In a sufiana mode

Suna suna ke tumhe ishq ke fasane ko, laga raha hoon teri raah pe zamane ko...

Sufi qawwal Haji Mukarram Ali Warsi from Bhopal begins all his performances with these signature opening lines. Invariably the audience applauds it with 'Waah Waah'. The same happened at Pune Festival too on Wednesday evening, when the artiste treated the audience with sufi qawwali, a music genre which was never performed at Pune Festival in the past.

Sufi qawwali, according to Warsi, is a form of devotional music and does not pertain to any specific religion. "It is a way for everyone to indulge in praising and connecting with the almighty," says Warsi, a disciple of the renowned sufi qawwali singer Maqbool Ahmed Sabri. Besides India, Warsi has performed a number of times in Pakistan with maestros like Ustad Haji Ghulam Farid Maqbool Ahmed Sabri.

Warsi took up sufi qawali as a career when he was 20 years old against the wishes of his family. "Like others, even my family did not understand the devotion behind this genre and hence they did not want me to indulge in it. I went to Ajmer and observed the qawwals that perform at the Dargah Sharif for four months, without the approval of my family," he recalls. It was only when he performed at a big function held over 12 years back, his family members understood his passion for sufi qawwali.

Warsi prefers to perform as a sufi artiste and has no intentions at the moment to join the Indian film industry, unless it suits his ideology about the genre of sufi qawwali. "In ancient days, the people who would sing the verses of the scriptures were called khewals, and through the years, the word became qawwal," explains Warsi, dismissing the present trend of qawwali competitions. He adds, "The qawwali that is promoted at concerts and movies nowdays is not qawwali. Two groups on stage indulging in some kind of a verbal battle on stage is far from the idea of devotion. I do not preach against such kind of music, which is pure entertainment but I do not support categorising it as qawwali."

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