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Posts Tagged ‘Saeen Zahoor’

Saeen Zahoor

Can’t remember where I’ve heard it, but I always carry it around – this idea that the body is the soul. The body is all you have. It is the body that creates, the body that feels, the body that runs away, the body that gives up. You cannot lose more than a body. The body is ultimate.

This idea is reinforced every time I listen to good music. Being musically illiterate, (well, almost), I respond physically to most singing. In fact, my tastes can be summed up in one line: either the music should move me, or it should make me move. If it does neither, it’s not my sort of thing. But if it does, if it moves me, I feel it like food, like fabric, like flowers. Like, my gut responds to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Like, my mouth responds to the peppy fifties filmy songs. Like, my chest responds to Begum Akhtar and Farida Khanum.

Sain Zahoor… I think the back of my head and eyes have decided that he bears a little of that magic. This man, whom the world is comparing to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, this man who sings Sufiana kalam, they say, like the sufis did; this man was singing on the last day of the (awfully named) Hungry Hearts theatre festival. And I was listening. At first, with my eyes wide open. For he walked onto the stage carrying an ektara festooned with bright strings of multicoloured…. what is the word? They are like bunches of colourful parandas that village girls wear in their braids. Like the strings that auto-rickshaws in small towns will hang from their rear-view mirrors. Rarely have these strings acquired such brazen dignity as they did on that ektara.

We’d waited long enough for his performance, but the wait itself had been worthwhile. The first part of the evening, in fact, was absolutely enthralling. Sabir Sain and Abdur Ghafur Sain were on the dhol, in a jugalbandi with Warsi Ballu on the tabla. All I can say about it was that the drumming pulsed in my blood and despite the freezing air-conditioning, I felt warm. If I’d been in an open space instead of being confined to a seat in a packed auditorium, I’d have gotten up to whirl.

[The singer that followed this piece, Mohammad Hanif Multani was, well, alright. I suppose. He was followed by Inayat Ali Beli, who was fun. The energy was tremendous, and the audience was happily clapping along.]

And then, finally, Sain Zahoor walked onto the stage. With strings of ghungroos wrapped round both ankles, carrying his ektara in both arms, like you carry a sleeping child. Dressed in a shimmering, tinselled, red shalwaar-kameez, and a black turban, and quiet confidence. And he began to sing. And my eyes closed, my neck threw itself against the back of the seat; in minutes, I was filled with questions. About purity, about purpose. What is the purpose of this man here, his voice? What is the purpose of colour? Of sound? Of beauty? Of language itself? What are these words he is singing?

Bulleh Shah.. singing of dancing to please the beloved, and losing his caste, because a dancing girl has no caste. Bulle Shah… singing of black – his black beloved, the black letters of the Quran, and who wants the fair ones?

My heart is sold to words, and I only understand Punjabi in bits and snatches. Bulle Shah makes me work very hard. But Zahoor is making is easier – the words reach me, and even if they didn’t, they wouldn’t need to. His voice is translating them for me into a language that doesn’t beg understanding.

The accompanists weren’t helping. The harmonium was almost drowning out the ektara, the tabla and flute were irritants. I wanted them to stop, and when a stranger’s voice yelled out, between songs – ‘Sirf ektara!’ – it became obvious that that many others did, too.

This is a voice that does not need, and perhaps, does not even brook, any company. It is a voice you want to be alone with. Perhaps, it is not even a voice meant for auditorium and stage. It is a voice that calls to you as if from over a distance, and stops you, inside your head. It is the voice of a wandering singer. The voice of a sain.

Between verses, with a ‘ha!’, or is it a ‘haq!’, the voice snaps its fingers at you. That single syllable, that half-word is like a tap on the knee, and then he stamps his feet and begins to dance in circles, ghungroos filling the room.

And then, Zahoor is singing… Allah Hu…. Hu…. Hu….

