The mandate for the Kashmir fieldtrip was to locate and document classical and folk music traditions which would have connections to the poetic and/or musical legacy of Amir Khsurau. However, the edgy political situation in the valley over the last two decades has, sadly, led to a fracture of arts and culture. Alongside, the rise of radical Islam has also meant that music, in particular, gets a bad name and traditional families of musicians have faced conditions of animosity from the society at large. It is quite an achievement on the part of the few musicians featured in this report that they have been able to keep their familial commitments or interests afloat because this is what now constitutes the lived tradition in the state. The role played by radio to keep alive the various music traditions in the valley even during times of turmoil is praiseworthy. The radio regularly broadcasts archival recordings of legendary Kashmiri classical and folk musicians at 11:30am and 2:30pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays without an exception.

  1. To locate and record Kashmiri classical musicians who either perform the poetic compositions of Amir Khusrau or the maqams and talas attributed to him.

  2. To locate and record Kashmiri light classical or folk musicians who sing poetic compositions of Amir Khusrau
    Interviews were conducted with the following resource persons.

  • Ustad Ghulam Muhammad Saaznawaz.
  • Ustad Muhammad Abdullah Sehtari
  • Muhammad Yaqoob Sheikh
  • Prof. Hamid Naseem Rafiabadi
  • Dr. Ghulam Nabi Gauhar
  • Abid and Adil Hussain Tibatbaqal, grandson of Ustad Muhammad Abdullah
  • Ustad Abdul Rashid Hafiz
Ustad Ghulam Muhammad Saaznawaz. briefed that their family had moved from Iran to Kashmir seven generations back and carried with them the system of Persian music prevalent at the time. In his words, Kashmiri classical music system consists of a set of 12 primary maqams and 42 other subsidiary maqams. It also has a system of talas ranging from the shortest 4 beat cycle going up to the longest 32 beat cycle. The primary maqams are tied up with the 12 zodiac signs and also have therapeutic properties for curing diseases miraculously in stories which parallel such stories in the realm of Hindustani classical music therapy. The system of ta’lim in his family is to begin with Tabla and then move to the string instruments Sehtar, Saaz-e-Kashmir, Madhyam and Santur and it is when the student moves to Santur that he is taught kalam alongside. Even as late as the 1970s, the concert repertoire primarily consisted of Persian kalam of poets like Rumi, Jami, Sa’di, Hafez and Khusrau. It is only recently that the connoisseurship of Persian kalam has gone down and Kashmiri kalam has taken its place.

Ustad Saaznawaz also talked about the vocabulary of musical terms associated primarily with Santur in an attempt to establish its Persian origins. The original name of the instrument, according to him, was Sadtur (Sad = 100; Tur = Strings) which is played using 2 kalam and the instrument is tuned using an abraq and placed on a sehpay (Seh = Three; Pay = Legs). Interestingly, Kashmiri classical music system only uses the madhya and taar saptak and doesn’t utilize the mandra saptak at all.
Ustad Muhammad Abdullah Sehtari, said that his family had moved from Uzbekistan to Kashmir 7 generations back and carried with them the system of Central Asian music prevalent at the time. Talking about the system of ta’lim in his family, he said that that young children start off sargams and then slowly made to progress to string and percussion instruments at which stage compositions are taught.

