Exploring the Sufi way of life

Exploring the Sufi way of life

Beyond music

Back in 2014, Anuraag Dhoundeyal, Karan Chitra Deshmukh and Priyanka Patel embarked on an exploratory journey to discover what Sufism meant to people.

They met close to a hundred individuals – from experts and scholars on Sufism, to enthusiasts, Qawwals, and Turkish Dervishes. They then sat with friends, and after six-months of deliberation concluded that the most honest representation of the journey of Sufism would be through the format of ‘documentary theatre’ where actors represent themselves in the play, talking about their own life experiences.

“It always strikes a chord with the audience, especially with a subject like Sufism,” says Patel, an educator, storyteller and psychologist.

Agreeing, Dhoundeyal says that their narrative, which is a mix of the historical journey of Sufism and music, holds the piece together. He adds, “It hence, quite definitely, is
India’s first ‘interactive musical documentary theatre performance’”, — thus describing ‘Sounds of the Sufis’, as an interactive performance tracing the journey of Sufism from eight century AD to its present day impact on everyday lives.

An initiative of The Looking Glass (that works with building life skills through arts), the performance includes narrations and live music that cover the lives of the pillars of the Sufi thought, from Moinuddin Chisti and Amir Khusrau to Kabir, Meera Bai and many others. By picking up pieces from their own lives, the performers explore the essence of Sufism reflecting research, interaction with scholars and a strong personal interest.

Explaining, Dhoundeyal, singer and composer, tells Metrolife that in the present day, everyone is into “Sufi music”, when there exists no genre like that. “Sufism can’t be just music; it’s a philosophy, a way of life. Nowadays, when you say ‘Sufi’, people relate it to mere singers, without knowing anything about what the philosophy stands for. So, we thought that now, more than ever, we need to help audience understand the essence of Sufism,” he says, adding that for them, the crux of Sufism boils down to ‘unconditional love’ and non-duality.

The trio, which talks about the various definitions, origins and the etymological interpretations of the word ‘Sufi’, draws influences from daily lives, from books by scholars like Titus Burckhardt, from Qawwals like Nusrat Fateh Ali, from Sufis like Rabia Basri and Amir Khusrau, from rebels like Kabir and Bulleh Shah, and from philosophers like Krishnamurti and Osho.

“That’s the beauty of Sufism, it’s timeless. Sufis that spoke centuries ago, still make sense in the present day context. In the performance, we speak of things that each individual relates to, in some way or the other. Things like financial difficulties, our love lives, break-ups, societal disapprovals, single parenthood, relationship with our parents, and many other such incidences... and while all of this happens, we tie it up with the underlying theme of Sufism,” he says.

Deshmukh, tabla player and multi-percussionist, says they speak about 12 Sufis through the entire three-hour performance – their lives, teachings, message and their poetry. “Also, in our songs, you’ll notice we have songs in six different languages, namely Urdu, Punjabi, Farsi, Khariboli, Kashmiri and Hindi. Of course we give out small yellow booklets to audiences to follow the lyrics of the songs, and understand their meaning,” he adds.

Concluding, Dhoundeyal says that in present times, Sufism, that “cuts across petty divides”, comes as a respite. “Today Sufism has gone beyond boundaries of conventions, religion or any set norms or patterns. It’s great that Sufism has become a common word in every household in India. Now it’s time that people actually understand what it means, and can incorporate the message in their own lives,” he says.


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