“Nowhere in the world or even Central Asia would one be able to locate the Sufiyana Mausiki in it actual form other than Kashmir”
The Mughal era that lasted for around 180 years in Kashmir still keep its traces in the deep alleys and crowning hilltops of what once was melting pot of different cultures and art forms.
From the landmark Pather Masjid in the heart of the Old City to the gardens perched on the banks of the iconic lake, the Mughal masterpieces have hosted the watershed moments shaping the history of the place.
But before the magnificent rulers would mark their way in the valley of Sufis and Saints, the place had already earned the name of ‘Iran-e-Sageer’ for accommodating and absorbing the faithful influences streaming in via Silk Route.
It was during that time that Sultan Ju Saaznawaz, a famous Sufiyana Musician from Iran, migrated to Kashmir, which was to become his new home bearing stark resemblance with his birthplace.
The pioneer of Sufiyana Mausiki in Kashmir was soon to be known as Ustaad Sultan Ju Saaznawaz as the master was a ‘magician with the strings’.
In the vale of mystic longings, Sultan Saaaznawaz soon was to hold the centre-stage for laying the base for Majalis of Sufis or ‘Mehfil-e-sama’.
Seven generations on, the Saaznawaz-Gharana on the banks of the Jhelum houses the haven of the Sufiyana Masuiki and the legacy of its pioneers and caretakers.
A short distance from Yarkand Sarai that stand akin to a pale shadow of its glorious past and reflects the traces of the bygone Kashmir-Central Asian connection, Mushtaq Ahmad Saaznawaz narrates the legacy of the ‘Sufiyana Mausiki’ that his family has been taking care of and passing on to the next generations.
“It’s a heart to heart phenomenon in which one’s patience decides the depth of the art,” says Mushtaq who along with his brother Shabir Ahmad Saaznawaz are titled ‘Grade-A’ — the top grade for artists in the field.
The linage via which they inherited the Sufiyan Mausiki starts from their first mover in the valley—Ustaad Sultuan Ju Saaznawaz, Ustaad Hadi Ju Saaznawaz, Ustaad Sultan Ju Saaznawaz, Ustaad Wazir Ju Saaznawaz, Ustaad Ramzaan Ju Saaznawaz.
“The sixth generation was our late father Ustaad Ghulam Mohammad Saaznawaz in whose era the Radio Kashmir gave this art the new dimensions,” says Mushtaq, the man in his late-fifties, while recalling his father’s radio sessions that after 1960s were aired and became popular in Kashmir.
Ustaad Ghulam Mohammad Saaznawaz, a Padma Shri award-winning artist along with Ustaad Mohammad Abdullah Tibet Baqaal according to Mushtaq gave Kashmiri Sufiyana Mausiki new presence and audience.
“Mostly this Mausiki was confined in the circles of godmen and Sufi gatherings and for whom the Qalam recited was full of life,” says Mushtaq, while emphasizing on a Persian phrase: ‘Qalaam-e-mardaan Jaandarad’ (The Qalaam of men connected to God is full of life).
“The Qalam recited in these Sufi gatherings was only Persian of the poets like Moulana Jami, Hafiz Sheerazi, Sarfi and Khusroo,” he says.
Mushtaq speaks of the transition in accordance with the perception of audience. And being the music maestros, the Saaznawazs included qalam of the Kashmiri Sufi poets, like Shams Bab, Rahim Seab, Sochi Kryal, Ahad Zargar and others, without changing form of the Mausiki.
Till mid-1970s, the Persian language was understood and even spoken in some pockets of Kashmir but Mushtaq believes the inclusion of Kashmiri Qalam in Sufiyana Mausiki filled the void in the audience of this form of music.
And since the association of the Saaznawaz-Gharana has always remained with the Sufis and saints like Syed Mirak Shah Kaashyani, Mohammad Abdullah Zargar and Abdul Quddous aka Qoudd Babb, it naturally enabled this musical transition.
“The hand and support of the Murshid is what keeps the essence of the Sufiyana Mausiki and accordingly decides the limits of the journey one travels in these spaces,” Mushtaq says, while quoting Khawaja Habibullah Nawsheri’s verse, ‘Keemat-e-nagmi chedanand murd-e-dilaan / Ahl-e-dil jumli bi-janand Kharedaar-e-samah’ (The buyers of this Qalam are the owners of a living heart and spirit / For the sealed hearts this holds no value.)
Since the form and the poetry of Sufiyana Mausiki both had come from Central Asia, Kashmir historically of its associations with the region accepted all those influences.
Mustaq gives the reason for Kashmir being the place that cradled the Sufiyana Mausiki in its raw form.
“Nowhere in the world or even Central Asia would one be able to locate the Sufiyna Mausiki in it actual form other than Kashmir,” says Mushtaq while adding that inclusion of Kashmiri Qalam is justified as the depth of the Kashmiri poets in no way is any less than those of Persian poets.
“The Kashmiri Qalam has a depth and spiritual connection of its own. Kashmiri as a language isn’t far from Persian to be fitted in Sufyana Music,” says Mushtaq, stressing that the Persian influence still has its place in the Kashmiri language.
But just like a person has a body and soul, this music form has a physical carrier in the form of instruments and performers. The other part is intangible aspect in the form of Qalaam with its respective stops and sources.
“The soul in the space of Sufiyana Mausiki has a journey of its own to travel,” says Mushtaq.
“Waqht and Mukaam are the respective zones via which this journey is completed.”
The word of their ancestors, Mushtaq says, is to keep the heart and soul as pure during the ‘Samah’ as one is or tries to while praying.
“We’ll eventually pass on the secrets along with the strings to the next generation as it has come to us,” Mushtaq mentions the promise that Saaznawaz-Gharana has kept for decades.
The eighth generation of the Saaznawaz-Gharana is also committed to know and learn the ins and outs of their ancestral pursuit.
Keiser Saaznawaz along with his two cousins Wajahat and Hashmat are already among the B-Category artist in this music form who complete the group of five in their family.
“They’ve titled us Panjhathyari as all the five members of our family associated with Sufiyana Mausiki are capable of playing all the five instruments played in this music form,” Keiser names the five instruments as Santoor, Sitaar, Saaz-e-Kashmir, Madhem and Tabla.
Apart from enthralling Mehfils, the Saaznawaz-Gharana without any government support has been training the students interested in learning the Sufiyana Mausiki to which patience apart from intent Mushtaq mentions is the key.
“Once I reached out to my late father for the better treatment of a composition that I wasn’t able to play,” Mushtaq recalls. “My father replied: ‘To know the strings for this composition, son, you must rip your way into my heart and hear it yourself.’ ”
Even today, Mushtaq concludes, some students are able to rip into the heart of their master to learn the secret of strings.