Last night I had the most delectable, soul-cleansing, spiritual healing musical experience! Farid Ayaz and Kawals were performing at Masjid el Farah at a Sufi Mehfil-e-Saman organized by Asma Society and my dear friend Asmi Sadiq. I had no idea what a treat this evening would be. Imagine sitting a few feet on comfortable floor chairs (with backs mind you) across from one of the best kawwali bands in Pakistan! And in a Sufi mosque no less- with its simple elegant interior with a touch of beauty (unlike regular mosques) and a welcoming feeling – come one, come all, as Rumi said so long ago.
As the music began, which is customary with kawwali, my emotions started to stir, and I became aware of this precious gift of being here in America, in the most posh of New York neighborhoods, yet in the most simplest of mosques, with the simplest of calls of faith – professing love of our Creator, and songs about our longing for the Divine. Asmi opened the evening with a beautiful reminder of the history of Sufism in the Subcontinent from Nizamuddin Auliya to Amir Khusro, and how many of the kawals, including Farid Ayaz trace back their origins to that tradition and lineage. In fact, the band was four brothers and two sons of the oldest brother. The tradition of this type of Sufi music is passed on generation to generation. I became present as I listened to the words and the throbbing music and clapping of the harmonious integration of so many cultures and faiths – the beautiful verses from the Quran blended with the soul touching ragas of India, the integration of Indian Hindu concepts in the poetry, Persian verses from Rumi and of course Urdu and Purbi (a dialect of India’s UP region) and Punjabi (another dialect from the north – one that I grew up listening to in my extended family). I was so appreciative of the love and care each and every culture that was encountered which showed in the music. And most of all, I was present to the creativity and excitement that is generated out of pure love for all that is in this world, and the longing for the Creator, who created us all.
The poetry, sometimes sung, sometimes delivered, sometimes without music, sometimes with music, and most of all the rhythmic clapping to the accompaniment of tabla, dhol and harmonium, is enough to transport one to another level of consciousness. I had tears in my eyes as I relished this experience and thanked God for allowing me to be part of this, right here, so far from its source and yet so profound and meaningful for our times and this place today. The message of love and unity of all, no matter what faith, is what our planet needs the most. It can touch the heart at the most atomic level, and as it did so many centuries ago in India, at the mass level, creating a new culture of appreciation and love. I left with that prayer for every single person in my family, and the family of our planet. Thank you God for this gift.