Qawwali (Urdu/Persian: قوٌالی; Punjabi/Multani: ਖ਼ਵ੍ਵਾਲੀ, قوٌالی; Brajbhasha/Hindi: क़व्वाली) is a form of Sufi devotional music popular on the Indian subcontinent. It's a vibrant musical tradition that stretches back more than 700 years. Originally performed mainly at Sunni Sufi shrines throughout the subcontinent, it has also gained mainstream popularity.

Often listeners, and even artists themselves, are transported to a state of wajad, a trance-like state where they feel at one with God, generally considered to be the height of spiritual ecstasy in Sufism.

Qawwali music received international exposure through the work of the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, largely due to several releases on the Real World label, followed by live appearances at WOMAD festivals. Although famous throughout the world, its economic and spiritual hub remains the Punjab province of Pakistan from where it gained entry into the mainstream commercial music industry and international fame.


The roots of Qawwali can be traced back to 8th century Persia (today's Iran and Afghanistan). During the first major migration from Persia, in the 11th century, the musical tradition of Sema migrated to the Indian subcontinent, Turkey and Uzbekistan. Amir Khusro Dehelvi of the Chisti order of Sufis is credited with fusing the Persian and Indian musical traditions to create Qawwali as we know it today in the late 13th century in India (Hindustani classical music is also attributed to him). The word "Sama" is often still used in Central Asia and Turkey to refer to forms very similar to Qawwali, and in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, the formal name used for a session of Qawwali is "Mehfil-e-Sama".

Qaul (Arabic) is an "utterance (of the prophet)", Qawwāl is someone who often repeats (sings) a Qaul, Qawwāli is the style of singing of Qawwāls.

ong content

The songs which constitute the qawwali repertoire are mostly in Urdu and Punjabi (almost equally divided between the two), although there are several songs in Persian, Brajbhasha and Siraiki.cite web|url =| title =

Bollywood Reinvents the Qawwali – With a Vengeance|publisher = The Day After: An International Illustrated Newsmagazine of India|accessdate = 2007-02-23] cite web|url =| title = Delhi’s Qawwal Bachchon ka Gharana lights up Ramadan night at T2F|publisher = Daily Times: Leading News Resource of Pakistan|accessdate = 2007-02-23] There is also qawwali in some regional languages (e.g., Chhote Babu Qawwal sings in Bengali), but the regional language tradition is relatively obscure. Also, the sound of the regional language qawwali can be totally different from that of mainstream qawwali. This is certainly true of Chhote Babu Qawwal, whose sound is much closer to Baul music than to the qawwali of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, for example.

The poetry is implicitly understood to be spiritual in its meaning, even though the lyrics can sometimes sound wildly secular, or outright hedonistic. The central themes of qawwali are love, devotion and longing (of man for the Divine).

Qawwalis are classified by their content into several categories:
* A hamd is a song in praise of Allah. Traditionally, a qawwali performance starts with a hamd.
* A naat is a song in praise of the Prophet Muhammad. The opening hamd is traditionally followed by a naat.
* A manqabat is a song in praise of either Imam Ali or one of the Sufi saints. Interestingly, manqabats in praise of Ali are sung at both Sunni and Shi'a gatherings. If one is sung, it will follow right after the naat. There is usually at least one manqabat in a traditional programme.
* A marsiya is a lamentation over the death of much of Imam Husayn's family in the Battle of Karbala. Once again, this would typically be sung only at a Shi'a concert.
* A ghazal is a song that sounds secular on the face of it. There are two extended metaphors that run through ghazals -- the joys of drinking and the agony of separation from the beloved. These songs feature exquisite poetry, and can certainly be taken at face value, and enjoyed at that level. In fact, in India and Pakistan, ghazal is also a separate, distinct musical genre in which many of the same songs are performed in a different musical style, and in a secular context. In the context of that genre, the songs are usually taken at face value, and no deeper meaning is necessarily implied. But in the context of qawwali, these songs of intoxication and yearning use secular metaphors to poignantly express the soul's longing for union with the Divine, and its joy in loving the Divine. In the songs of intoxication, "wine" represents "knowledge of the Divine", the "cupbearer" (saaqi) is God or a spiritual guide, the "tavern" is the metaphorical place where the soul may (or may not) be fortunate enough to attain spiritual enlightenment. (The "tavern" is emphatically not a conventional house of worship. Rather, it is taken to be the "spiritual context" within which the soul exists.) Intoxication is attaining spiritual knowledge, or being filled with the joy of loving the Divine. In the songs of yearning, the soul, having been abandoned in this world by that cruel and cavalier lover, God, sings of the agony of separation, and the depth of its yearning for reunion.
* A kafi is a song in Punjabi, which is in the unique style of poets such as Shah Hussain and Baba Bulleh Shah. Two of the more popular Kafis include "Ni Main Jana Jogi De Naal" and "Mera Piya Ghar Aaya".
* A munadjaat is a song where the singer displays his thanks to Allah through a variety of linguistic techniques. It is often sung in Persian, with Mawlana Jalāl-ad-Dīn Rumi credited as its inventor.

Composition of a qawwali party

A group of qawwali musicians, called a "party", typically consists of eight or nine men — women are, for all intents and purposes, excluded from traditional Muslim music as respectable women are traditionally prohibited from singing in the presence of men, though these traditions are changing — including a lead singer, one or two side singers, one or two harmoniums (which may be played by lead singer, side singer or someone else), and percussion. If there is only one percussionist, he plays the tabla and dholak, usually the tabla with the left hand and the dholak with the right. Often there will be two percussionists, in which case one might play the tabla and the other the dholak. There is also a chorus of four or five men who repeat key verses, and who aid and abet percussion by hand-clapping.