And I’m wondering – what is the significance of this? All the sufi singers sing it so – ‘Allah Hu…’ In your prayers, you are supposed to say ‘allah hu akbar’. God is great. But they stop at ‘allah hu.’. God is. And sometimes, only ‘Hu…’ Just the verb. Is. What is this ‘is’? Is it an assertion of being, of existing, and thereby, of everything else?

Each time my mind wandered, with each drawn out, gently warbling ‘hu…’, Zahoor’s voice would drag me back. Like, being tugged at with muslin threads. Like, being woven in and out of a pattern. Of the here, and now. And forever.

Is he like Nusrat sahab? I don’t know. Not really. The great qawwal’s voice had something dry and crackling in it. I never heard him in concert, but even over the stifling distance of a CD or tape, even then, his voice would touch me like a fist. Zahoor is different. Like, something firm and baked.

And finally, when the accompanists are persuaded to stop, finally, after Zahoor has touched his fingers to his eyes and extended his hands to his listeners, and bowed, he is persuaded to sing one last song. There is his voice and his fingers on the ektara, and you can only draw in your breath once, deeply, and exhale.

It is a voice that calls out to you. Like a hand beckoning in a dream.

– Annie Zaidi

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Everyone must have listened to the mesmerizing Aik Alif, performed by Saeen Zahoor and Noori brothers in the famous Coke Studio – Season 2. Saeen Zahoor’s gripping performance in the song and the depth of his voice brought tears in my eyes. The eternal words of Baba Bulleh Shah were masterly transformed into a masterpiece of musical art, which is often held to be the ‘food for soul’.

Download the audio – Aik Alif – Saeen Zahoor with Noori

Or view the video of this larger than life performance – Video

And do not stop here. Please!

Try to understand the crux of what Bullah was trying to tell you. Aik Alif or Aik Alif teray darkaar is a famous poem of Bulleh Shah, in which he tries to imply that there is a difference between conventional knowledge acquired by books and knowledge gained as a result of spiritual intimacy with the One. I am pasting below, an excerpt from The Way of Illumination by Inayat Khan:

“In the life of Bullah Shah, the great saint of Punjab, one reads a most instructive account of his early training when he was sent to school with boys of his own age. The teacher taught him Alif, the first letter of the Arabic alphabet. The other boys in his class finished the whole alphabet set while he was mastering the same letter. When weeks had passed, and the teacher saw that the child did not advance any further than the first letter Alif, he thought that he must be deficient and sent him home to his parents, saying, ‘Your boy is deficient, I cannot teach him.’

The parents did all in their power for him, placing him under the tuition of various teachers, but he made no progress. They were disappointed, and the boy in the end escaped from home, so that he should no longer be a burden to his own people. He then lived in the forest and saw the manifestation of Alif which has taken form in the forest as the grass, the leaf, the tree, branch, fruit, and flower; and the same Alif was manifested as the mountain and hill, the stones and rocks; and he witnessed the same as a germ, insect, bird and beast, and the same Alif in himself and others. He thought of one, saw one, felt one, realized one, and none else besides.

After mastering this lesson thoroughly he returned to pay his respects to his old teacher who had expelled him from school. The teacher, absorbed in the vision of variety, had long ago forgotten him; but Bullah Shah could not forget his old teacher who had taught him his first and most inspiring lesson which had occupied almost all his life. He bowed most humbly before the teacher and said, ‘I have prepared the lesson you so kindly taught me; will you teach me anything more there may be to learn?’ The teacher laughed at him and thought to himself, ‘After all this time this simpleton has remembered me.’ Bullah Shah asked permission to write the lesson, and the teacher replied in jest, ‘Write on this wall.’ He then made the sign of Alif on the wall, and it divided into two parts. The teacher was astounded at this wonderful miracle and said, ‘Thou art my teacher! That which thou hast learnt in the one letter Alif, I have not been able to master with all my learning,’ and Bullah Shah sang this song:

Oh! friend now quit thy learning,
One Alif is all thou dost need.
By learning thou hast loaded my mind,
With books thou hast filled up thy room.
But the true knowledge was lost by pursuing the false, So quit now, O friend, the pursuit of thy learning.

