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Names of Lord Ram and Krishna echo in Pakistani Qawwalis

Saquib Salim

Saanso ki maala pe simroon main pee ka naam, Apne man ki main jaanu aur pee ke man ki Ram” (I am reading the name of my beloved on the beads of the rosary, I know my condition and Lord Ram knows about the heart of my beloved). If I tell you that this is not the lyrics of some Hindu Bhajan from India but a very famous Qawwali of Pakistan sung by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan you might be surprised.

Maulana Abul Kalam Azad rightly pointed out, “The essence of Indian civilization and culture has always been a spirit of assimilation and synthesis. Nowhere is this more clearly shown than in the field of music.” Someone who listens to the Qawwalis of Pakistani singers knows that music transcends all the boundaries of nation and religion. The qawwali I have just quoted is no exception but rather a rule.

In the same qawwali, Nusrat sings, “ek ka sajan mandir me, aur ek ka pritam masjid me, par main, prem ke rang me aisi doobi, ban gaya ek hi roop” (one’s beloved lives in a temple, and one’s lover is inside a mosque, but I am drenched in my lover’s colour that now we both look one). The qawwali has at least one reference to Meera. It says, “prem ki mala japte japte, aap bani main Shyam” (praying on a rosary of love, I have also become Lord Krishna).

Nusrat has sung several qawwalis like “mori bhi rang do chunariya” where imagery of gopis and Lord Krishna is used. 

Farid Ayaz and Abu Muhammad

One of the most famous qawwalis by Maulvi Haider Hassan, Guru bin gyan gyan bin bhakti, is another very important example. Maulvi sings, “mandir me kya puje moorakh, masjid me kya sajda kare, hai Ram milan ki raah nirali, saai man ki mala japa karo” (why do you wander the temples like a fool, and why do you prostrate yourself in mosque, strange is the path to meet Lord Ram, just pray on beads of your heart’s rosary). 

Farid Ayaz. another very popular Pakistani qawwal is popular in India for his qawwali, “kanhaiya, yaad hai kuch bhi humari” (Krishna, have you forgotten us?). The qawwali is in a form of a prayer from Radha where Ayaz sings, “paiyyan padi Mahadev ke jaake, tona bhi karke main haari, Kanhaiya” (I have begged Lord Shiva, tried magic spells too, O Kanhaiya).

Those who listen to qawwalis are well aware of Aziz Miya Qawwal as one of the greatest qawwal of the last century. One of his very popular qawwali is his version of Kabir’s poem, “main kya jaanu Ram tera gorakh dhandha” (Lord Ram, how can I understand your designs). After the qawwali he declares that he will be asking a question to Allah. The question he asks is, “tu agar Kaabe me rehta hai to butkhane mai kaun? main kya jaanu Ram tera gorakh dhandha (If you (Allah) live in Kaba then who is in the temple? Lord Ram, how can I understand your designs).

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The list is not exhaustive and it is a norm in qawwalis to talk of an Indian syncretic culture.

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