By Zahra Ali Khan
Pakistan is a nation rich in culture and heritage with a strong foundation of its culture formed by music. Although music has been frowned upon by our society, it is undeniable that it forms an integral part of households across Pakistan; the sound of music echoes at festivities and occasions as patriotic songs play on August 14, up beat dance music is played at mehndis! It is even made a part of religious festivities, such as at Sufi shrines.
There are two sub sects of Sufism – Naqshbandi and Qadiriyya. While Naqshbandi strictly forbids music, Qadiriyya uses it as a tool to spread the message of peace, love, harmony and the deity of the Lord. Many famous Sufis have used music as a medium to spread their teachings, namely, Baba Bulleh Shah, Ameer Khusro, Sachal Sarmast, Shah Hussain and Shah Abdul Latif Bhatai.
Shah Abdul Latif Bhatai even invented a musical instrument known as the Tambura. It is a one-string instrument and is still played by his devotees at his shrine today. What is astonishing about this instrument is that it synchronises with the sound of the heartbeat.
Allama Iqbal University Assistant Professor Hakin Ali Buriro has developed in-depth knowledge in regards to Shah Latif Bhatai sahib. He states, “Shah had a spiritual attachment with music that is why it’s said, there was a great Sufi poet in the era of Shah Latif Makhdum Muhamamad Zaman Luari Sharif. Shah Latif went to him and said, ‘I want to be your student he said you can but I am a devotee of Naqshbandi whilst you’re a devotee of Qaudian, in Naqshbandi music, rhythm notations are forbidden. If you can withdraw from these then you can be my student, to which Shah Latif replied, ‘I can’t quit these things because if I have any forbidden thoughts, when I listen to music they disappear. This is my oxygen’.”
This proves the importance of music in Qadiriyya Sufism. Another scholar who has also studied Shah Latif Bhatai extensively, states, “Once it so happened, Thatta who was the ruler in Shah Sahibs time, from there some scholars travelled to meet Shah Sahib and on their arrival, stated “Hazrat, music is forbidden in Islam. You should refrain from music too,” to which Shah Sahib replied, “There is a plant within me where flowers blossom and if I refrain from music these flowers will fade away.”
Not only is music important in Sufism, in rural areas of Sindh, music is an integral part of culture. One instrument, which is uncommon today, is the Borrindo.
Borrindo is a musical instrument that originates from Mohenjo Daro, Sindh. The instrument is made from clay and is considered to be the world’s first wind instrument. A wind instrument is one that is played by blowing in to a flute. As it was formed in ancient Sindh over 5,000 years ago, the instrument is simple. There are no technical aspects, just a simple, clay, sound producing instrument.
Faqir Zulfiqar Ali is the last person who has carried down sounds from one of the oldest civilisations in history. Faqir states, “We address it as Borrindo and it originates from Mohenjo Daro. It can be traced back to almost 5,000 to 6,000 years ago, subsisting in our culture. I presumed we should add more notes to the instrument so I did some experiments. I played around for two or three years and thankfully, it can now produce more notes.”
The Marwari tribe of Cholistan use singing as a form of storytelling. The women of the desert play the Ghara clay pot. Whilst hidden under a veil, they sit on trees and gather to sing and play music together. Krishnan Lal Bheel is from Cholistan and he can play up to seven traditional Cholistani instruments like ek tara, Ghara, Borrindo, Chang, Tanpura, Chapriyan, Jhinjhai. He has recorded many songs for Tariq Aziz’s show ‘Neelam Ghar’ in 1987.
Music also formed part of street theatre of Punjab. Storytelling was a popular art in 1920 and street theatre was used to dramatise stories for audiences. These stories were narrated through melody. Some famous stories that today are more popular as songs include the story of Jugga Jutt.
Fazal Jutt narrates the story of Jagga Jutt, “There was a time when in Punjab, each community was dividing its land. A widow had a baby, whose father was hanged just before he was born. His mother survived but his uncles were killed.”