Rang De, Amir Khusro’s ode to Nizamuddin Auliya, by Chand Tara Orchestra moves the heart

It was December 12, 1319, the ulemas were getting more and more irritable. How could Nizamuddin Auliya dance and weep to Sama, just like his master Shaikh Farid?

This issue of music had been boiling. The ulema wanted it banned. Nizamuddin’s disciple Amir Hasan Sijzi spoke at his master’s assembly: “This group that denies Sama, I know full well their temperaments. Those who do not listen to Sama say: ‘We do not listen because it is forbidden.’ I do not swear by it but I think I speak the truth when I say: Even if Sama were permitted, they would not listen to it.”

 Nizamuddin smiled and replied: “Yes, indeed, since they lack taste, how can they listen to it. For what reason would they listen? And God knows best.”

The stubborn ulema wouldn’t let go. The sultan Ghiyasuddin Tughluq had to listen to their clamour. Nizamuddin must be stopped. The sultan called a meeting of the ulema. Nizamuddin, who despised the sultan’s court, or anything that had to do with a sultan, had no choice but to present himself and his argument. There were two ring leaders among the ulema — Shaikhzada Husamuddin Farjam and Qazi Jalaluddin Soranji, who fanned the sultan’s conservative fire.

The assembly wasn’t pleasant as both sides presented their arguments on the subject: Is Sama forbidden? The sultan also consulted more than 50 theologians, but none said it was wrong. There was nothing Ghiyasuddin could do to bring Nizamuddin down. The fanatical ulema were muzzled. Nizamuddin could sing and dance to his heart’s content after all.

Two years later, On January, 20, 1321, Nizamuddin spoke at his assembly: “Sama is a voice. Why should rhythm be forbidden? And that which is spoken is a word. Why should the comprehension of it be forbidden? Sama is also movement of the heart. If that movement is due to remembering God, it is beneficial, but if the heart is full of corruption, then Sama is forbidden.”

On December, 8, 1315, Nizamuddin recounted a story in his assembly. “At the time of his (Shaikh Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki’s) death, he had been awestruck for four nights and days. It happened in this way. There was as assembly of Sama in the khanqah of Shaikh Ali Sanjari. Shaikh Qutbuddin was present. They report that the singer recited a couplet:

‘All those by the knife of submission killed;

Each moment from God with new life are filled.’

“Shaikh Qutbuddin was overwhelmed. Leaving the assembly, he returned home. He remained stupefied and awestruck. He kept asking them to recite the same couplet. As soon as it was recited, he became awestruck. When the time for canonical prayer arrived, he would perform his prayer and then they would repeat the same couplet, with the result that a condition of awe and ecstasy would continue to overwhelm him. For four nights and days he continued in this spiritual state. On the fifth night he expired.”

Shaikh Badruddin Ghaznawi reports: “I was present that night when his death was imminent. I became drowsy and fell asleep. In my sleep I dreamt of Shaikh Qutbuddin. He had arisen from this place where he was, and he continued to go higher and higher. Turning to me, he said: ‘Look, the friends of God, never die.’ When I woke, I saw that the Shaikh had already journeyed to the Abode of Permanence — may God have mercy on all saints.”

Sama travelled through time. Amir Khusro transformed Sama into Qawwali for his master Nizamuddin Auliya. He composed Sufi anthems such as Man Kunto Maula, Chhap Tilak, Nami Danam and Mohe Apne Hi Rang Mein. These kalams are sung at virtually every Sufi celebration of love and music. 

Fast forward to 2018. There is magic happening in the name of a band called Chand Tara Orchestra. Those who have grown up on a diet of rock music will see several influences in Chand Tara’s sound. But then came something very special. Coke Studio Season 11 saw them interpret Nami Danam Ke Akhir Choo.n.

Sufi music has metamorphosed. Rock musicians have given their interpretations; Bollywood has; and there have been cross cultural tie-ups such as the mighty Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and former Genesis front man Peter Gabriel.

But Chand Tara did something special: They introduced a little instrument called the blues harp; harmonica to some. And Nami Danam Ke Akhir Choo.n spoke of that pain – dard that Baba Farid said people on the path should feel for the Beloved.

Chand Tara Orchestra features the very talented bass player Babar Sheikh, Omran Shafique on guitar, Rizwan Ullah on the blues harp and Sherry Raza on vocals. They have a sessions drummer.

Their interpretation of Nami  Danam Ke Akhir Choo.n has longing; it envelopes the senses and lingers. For a long time.

Is it Raza’s phenomenal vocals?

Is it Rizwan’s lilting harmonica playing?

Is it Babar’s driving bass lines?

Is it Omran’s guitar riffs?

Is it the groove of the bass drum?

Yes, they have chemistry as a band. Many bands before have interpreted Sufi anthems, but few created this longing. That is the magic of Chand Tara.

Just when you think that Raza’s vocals and Rizwan’s blues harp playing were perhaps magic contained to Nami  Danam Ke Akhir Choo.n, Chand Tara’s has released Rang De – Amir Khusro’s ode to his master Nizamuddin Auliya. 

It is a masterpiece. Those powerful vocals; that blues harp … Yes it does envelope the senses; it does linger.

Rang De has been released in time for Nizamuddin’s Urs. It is a celebration; it is an ode; it has longing; it’s freedom.

So you begin to think. What would Nizamuddin Auliya have said? What would Amir Khusro have said?

Sama is movement of the heart when you remember the Beloved.

Nami Danam Ke Akhir Choon and Rang De move the heart.

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