Monday, November 25, 2013

Sama - Muslim Mystic Music of India Documentary

I thoroughly enjoyed, felt inspired and improved my knowledge about Muslim mystic music of India as well as Islam, by watching a documentary Sama. Some info. about it from its webpage, It is financed by the Governement of India.

SAMA – MUSLIM MYSTIC MUSIC OF INDIA | SHAZIA KHAN | 52 min | Kashmiri, Malyalam, Assamese, Bengali, Rajasthani, Tamil, Hindi , English | 2113

The Film explores the Islamic music traditions in India and portrays how they have borrowed and taken inspiration from the culture of the India, in both form and content, to become a truly magnificent sound. The Film discovers that connection which allows the artiste to become one with the creator and experience peace, calm, serenity and joy.

--- end webpage extract ---

I saw it on youtube here:, 52 min, 01 sec.

It starts with a Tamil Muslim song which I loved and a simple yet very powerful quote from the Quran:

Quran Surah 2 (Al-Baqarah) Ayat 152 - Remember Me and I will remember you.

The Tamil Muslim song is Eganae Ya Allah (by Nagore Saints, it seems).

Around 03:00: Then it moves to Kerala and mentions that Arab traders had contacts with Kerala prior to Islam and that paved the way for Islamic preachers to come to Kerala. It then has a still with the following message:

The Indian Ocean's commercial connections, circa 7th century AD, brought Islam here. But there have been other ways: soldiers, ruling dynasties and Sufis. Over 1,400 years of shared history with Hinduism in the region, Islam here continues to evolve. Creating a new culture, which is broadly Islamic, but whose principal characteristics are heterodox and indigenous.
---end message---

Then we have a mappila paattu (traditional Islamic songs of Muslim Malabar Kerala) from a couple of young girls singing clearly and melodiously but without any music support.

The cultural blending of Indian and Arabian music styles is talked about, and how the mappila paattu moved from pre-Islamic themes to Islamic themes.

Then there was an interesting still with the message:
Mid-13th century AD, the Delhi Sultanate under Shams ud-Din Iltutmish became a refuge for people fleeing the Mongol onslaught on Baghdad and the Caliphate. Sufis were part of this exodus, too. They arrived, settled and began to discover traditions similar to theirs. Wandering across the land, they assimilated local customs. In time, they became the biggest exponent of the spread of Islam in India.
--- end message ---

Hmm. What I had read earlier about famous Sufis coming to India from Muslim lands like Iraq gave the impression that they were sent here to spread the Islamic faith. I don't recall those articles mentioning the push-factor of the horrific Mongol sack of Baghdad (and caliphate in general). [The 8th para in this link describes the horrific sack of Baghdad, the epicentre of Islamic civilization then, by the Mongols in 1258, lasting for a week, - Baghdad was utterly destroyed]. As is the case in most such moves/migrations I think both the push-factor of the Mongol destruction as well as the pull-factor of an Islamic sultanate in Delhi would have led some of the Caliphate religious leaders including Sufis to move to India. I think this piece of vital info. from this film improves my understanding of Indian Islamic history quite a bit.

Around 07:50: Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti's shrine in Ajmer is covered with some historical background and a qawwali song sung in the shrine.

Around 11:05: Jodhpur, Rajasthan is next featuring Muslim singers who sing (and for generations have sung) Hindu bhajans to Rajput kings as well as Muslim songs (for others). Their way of life is an interesting blend of Hinduism and Islam.

I loved the mystical view presented by one song (I think the video mentioned Bulleh Shah in this context), translation given below:
God is within, around, up and above
this, my friend, is a profound lesson.
Recite the name of the Almighty,
and the veil of separation will melt away,
the Prophet's guiding light will meet you then.
The holy Kaaba is a place within me,
I wonder who blessed me with it.
Within is a temple, a mosque and the God too.

Around 17:30: Assam comes next. A monastery head priest talks about a founder, named Sankardev, of a (Hindu) sect who gave importance to congregational chanting & singing (Naam Kirtan) and worship of one God. Here's his wiki page.
Then we have a message:
The Islamic tradition of meditative invocation or chanting God's ninety-nine names is called ZIKR. Hazrat Shah Miran who came from Baghdad in the 17th century introduced this devotional concept of remembrance in Assam. He gave the first Azaan (Muslim call of prayer) here and came to be known as Ajan Pir (Spiritual leader).
--- end message ---
Here's the wiki page for Ajan Pir.

An Islamic leader says that Ajan Pir created the ZIKR which is Islamic but borrowed the music from the Vaishnavite sect. The (Hindu) monastry priest says that Ajan Pir was influenced by Sankardev's philosophy and the similarity between Islam and that philosophy. God is one.

Then we have a Hindu song and later, a Muslim song from the Ajan Pir group.

Then the Islamic leader says (translated), "The purpose of practicing Zikr in short is to have a union with God. When one's whole being calls out to the Almighty (Allah) it is only then one achieves communion. In that moment, the person transcends the physical world. Nothing remains but Allah Allah Allah."

Around 24:30: The scene shifts to snow and Jammu and Kashmir.
We have an Islamic song.

About Sufism, a veteran Islamic folk music man says (translated), "A Sufi would be someone who is pure hearted - there is nothing malicious about him. He should have found his connection to God - recognition of Divinity is the core of this process. A Sufi would be conscious of the present, living in the now... alive. He is fearless. The life of a Sufi and a common man is very different. How exactly? The Sufi is no longer scared of dying - he does not have materialistic concerns. If he is on this path, he trusts the power that fed him in his mother's womb where even his mother's hands could not reach. He keeps the faith that Allah will provide for him because God has ordained that he is responsible for food, death and destiny. The rest is man's free will."

He goes on later to say (translated), "Certain sects of the Islamic society consider the Sufis deranged - giving them several irreverent names - but a true Sufi will be above these debates ... if he is not, then he has strayed from the path, irrespective he has to keep moving on."

We have a song and lovely santoor music (if I got it right) on a beautiful lake (Dal lake?).

Then one of the musicians says (translated), "The practice of Sama (audition gatherings) and music in Sufism is like a rosary. Man carries within his being the music of creation, the beating of his heart is Sufi music, it is the real mystic music. A sort of music that gives you peace, placates your soul; not a temporary respite. When one hears the call of Azaan, one is enthused with divine energy. Leaving all material engagements, we offer our obeisance to the Almighty. This is the call of Sama. That which draws you to virtue and takes you away from the immoral. (That is called real music. That is called real Sama.)"

Around 37:00: The scene shifts to a Baul music festival in Kolkata, East India and then a village in Bengal, East India.

Baul folk musician-fakirs say (translated), "Saint Lalon's songs are about humanity. People across religions can follow this path. Music is the medium through which we seek enlightenment, our music is very introspective. (Interviewer) Is your path to Allah same as the Quran teaches? (Musician-fakirs answer) The same! This asceticism is the essence of Quran. Read the Quran, you will know the path to God. Each page is an ode to humanity. The Quran mentions two Meccas. One in the Arab lands and the other is within you. God resides here (speaker places his hand on his heart/chest), not in Arab lands. Music for us is a high, as well as our livelihood. If we are not performing, we will be singing away at home. Through music we pay our respects to our masters."
"Amongst us Hindus are called Bauls and Muslims are called Fakirs. We follow the same philosophy, we are one." ... "To hell with divides. We are all humans. One is not born a priest or a cobbler. Death finds us all whether you live under a tree or in a five star hotel - whether you are a Hindu or a Muslim."

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