He remembers compositions of Amir Khusrau such as “Khad-e sabz-o lab-e lal-o…” (Maqam Bayat), “Namidanam che manzil…” (Maqam Rast Kashmir), “Aye chehra-e zeba-e to…”, “Khabaram rasid imshab…” (Maqam Khamach), “Kafir-e ‘ishq-am…” (Maqam Rast Kashmir) and “Chashm-e mast-e ‘ajabe…” the way his father had taught him. Speaking about dargahs of the Chishti silsila and the practice of sama’, he expressed sadness about the decline of such occurrences, even during the occasion of urs. However, in his own way, he has tried to continue the system of piri-muridi and said that he is a murid of Pir Shah Hussain (who belongs to the same silsila as Dastigeersahib) with whom he often travels to various shrines within Kashmir.
Muhammad Yaqoob Sheikh is among the younger generation of Kashmiri classical musicians. He learnt from his maternal grandfather Ustad Ghulam Muhammad Qaleenbaft and his senior disciple Sheikh Abdul Aziz who was a scholar-musician. Yaqoob disagreed with Ustad Saaznawaz as far as the contention of there being a total of 54 maqams and showed, through a system of parentage from the 12 primary maqams down to various branches, that there actually exist a total of 180 maqams, of which less than half have survived today. Giving reference of two books by Sheikh Abdul Aziz – Kashmir Sargam and Ramooz-e-Mousiqui – he elaborated the theory of Kashmiri classical music.
Prof. Hamid Naseem Rafiabadi talked about the origins of the various silsilas in Kashmir – Qadiriya, Suharwardiya, Naqshbandiya, Chishtiya and Kashmir’s own Reshi tradition. He said that the Chishti silsila arrived in Kashmir only in the 17th century and, by then, the other silsilas had already captured the attention of people in the valley. Nonetheless, he said that sama’ of the kind that exists in the form of Kashmiri classical music today existed in Chishti dargahs in the olden time. However, over time, the practice diminished and was discontinued almost completely about 30-40 years back when the political situation of the valley started becoming volatile.
Dr. Ghulam Nabi Gauhar talked about his reading of the Sanskrit, Persian and Kashmiri sources on Sufism. He said that the Chishti silsila arrived in Kashmir only in 1722 which was too late for it to have any kind of significant impact given that the Qadiriya, Suharwardiya, Naqshbandiya, Kubrawi and Reshi silsilas had already captured the mystical imagination of the people. However, he remembered listening to Kashmiri sufiana music in dargahs in his childhood and also saw Kashmiri dervishes who would whirl and then fall in sajda.

The structure of a typical Kashmiri classical music piece is something like the following – a brief musical interlude primarily on the Santur, followed by the first two lines of the kalam which are then ornamented and elaborated using all the instruments and chorus and the tempo is increased, and then it resumes to the initial tempo as soon as the next two lines of the kalam are introduced.
Adil Hussain Tibatbaqal is the grandson of Ustad Muhammad Abdullah Tibatbaqal who was a legendary Kashmiri classical musician. Adil is Associate Professor for Santur at the Faculty of Music and Fine Arts, University of Kashmir and learnt to play the Santur from his grandfather’s recordings and Pandit Bhajan Sopori in Delhi.

Apparently, music was God’s gift to Ustad Muhammad Abdullah Tibatbaqal as he did not belong to family of musicians nor did he ever take formal lessons from any musician of his time. By regularly attending mehfils and an in-depth study of various Persian texts pertaining to music, he picked up playing instruments like Santur, Sehtar, Madhyam, Saaz-e-Kashmir, Harmonium and Tabla. Apart from Kashmiri classical music, the Ustad also dabbled in Kashmiri folk music and even light music for All India Radio plays. From the time All India Radio was set up in Kashmir in 1948, Ustad Tibatbaqal was closely associated with it and performed regularly for live broadcasts as well as the recorded National Programme which was broadcast even from the Delhi station. Adil has a collection of a few recordings of the Ustad’s rendition of the kalam of Rumi, Sa’di, Jami and Hafez which reflected a high point of Kashmiri classical music that, sadly, does not exist anymore. They gave references with photographs during those days of, mehfils that would take place in parks on special occasions such as the onset of Basant and other such prominent ritual occasions within the Kashmiri calendar. It emerged out of the discussion that Ustad Tibatbaqal also introduced the Hindustani classical music practice of jugalbandi within Kashmiri classical music and played regularly with his contemporary Santur player and vocalist Ustad Ghulam Muhammad Qaleenbaft.
Kashmiri folk singer, Ustad Abdul Rashid Hafiz explained that he did not belong to a family of musicians and his family’s traditional occupation was woodwork. However, while attending a mehfil of Sufis, his heart craved to learn Kashmiri folk music and he went to Ustad Ghulam Muhammad Dar who used to regularly play Sarangi with the famed vocalist Ustad Ghulam Hasan Sofi. Ustad Dar tested the voice of young Abdul Rashid and accepted him as a disciple teaching him the basics of Kashmiri maqams and Hindustani ragas. From 1979, Hafiz started performing at occasions of sama’ amidst Sufis and other connoisseurs and his popularity continued to climb.