Every form seems to be derived from another, all figures being derived from Alif, which is originally derived from a dot and represents zero, nothingness. It is that nothingness which creates the first form Alif. It is natural for everyone when writing to make a dot as soon as the pen touches the paper, and the letters forming the words hide the origin. In like manner the origin of the One Being is hidden in His manifestation. That is why Allah, whose name comes from Alif, is hidden under His own manifestation. The same form of Alif is the figure one in English, and in both aspects this form reveals its meaning. This meaning in its various forms is seen in all aspects of nature. As Omar Khayyam says:

My soul said, ‘I desire the mystic knowledge:
Teach me if it be in thy power.’

I said, ‘Alif.’

She answered, ‘Say no more; If one is at home,
a single letter is enough.’”

Original poem in Pubjabi with my English Translation is given below:

Parh parh ilm te faazil hoya

(You read all those “conventional” books and call yourself knowledgeable)

Te kaday apnay aap nu parhya ee na

(But you never bothered to read yourself/ to dive inside your self and seek the inner universe)

Bhaj bhaj warna ay mandir maseeti

(You run to enter your mosques and temples ( to seek spiritual intimacy with your maker) )

Te kaday mann apnay wich warya ee na

(But you never tried to enter your own heart)

Larna ay roz shaitaan de naal

(Everyday you claim to fight Satan)

Te kadi nafs apnay naal larya ee na

(But you never fight your own Ego / your lower self)

Bulleh Shah asmaani ud-deya pharonda ay

(Bulleh Shah you try catching, which is in the sky ? / Which flies in the sky)

Te jera ghar betha unoon pharya ee na

(But you never get hold of what sits inside yourself/ You never understood that what you seeked in the skies was actually INSIDE YOURSELF)

Bas kareen o yaar

(Stop it  my friend)

Ilm-oun bas kareen o yaar

(Stop seeking all this knowledge my friend (that doesn’t help you attain closeness with Him))

Ik Alif teray darkaar

(Only an Alif is what you need)

Bas kareen o yaar

(Stop it all my friend)

Ilm-oun bas kareen o yaar…

(Stop seeking all this knowledge my friend)

Allah Sayyaan Allah Sayyaan

(God is Greatness, God is All)

Nee main jaanaa Jogi de naal

(I shall follow the Jogi {ascetic/Sufi})

Jo naa jaane, Haqq ki taaqat

(Those who deny the strength of Truth)

Rab naa devey us ko Himmat

(God shall not give them courage)

Hum Mann ke darya mein doobey

(We have drowned in the river of Self/ We have dived our inner being and tried to grasp the mysteries that lie hidden within our own existence)

Kaisi nayya? Kya manjhdhaar…

(The boat and the flowing waters do not matter/ The hustle and bustle of this temporary world does not matter)

Bas kareen o yaar

(Stop it all my friend)

Ilm-oun bas kareen o yaar

(Stop seeking all this knowledge my friend)

Allah Sayyaan Allah Sayyaan

(God is Greatness, God is All)

Signifance of Alif:

In Arabic numerology or Abjad, the Alif represents the number one and belongs to the element of fire, therefore illumination.

It symbolizes the selfness of God as well as His unity. The Arabic letter Alif is equivalent to the letter ‘A’ in the English alphabet or Alpha in Latin. It is the first letter in the Arabic character set. The letter also takes on the archetypal value of the whole alphabet, which it begins and is thus also identified with Adam, the archetypal man or father of humankind.

Alif is the first letter in the Name ALLAH.

If we take away the first letter which is Alif we arrive at: Lillah. If we now take away the first letter Laam from Lillah we arrive at: Lahu. If we now take away the next Laam from Lahu we arrive at: Hu – the Divine Pronoun, pointing to the Real Being – the Real Alone.

La ilaha illa Hu – there is no other reality but Hu

Now listen to the song again and tell me if you don’t get ghoosebumps and tears don’t flow down your cheeks 🙂

Yours truly,

P.S: Courstery MysticSaint for the significance of Alif

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