"Bulla, I know not, who I am
Not a believer inside the mosque,
Nor a pagan disciple of fake rites
Not the pure among the impure…
Neither fire, nor from air is my birth"
These secular lyrics penned by Sufi mystic Baba Bulleh Shah in the 17th century and set to music by a folk singer on his acoustic guitar had the young and the old - Hindus, Muslims and people of other faiths - rocking in India.
Rabbi Shergill was not the only one. Several contemporary Indian musicians have been travelling back in time to cull influences from Sufi music - a legacy bequeathed by 13th century poet-saint Jalaluddin Muhammed Rumi, the founder of the cult of the "whirling dervishes", the first-generation Sufi minstrels. These "spiritual rebels" sought to commune with god through their poetry, music and dance; instead of through
As the politics of violence gather force everywhere in the world, India is seeing a revival of Sufi music as a buffer against the troubled times, after almost 200 years of obscurity.
The essence of Sufism, as summed up in author Margaret Smith's words, is "this everlasting desire of man for his unison with god can be seen in certain strands of Hinduism, in neo-Platonism, in Christian mysticism and Islamic Sufism". It draws from Hebrew traditions as well.
The new generation of Sufi singers are promoting the music as a "sound of connectivity, peace and friendship" transcending borders, class, creed, race and country. "It is universal, pan-Indian and is of the people. It talks of love, not hatred," says Sufi singer Hansraj Hans from Jalandhar in Punjab.
He treats Sufi music as a bridge between India and Pakistan, the nation from where the music came to India in the 12th century.
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