Qawwali, or Sufi devotional music, is practised around the world, but there are few places so atmospheric, nor offering such a fine example of the art as that found at the tomb of Hazrat Nizamuddin in East Delhi, an important pilgrimage centre for Sufis. Old Delhi is the city’s most atmospheric quarter: a rabbit warren of lanes and alleys where you’ll find open air butchers, hole-in-the-wall shops selling rose petals and attar, and of course the famous Karims, home to some of the capital’s finest kebabs. As the road narrows, you meet flower-sellers who lovingly pester you to buy a tray of flowers, sweets, or a chadur (cloth) to offer at the dargahs of Nizamuddin Aulia and Amir Khusrau. Thursday evenings is the time to come, at around sunset (8pm) Dress conservatively – this is a deeply sacred site for Muslims and Hindus alike in India – and come prepared for huge crowds. Hundreds of devotees generally come to these gatherings: these evenings offer a portal to a state of rapture or divine intoxication as the listeners become lost in the song and touch the divine state.
What should I expect?
A group of qawwali musicians, called a party (or Humnawa in Urdu), typically consists of eight or nine men including a lead singer, one or two side singers, one or two harmoniums and percussion. If you’re lucky this may include Meraj Ahmed Nizami, the 84 year old patriarch of the family who’ve been performing here for 40 years. More likely you’ll see Chand Nizami, his grandson, widely considered one of the finest Sufi singers in the world now: “His powerful voice electrifies the soul,” says Sadia Dehlvi, author of Sufism: The Heart of Islam.
Sufism, the mystical branch of Islam, espouses the philosophy that God is omnipresent: their music facilitates an ecstatic state in which listeners are able to enter a state of oneness. Thursday evenings sees the small dargah filling up with people from all over Delhi, who came to partake in a few hours of sacred music which allows them to leave behind their cares and troubles and be filled with the presence of God.
Saba ba suein medina rookun Azin duago salam barkha
(O morning breeze, when you reach Medina, Convey my salaamto Prophet Muhammad)