Over the years, the traditional art form of Naat has undergone a transformation

Naat Khawani and Naatiya shayari are cultural art forms most of us in the Capital would be largely unaware of. While qawwali and Sufi poetry enjoy immense popularity, predominantly because of their renditions in popular films and albums, Naatiya shayari enjoys a more eclectic crowd. Naat is Islamic hymns about Prophet Muhammad that are sung unaccompanied by musical instruments.

However, with time, traditional Naat singers are slipping away from the social sphere. Recollecting this departure, Ayesha Abrar, a resident of Daryaganj, New Delhi, says, “Naat isn’t something very common now but there is still one old man who takes rounds in my colony reciting naats during Ramzan. But he doesn’t live here, probably comes from far, because he comes on any day of Ramzan. He sings in the dark, some people give him alms or food and he disappears.” She finds, “Naats more common at gatherings (both men’s and women’s), in masjids or at homes, even at family gatherings.”

With few live performances, it is now more common to listen to Naat khawani in audio cassettes notes. Abrar Kiratpuri, a respected Hamd-o-Naat shayar, and general secretary of Hamd-O-Naat Academy, New Delhi, promotes and felicitates naat composers. He notes, “Naat is an integral part of shayari. In fact, Delhi School and Lucknow School have been very popular. Delhi is the land of Mirza Ghalib and Ibrahim Zauq, but it is difficult to find anything specifically about Naat.” He feels, “The tradition of Naatiya shayari has been picked up by the youth today. In fact, Naatiya mushayara and Naat khawani are much more popular today.”

However, Delhi, despite being the culture capital of the country which also houses some of the finest universities, has not given Naats much academic interest.

“Naat as a subject has not been taken up by the universities in Delhi, whereas universities in UP and Madhya Pradesh (Nagpur) have produced research work on Naat. Rafiuddin Ashfaq was the first person in the Indo-Pak region to be awarded a PhD on Naat by Nagpur University,” points out Kiratpuri.

Dharmender Nath, who has recently published “Hamare Rasool”, where he has contributed 627 non-Muslim Naats, noting how the form has altered, says, “There are two changes — one, the practice of composing Naats in Urdu has diminished because of its difficulty, giving way to an idiom that is understood by common people. Two, it is not archaic, contemporary practices have also tried to incorporate today’s problems in Naat compositions. Interestingly, Naat has been adopted by non-Muslims as well; I have just received a compilation from Dharamshala by Krishna Kumar Toor.”