Kathin hai dagar panghat ki- the Kawwali & sufism- As i see it

When i heard Bahut kathin hai dagar panghat ki sung by Respected Shri Habib Painter shaheb, i was spell bound. Instantly i watched whole episode telecasted from Lucknow Doordarshan. Though it was a black&whihabibte TV but the sounds made it full of colors. The anchor i saw in many programs. With his peculiar style he used to introduce and request featured artist to show few elements of arts.

That was the form of kawwali i grew up with listening. (i could never spell “qawwali” What is harm? any way?), But fact is that it is linked with Qaul,(kaul) कौल the utterance of the word for almighty or to speak. And one who utters or sings is referred to as qawwal, and what he sings is called qawwali? or kawwali for me. so simple, isn’t it. God has created all simple things.

I don’t remember, when i heard the word sufi for the first time. It must be in some textbook of History i think. Later in life as i grew up the word became much more bigger. But in Hardoi, traveling with my Nani ji i knew the words- peer baba, mazar, dargah, Tazia, jind peer, chaader, haj, aughad, even before i entered school in first class. There was a Sarai सरॉय, where i used to play whole day.

As the maturity increases, a child grows and becomes adult. Then he becomes a VOTER. Then a child becomes a part of neighbourhood, that pushes him further into a society. But in between, somewhere, nowadays, usually he grows up and wears a GARB, that is not original. While growing and transition from Neighbourhood to society, something called community creeps into his mind. This may be due to the influence of Family, relatives, or when as a grown up he mixes with other clan members outside that neighbourhood. Sometimes the neighbourhood of child itself forces the child to wear a GARb before his entrance into the Society. That time lots of Behavioural changes creep-in through mental space.

But i came from a mutli-cultural neighbourhood, that was IIT Kanpur campus. In 1973 i entered that walled campus of a prime institution of India. Which was established with the objective to promote industrial growth in the region -Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh. Kanpur was already a CITY/town during British times-“Cawnpore”. It was a big military base also. It will be exaggeration if i say that it was a seat of first struggle of freedom or first war of independence. Manu- who is better known as Rani Laxmi Bai, Tantya Tope, Peshwa ji NanaSaheb, Azimullah, not to forget Azeezan Bai (Ajeejan Bai), all were there, the place was Bithoor and Nawabganj. I have a connection with Bithoor. One of my ancestor lived at the Maharaj Ghat in Bithoor. He became a sanyasi and later one of his son became priest of a temple at Maharaj Ghat, Why that Ghat was named as Maharaj Ghat, because that was built by the Peshwa who was known as Raja or Maharaj in Bithoor.

I spent childhood days in Hardoi, Unnao, Kanpur and Lucknow.  I got to see many things i.e peer, dargah, mazaar Tazia etc. Kawwali was also one such thing. But it was at IIT Kanpur campus itself that i saw a kawwali, at the Karamchari Sangathan Program(between1974 to 79). It was a duet, sawal jawab type between a female and male qawwal. Later as the night progressed it grew into heated exchanges.  The Male singer had to plead for his freedom and asked to let him go. I mean it was not a happy ending qawwali.

At KV IIT Kanpur our Principal Mr DS Bajpai always encouraged lot of cultural programs. Kawwalis were also held in school. As I grew, Later I saw these in Films. Bhoopali or Shakeela Bano of Bhopal was famous for film kawwalis. Kawwalis are known only to city dwellers today due to the films. i had seen a new wave during early 1990s, that time many tourism centric programs started featuring Kawwalis and gazal. Delhi tourism was one which i saw. They had a program at Qutub Minar complex. there it was regular item. There was a bus service from Coffee house of Canuaght place also to go to the Qutub Festival.

I do ask myself, whether the kawwali is sung in Iran, tooran, etc, etc faras(as it is known here)? I have not seen nor listened nor anybody told me. no TV channel shown.

Thus point is that whether Kawwali is of Indian origin. Quite possible the present form is of Indian origin. When invaders came to India, quite a few ruled and settled here in land of India, which they used to call as Hindustan, hind etc.     With them many people also migrated to this land. Few saints and highly educated people also came. When they came they saw for themselves the simplicity of our culture and traditions. Many saintly people understood the path of wisdom in culture of India. They settled here and adopted many traditions of India. Sufi in present form is one such tradition and rather it is a result of transition, i think so.

The “Sufi movement” not the sufi itself i am referring to, therefore was the result of the Hindu influence on Islam. Or shall i call it as Indian Sufi. This movement influenced both the Muslims and Hindus and thus, provided a common platform for the two. Though the Sufis were devout Muslims, but they differed from orthodox. While former believed in inner purity, the latter believed in external conduct. The union of the human soul with God through love and devotion was the essence of the teachings of the Sufi Saints. The method of their realizing God was the renunciation of the World and Worldly pleasures. They lived a secluded life. More often similar to Indian sadhus who wander around after renouncing all worldly attachments.

later while searching through google i learnt that, They were called Sufis as they wore garments of Wool (suf). Thus the name ‘Sufi’ is derived from the word Suf. They consider love to be the only means of reaching God.

The Sufis did not attach importance to ritual things. That is why they were misunderstood by orthodox muslims.  Same thing happened in Indian tradition also. Many saints Meera, Raidaas, Kabir, Guru Nanak all said discard all this showing off & worldly things. they all stressed on the inner purity and KARMA, do your duty. Sufi saints did not dis-regarded Singing and dancing but realised these as methods of inducing a state of ecstasy which brought one nearer to realisation of God. There were some leading Sufi saints like Khwaja Muinuddin Chisti, Salim Chisti we heard from AKbar’s Story, Hazarat Nizam-ud-din Auliya, Haaji Ali in Mumbai , Ajmer Sheriff – khwaja Gareeb Nawaj etc etc.