The performers sit in two rows — the lead singer, side singers and harmonium players in the front row, and the chorus and percussionists in the back row.

Before the fairly recent introduction of the harmonium, qawwalis were usually accompanied by the sarangi. The sarangi had to be retuned between songs; the harmonium didn't, and was soon preferred.

Musical structure

Songs are usually between 15 to 30 minutes long. However, the longest commercially released qawwali runs slightly over 115 minutes (Hashr Ke Roz Yeh Poochhunga by Aziz Mian Qawwal). The qawwali maestro Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan has at least two songs that are more than 60 minutes long.

Qawwalis tend to begin gently and build steadily to a very high energy level in order to induce hypnotic states both among the musicians and within the audience. Songs are usually arranged as follows:

# They start with an instrumental prelude where the main melody is played on the harmonium, accompanied by the tabla, and which may include improvised variations of the melody.
# Then comes the alap, a long tonal improvised melody during which the singers intone different long notes, in the raag of the song to be played.
# The lead singer begins to sing some preamble verses which are typically not part of the main song, although thematically related to it. These are sung unrhythmically, improvised following the raag, and accompanied only by the harmonium. After the lead singer sings a verse, one of the side singers will repeat the verse, perhaps with his own improvisation. A few or many verses will be sung in this way, leading into the main song.
# As the main song begins, the tabla, dholak and clapping begin. All members join in the singing of the verses that constitute the refrain. Normally neither the lyrics of the main verses nor the melodies that go with them are improvised; in fact, these are often traditional songs sung by many groups, especially within the same lineage. As the song proceeds, the lead singer or one of the side singers may break out into an alap. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan also popularized the interjection of sargam singing at this point. The song usually builds in tempo and passion, with each singer trying to outdo the other in terms of vocal acrobatics. Some singers may do long periods of sargam improvisation, especially alternating improvisations with a student singer. The songs usually end suddenly.

The singing style of qawwali is different from Western singing styles in many ways. For example, in words beginning with an "m", Western singers are apt to stress the vowel following the "m" rather than the "m" itself, whereas in qawwali, the "m" will usually be held, producing a muted tone. Also in qawwali, there is no distinction between what is known as the chest voice and the neck voice (the different areas that sound will resonate in depending on the frequency sung). Rather, qawwals sing very loudly and forcefully, which allows them to extend their chest voice to much higher frequencies than those used in Western singing, even though this usually causes a more noisy or strained sound than would be acceptable in the West.

Singing Order in Chistiya

* Instrumental: This is supposed to be the announcement of the arrival of Khawaja Moinuddin Chishti's, as Sufi believes their saints are free of time-space. Also that Nabi, Siddique, Shaheed, and Saleh category of faithfuls are never dead, just gone into some other state from where they visit whenever they are mentioned, especially if there is a function in their honor.
* Hamd
* Naat
* Manqabat Ali
* Manqabat Ghous: Praise of Shaikh Abdul Qadir Jelani
* Manqabat Khwaja: Praise of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti
* Manqabat Shaikh: Praise of the Shaikh/Pir if it is his anniversary
* Rang or Badhawa: If it is the death anniversary of the Pir, then it is usually Rang, a poem by Amir Khusro. If it is the Shaikh's birthday, it is usually the Badhawa.

Legendary Qawwals of the Past

* Aziz Ahmed Warsi
* Aziz Mian Qawwal
* Badar Miandad
* Bahauddin Qutbuddin
* Fateh Ali Khan
* Habib Painter
* Jafar Husain Khan Badauni
* Mubarak Ali Khan
* Muhammed Saeed Chishti
* Munshi Raziuddin
* Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan
* Sabri Brothers

Well-known Qawwals of Today

* Abida Parveen
* Amjad Sabri
* Aziz Nazan
* Bakshi Javed Salamat
* Chhote Aziz Nazan
* Anis Painter
* Faiz Ali Faiz
* Fareed Ayaz
* Ghulam Sabir Nizami and Ghulam Waris Nizami
* Mehr Ali Sher Ali
* Najmuddin Saifuddin
* Rahat Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan
* Sher Miandad Khan
* Waheed and Naveed Chishti

ee also

* Islamic music
* Religious ecstasy
* Music of Pakistan
* Music of India
* Filmi qawwali
* Sema

External links

* [ "Origin and History of the Qawwali"] , Adam Nayyar, Lok Virsa Research Centre, Islamabad. 1988.
* [ Fan site of the Legend of Qawwali, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan]
* [ Qawwali songs in Punjabi and Urdu to stream (Windows Media Player and Realplayer) or download (MP3 format)]
* [ QAWWALI PAGE Islamic Devotional Music] by David Courtney, Ph.D.
* [ Blog with a large selection of Urdu/Hindi Sufi inspired poetry including qawwali translations and transliterations]
* [ Yahoo discussion group dedicated to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Qawwali] (includes photographs, lyrics, translations, song lists)
* [ Munshi Raziuddin and Fareed Ayaz Qawwal] (Self-promotional site)
* [ Site dedicated to Rizwan-Muazzam Qawwali]
* [ Documentary: Music of Pakistan (52 min.)]
* [ Qawwali lyrics with few translations] (Nusrat, Sabri, Aziz Mian, Rizwan Muazzam, Abida, Fareed Ayaz, and more)


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