining elements of modern hard rock and traditional folk music with Sufi poetry. Rabbi Shergill released a Sufi rock song called “Bulla ki Jaana” which became a chart- topper in India and Pakistan. Today, India is a contemporary epicenter for Sufi culture. Listening to the song is a cultural trip across the globe. The song satiates the desire of every individual soul of having a deepening relationship with the creator. It invariably, attempts to unite the musician and the listener with the Divine.

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