Since Sufi saints adopted the local traditions and local people found these sufi saint as one among them, within their villages and society.  thus Sufism got widespread in India. It also influenced many people in India. But I know that we as a villagers never grew “doubtfull” about sufis. One of the reasons i found that sufi lived in front of eyes of villagers We villagers were always in search of peace of mind and found the mystic around sufi and simplicity of their life style quite magnetic. all this was due to the inherent character of our villagers, who believed in the simplicity, high moral and righteous karma. there was a mystic element also which influenced the simple people. who thought Almighty in any form (sagun or nirgun) nirakar or akar is there and will help us.

If we talk about impact of sufi, then The impact of Sufism was that the common people got enchanted by the simple ascetic lifestyle of the saints. Their humanism and unique nature pleased them. People of all creeds, caste, and religion, be educated or financially sound all were drawn towards them.

It neutralized the Hindu-Muslim tension in society. Their belief in equality led them to protest against caste domination, consumption of alcohol, gambling & untouchability.  Sufi khankas became pillars of moral life.

I am always in praise of those great sufi saints. I totally forgot myself when I stepped in the Haaji Ali dargah in Mumbai. It has a great place in my subconscious. My parents were praying everywhere for a child. They also went to Haaji Ali. during childhood listening elder’s talk i got attached somewhere to such things. I went to Haaji Ali and the moment i heard those dholak and the voices singing in front of Haji ali ji, i was transformed and thought as if i have come to a different planet. Till the time you spent at the dargah you feel out of world. where nothing else matters the singer- the seeker and the almighty, no one else is there. There was  one famous song “Haji Ali” in FIZA Hindi film.?? I keep on listening it.

I went to Ajmer sheriff also, I tied threads in the jaali at Salim Chisti ji ki dargah seeking his blessing. It was told that don’t tell anybody else what you are asking Just tie that thread praying/asking silently. we went to Tajmahal, Imambara at Lucknow, chota and bara, Rumi darwaja??

I don’t remember how many times i have heard Bahut kathin hai dagar panghat k. But that was the supreme example of our own sufi kawwali. it has message for social integration. Habib Painter was a great performer. I read somewhere that he was actually working as painter initially but someone brought him towards singing.    Since whatever he sang was directly related to our language and our culture. That thing is must for any art to survive. Thus kawwali has survived all through centuries because it adapted to the local language and culture traditions.

Khusro1 I also found that the famous songs Chaap tilak sab cheeni re mose naina milayike….

and bahut kathin hai dagar panghat ki, both were created by a great scholar named as Amir Khusro- a name which is immortal in our indian tradition. See how great things he has created in the Braj Bhasa


There were few more artists whom i heard. Prabha Bharti was one. prabhaShe sang kawwali, but i think back then she did not get the support from high-ups or the media. There was no visual media back then. But very often she must have felt forced to sing Maula Ali, maula Ali etc. Back then i thought why she sang Ali pra2ali etc. Actually she sang in Sanskrit also, if i remember correctly. She has peculiar movement of hands and she had different kind of eyes. I saw her on Doordarshan many times. Black and white. Doordarshan must be having recordings.




There were some film songs as well. Most poetic and romantic was in Mughal-E Azam. download (1) this was examplimages (1)e of subtle, romantic kawwali and download (2)one can say sufiana bhakti element was also, and rivalry inside of palaces is also reflected in it. As i dance on a song “Thade Rahiyo Banke yaar re” from Pakeezah, but it has the bhakti ras into it. Think as Radha or Gopi calls for Krishna and says “wait lord I am coming, let me do the decoration Shringar etc, let me be in a good shape and sight so that when i come in front of you, i must be appropriately dressed” etc etc.

there are many example of high powered kawwalis in films. Shakeela Bano is great name without which there cannot be any narrative of filmi kawwalis.

images (59) download (20) download (19)

Shankar Sambhu duo were famous singers. I saw them on doordarshan. They Sang kawwal.

Ab aajkal, nowdays i am seeing people are dancing on something called “Sufi Kathak”?? what that means?? Manjari Ji is famous for dancing on this.

Does’t matter jab tak BHARAT hai tab tak Kawwali rahegi jinda.

ha3hab2 habib


  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Sufi_saints
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sufism_in_India
  3. http://www.historydiscussion.net/history-of-india/sufi-and-bhakti-movement-in-india/3052
  4. http://twocircles.net/2013mar07/%E2%80%98aaj_rang_hai%E2%80%99_qawwali_revisited.html#.VkxL89IrLIU
  5. http://www.bhopale.com/Bhopal_person/shakeela-bano-bhopali/
  6. http://www.importantindia.com/12313/what-were-the-impact-of-sufism-in-india/

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Gaurang Katyayan misra

I am nobody on this vast globe. trying to search for my relevance for existence. Trying to read boundaries.. how to demolish them? want to walk on path of wisdom.. such as vivekananda, Ram, Krishna, Meera, kabir, Sankaracharya, rani chennama, ahilyabai holkar, Laxmi bai, umrao jaan, Rai praveen, Chanakya, SitaRam Raju, Shiva ji, lachit burfukan, Sankar Dev, list is endless

2 thoughts on “Kathin hai dagar panghat ki- the Kawwali & sufism- As i see it”

  1. What a straightforward, straight from the heart treatise. The article while being utterly captivating, is written in the simplicity of a man who knows his mind and heart,and has no qualms about baring his soul. Misra ji, you are an anomaly in today’s world, a man rich in spiritual angst, a true seeker. May you find your spiritual growth and development a good journey to be on.

    Liked by 1 person

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