Jashn-e-Khusrau: The Festival of Khusrau

The first dargah I’ve visited, has been the dargah of Hazrat Amir Khusrau. From that time on my interest in this Chishti Sufi has started. That is why I recently have ordered “Jashn-e-Khusrau: A Collection”. Jashn-e-Khusrau is a very beautifully produced book dealing with the genius of Hazrat Amir Khusrau, but that is not all. It also contains 3 CD’s with the truly excellent qawwali with the poetry attributed to Hazrat Amir Khusrau. It is the type of qawwali you can hear at Sufi dargahs and Chishti khanaqahs.

One of these days I was on my way home from work. I was somewhat tired. Suddenly I hoped that “Jashn-e-Khusrau” had arrived and this thought gave me new energy. Entering our garden and looking through the window I saw that Jashn-e-Khusrau had indeed arrived.

Before telling something about the book, here are some verses attributed to Hazrat Amir Khusrau, which are sung by the qawwals on the accompanying CD’s. These selected lines are to be found in part two of the book. There you’ll find the complete texts of the poems in Persian, together with their English translation and their transliteration:

Man che daanam ka’ba wa botkhaana raa
Sajda misaazam besuye-ru-ye-to

What do I know of Kaaba and idol temple?
I bow down in the direction of your face.

The following provoking line can also be heard:

Khalq miguyad ke Khusrau botparasti mikonad
People say that Khusrau worships idols.

And this startling line is from the same source:

Kaafer-e-‘eshq-am mosalmaani maraa darkaar nist
I am an infidel of love. I have no use for Islam.

As you will know Hazrat Amir Khusrau has had a great love for his spiritual guide, and that is why he says, when entering the street of his Pir:

‘Eidgaah-e-maa gharibaan ku-ye-to
We strangers celebrate the Eid on your street.

The qawwals who sing the poems of Hazrat Amir Khusrau on the 3 CD’s have at times added some appropriate other verses. These interpolations are clearly separated from the text of Hazrat Amir Khusrau in the pages of Jashn-e-Khusrau.

Jashn-e-Khusrau is a work of love. It opens with a full colour photo across both pages of this large sized book, showing the pieces of cloth devotees leave in the rear screen of the dargah of Hazrat Nizamuddin Awliya.

Several for the most part pleasantly readable contributions by experts in this field are to be found in the first section of the book, containing among other things the poetry of Hazrat Amir Khusrau, its contribution to the qawwali tradition, the development of the qawwali styles and contents, and qawwali in the dargah of Hazrat Nizamuddin Awliya.

I like a personal note of the editor, because my thoughts are more or less similar to his: “Khanaqahi qawwali calls for a samaa’-e-mehfil setting by its very definition. When taken to the stage, khanaqahi qawwali loses its context, and can be best referred to as traditional qawwali. Here the audience is not bound by the codes governing the ikhwaan of samaa’e-mehfil [which refer to the right people, the right place and the right time for the audition of qawwali in a Sufi assembly]. The only thing that governs the audience is its knowledge of the tradition. To further explain this, I take the liberty to narrate an anecdote from my experience”.

“I was attending a concert by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan at Sanders Theatre, Harvard University, Cambridge, where I found myself sitting stiff in my chair, unable to get up and dance with the rest of the audience. Furthermore, I was upset with all those dancing, whistling like ‘hooligans’, considering them to be people who had no respect for the hamd, naa’t, manqabat, and other elements that formed the subject of Nusrat’s qawwali”.

“At the same time I was upset with myself, for the so-called knowledge of the context of qawwali, and for being so ‘stuck-up’ in my attitude that I was unable to enjoy the qawwali as an art form consisting of amazing music and poetry. As a propagator of art, architecture, culture, design, and the like, I argued with myself that I should be able to appreciate and unleash the art form from its origin, and let it dwell as an expressive form within the realm of art, giving a reason to survive and progress, as in the case of traditional qawwali, or letting it remain in the context of samaa’-e-mehfil, and educate the listener with the ethics and the intentions of ikhwaan”.

There are several rules governing a session of qawwali in a Sufi setting. You should in principle attend it only in the company of your murshid. This is, because audition to Sufi music strengthens that inner faculty that is strongest in you, and for most people this is their ego. That is why the protection and guidance of your spiritual teacher is necessary. The decorum expected from you when listening to khanaqahi qawawali at the various ritual locations in the Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti has been described up to a certain extent by Irfan Zuberi.

He quotes an interesting story (read it for yourself on p. 128 of Jashn-e-Khusrau) in order to explain the context of the popular kalaam of Hazrat Amir Khusrau who tells that he doesn’t know what house it was the place he was last night. A certain decorum however is at its place, because the qawwals explain this about who is present at the assembly:

The banquet’s host was the Lord Himself in that placeless place, Khusrau.
Mohammed was the conclave’s candle the place I was last night.

To finish let us turn to the 3 CD’s. You are enabled to listen to the vast repertoire of qawwali similar to the audition in a Sufi setting. Experts in this field have chosen the inspiring kalaam of Hazrat Amir Khusrau. It is not for nothing that disk 1 starts with Man Kunto Maulaa and that the final qawwali on disk 3 is Aaj Rang Hai Ai Maa, because this is a traditional arrangement. Regula Burckhardt Qureshi explains more about such and similar aspects of a samaa’ session.

Excellent qawwals have been chosen coming both from India and Pakistan. You can also listen to Meraj Nizami whose voice has become somewhat weaker because he is now 80+, but his devotional force has only increased over the years.

You may wonder if there are only positive remarks to be made about Jashn-e-Khusrau. How can it be different because I am reviewing a game of love:

If Laila and Majnun were alive today,
They would learn the game of love from Khusrau.

Jashn-e-Khusrau – a  Collection; www.rolibooks.com