Rasikas thronged the Nazarana festival, where versatile performers rendered Amir Khusrau’s soulful compositions.

As the cold wave in New Delhi gave way to mild sunshine and trees showered their first spring blossoms, it was that time of the year when the city woke up to colour and music, to celebrate an ancient legacy. At the India Habitat Center, where the annual ‘Nazarana’ festival dedicated to the Sufi poet, philosopher and saint Hazrat Amir Khusrau was held, a packed hall enjoyed some soulful music amidst endless appreciations of ‘Wah! Wah!’ and ‘Kya Baat Hain!’.

Delhi is an ancient home to countless Sufi shrines, the Dargah of Nizamuddin Auliya and his protégé Amir Khusrau being the most prominent ones. For centuries now, the Dargah has celebrated a syncretism of shared tradition, popular as ‘Ganga Jamni Tehzeeb.’ Several Hindu festivals like Basant Panchami and Holi are commemorated year after year where Khusrau’s compositions are sung. For the uninitiated, Amir Khusrau is credited with inventing instruments such as the sitar and tabla and musical genres such as Qawwali, Tarana and Qalbana.

Most of his compositions have been popularised by Qawwals down the decades. A polyglot that he was, Khusrau wrote and composed about nature, seasons, Hindu gods and more in his large body of works in half a dozen languages with unmatched erudition. Lore goes that Khusrau trained 12 of his disciples in the Qawwali tradition, who gained popularity as the ‘Qawwal Bachche Gharana’.

Khayal tradition

Through one of these disciples, Miyan Achpal, the Khayal tradition also found patronage giving birth to the Delhi Gharana. Through a complex maze of familial connections and guru-sishya tradition, the Delhi Gharana continues to be propagated by its current Khalifa or legacy-bearer Ustad Iqbal Ahmed Khan.

However, for the longest time purists never accepted the existence of a Khayal tradition in the Delhi Gharana. “We trace our lineage back to Amir Khusrau. No other Gharana of classical music has popularised his numerous compositions like ours has,” asserts Ustad Iqbal Ahmed Khan, talking about the main difference between the various repertoires. In the past, the Gharana has seen veterans and maestros such as Ustads Mamman Khan, Chand Khan and the late tabla virtuoso Shaffat Ahmed Khan who passed away in the prime of his career.

At the India Habitat Center, one got to see not just the veterans but also a whole brigade of youngsters who performed at the ‘Nazarana’ festival. “Our aim is to bring the younger generation closer to classical music and we are succeeding wonderfully,” said an excited Farid Hassan Khan, the star performer and one of the organisers of the festival. As predicted, a highly encouraging audience turned up at the event. The average age in the hall was in mid-forties with at least 50 performers, including senior gurus, veterans, their students, attending in large numbers. It is a fact that no other Gharana in Hindustani music can boast of nurturing scores of tabla, sitar, sarangi and violin players along side vocalists in these current times. In addition to pure classical ragas, the musicians of the Gharana also specialise in singing Amir Khusrau’s compositions.

Rasikas got an excellent glimpse into the versatility of the Gharana’s current and older musicians. Ghulam Ali on the sarangi, the singing duo Tanveer and Imran Ahmed Khan, young tabla players Akbar and Babar Lateef Khan, Shahbaaz Shakeel and Zuhaib Khan and the Khalifa, Ustad Iqbal Ahmed Khan himself singing, one could say the Delhi Gharana is thriving.

The Jugalbandi between vocalist Farid Hassan Khan and sitar player Adnan Khan had the hall in raptures. For those who doubt the identity of the Gharana, this festival was a witness to it’s thriving culture and existence. “As long as the legacy of Amir Khusrau lives, so long will our Gharana also continue,” adds the current Khalifa. One couldn’t agree more.