Monday, July 18, 2011
Hyderabad, India: It was a scorching day in June when sun spews fire and people look for shades and wait for sunset but not this gathering of about 150 people.
Braving the scorching heat, they are huddled together in a veranda of the shrine of great Sufi poet Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai, held spellbound, listen to a group of eight Faqirs, all clad in black, and singing stanzas from Sur Samoondi.
Besides their message of love and harmony, Shah’s poetry and music compositions have always been popular among Sindh’s old and young.
The tradition of Faqirs singing at the shrine is 300-year old. They sing Shah’s verses to the accompaniment of Tambooro (a variation of an Arabic stringed instrument, invented by Shah Latif) almost round the clock.
There are 80 Faqirs who sing in 14 groups with each group assigned a day or a night.
Anwar Khaskheli, the lead singer of his group, said he belonged to a family of singers. His father Gul Mohammad was an Ustad and his grandfather also sang at the shrine.
There is no fixed number of Faqirs in a group and no age bar to be a member. Some groups have four members and others have up to 12.
A singing session usually starts with Sur Kalyan, opening chapter of Shah jo Risalo, the anthology of Shah Latif, flowed by other Surs, according to time of the day and season.
In monsoon, Sur Sarang (the rain raga) is sung and on the 14th night of a lunar month, Sur Khambhat is sung. Shah addresses moon in Sur Khambhat as he praises the beauty of his beloved and narrates the pain of separation.
In the middle of the session comes Sur Suhni with a particular prayer called Suhni ji Dua.
The popular Sur Rano is sung at late night and the session comes ends with Sur Marui early in the morning.
The culture department, according to officials, pays a meagre amount of Rs30,000 [U$D 662.--] a year to each Faqir.
But everyone does not get this amount. Anwar Khaskheli, who has been singing at the shrine for 32 years, said that only 60 of the 80 Faqirs were receiving the stipend, often not paid on time.
Anwar Faqir said that there were around 15 people who were learning Bhitai’s Raag. There was no effective arrangement by the government for the promotion of the Raag, he said.
Although the provincial culture department has set up the Shah Abdul Latif Music School in Bhit Shah it lacks facilities and has only two teachers.
Mostly, etiquettes of Raag and musical techniques are taught by the Faqirs out of the school.
Juman Shah, the most prominent among the singers who also teaches at the school, said that Sur Samoondi (seaman) was easy to sing. Therefore, they start the first lesson with this Sur.
“Initially, a Sur (raga) and its Baits (form based on an Arabic genre) is taught to students; then comes the teaching of Waee (lyric),” he said.
Juman Faqir Lanjwani, leader of Monday`s group, said: “Singing Waee is more difficult. One has to undergo continuous practice (Riaz) for hours on end to perfect grip over Waee.”
The Faqirs’ love for Bhitai’s Raag is evident from the fact that they are transferring the art to their children. Miral Shah, a fresh graduate in Information Technology, has learnt the art from his father Jumman Shah and sings with him at the shrine.
Anyone can join a group and start learning Shah’s music. The only condition is his knowledge of Sindhi language.
Jumman Faqir said anyone could join them and learn music. One needs resolve, burning passion and commitment to step into Sufi music and it takes around five years to master the art.
Faqir Talib Hussain, custodian of Tamar Faqir’s shrine, the senior most disciple of Bhitai, says that singing runs in family and it is their ancestral profession.
He complained that there was no facility for treatment and the yearly stipend was meagre. But in spite of that they continued to spread Bhitai’s message to as many people as possible.
Lanjwani Faqir said Tambooro was prepared also in Bhit Shah but good quality instrument was made by Abdul Haq alias Adli of Ali Sher Leghari village near Shahdadpur. Tambooro is made from four kinds of wood, including black wood of Talhi and Babool.
Jumman Shah, who has performed in over 22 countries, said that Faqirs’ style of singing had not changed over the past 300 years and it was still attracting more and more people.
People come in droves to the shrine to listen to this music that illuminates one’s soul, raises it from the ground.