In conversation with Muzaffar Ali, the brains behind the World Sufi Music Festival

Ali talks about the concept of the show, the intricate link between the Sufis and the environment, and the importance of experimentation

March 08, 2019 03:29 pm | Updated 03:29 pm IST

Even as the subcontinent is on the boil, the much-loved World Sufi Music Festival: Jahan-e-Khusrau, designed and directed by filmmaker and poet Muzaffar Ali, returns to Arab Ki Sarai in New Delhi this weekend. Last year, Ali mounted DariyaPremKa , a lavish dance production around the river Yamuna. This year, he has conjured up Ganganama, celebrating the rivers of love and creating environmental awareness through a dance-drama.

On the eve of Ganganama, Ali talks about the concept of the show, the intricate link between the Sufis and the environment, and the importance of experimentation.

Edited excerpts:

Tell us about the concept of the show.

Our faith is associated with these rivers. They form a living cultural heritage. It is a call from the Ganga to save her. I want to make the audience feel its pain. Sufis have always used arts to connect people.

Has there been a connection between the Sufi thought and environment?

Amir Khusrau has written extensively on the flora and fauna of India and has praised it extensively. As Karl Marx once said: nothing human is alien to me. Sufism is also associated with humanism and the daily needs of life. I have made 18 short films on traditional arts and crafts. I have reached the conclusion that many skills of the dastakari have emerged out of the Sufi tradition. They were patronised by Sufis.

For instance in Kashmir, Mir Sayyid Ali Hamdani brought 1200 craftspersons along with him from Hamdan. Pashmina, papier mache, and kaleen craft have been associated with the silsala of fakirs.In Kutch, I came to know about the story of a fakir who was roaming in the desert. When somebody quenched his thirst, in return, he taught him how to make a booti (motif) on leather. It is like a blessing. Hands that help are better than lips that pray. I have noticed that all great dastakari traditions emerged alongside rivers.

Purists wonder if there is something called SufiKathak. They sayKathak is much more than pirouettes.

Purists among sufis also ask the same question! You will agree that the emotion of ecstasy can be expressed through dance. Some would say it is neither this nor that. I feel there is also beauty in being both this and that. The challenge lies in embracing something and enduring something. The finesse of thought which leads to total surrender is there in Sufi Kathak as well. It is not just about copying a deer’s walk.

Also, one must not give up on experimentation. It is said that Amir Khusrau created the tabla out of pakhawaj. He must have faced a lot of criticism in his time.

What brings you to Arab KiSarai? It is an interesting amalgamation of different forms of heritage.

I like the vibrations of this place. This is not a monument; this is a ruin. For a Sufi, a ruin is a big thing. I always wonder if the world is a sarai . The day you accept this, there is nothing to lose. Sometimes, bureaucrats are not able to understand the beauty of the place. Saving four trees is not enough. We spend so much money on making the seating arrangement every year — if we could create a landscape where people sit on mounds, it will be cheaper and environment-friendly.

Whose kalam do we get to hear this year?

This time, I have drawn from the works of Hazrat Shah Niaz of Bareilly. I have a creative connection with his dargah. I have passed on his kalam to Javed Ali and Satinder Sartaz. I hope their voice and his words will create a divine experience.

Ganganama , tonight at Arab Ki Sarai, New Delhi, 6 p.m. onwards

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