The Nizamuddin Basti, the centre of Hindustani culture for centuries, will soon come alive with qawwali performances in its authentic settings. In an effort to revive qawwali traditions and bring alive its roots in the Nizammudin Basti, the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) is documenting and archiving qawwali traditions, and now also handpicking children from traditional qawwal families to train them to carry the tradition forward.

While preserving the dying qawwali tradition, the Trust hopes to simultaneously create spaces in the Nizamuddin Basti, like the Chaunsath Khamba, the Central Park opposite the MCD school and the Dargah, where regular performances can take place. As part of a cultural revival initiative called the ‘Aalam-e-Khusrau’, co-funded by the Ford Foundation, the Trust is facilitating public performances, discussions, research, archiving and documenting, research fellowships, scholarship programmes and multimedia exhibitions on Khusrau.

Since its beginning in the 13th-14th Century by the Sufi Saint Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya in Ghiyaspur, qawwali is said to have been adapted in many situations and variations, but all of them display the distinct musical style and structure of the present-day qawwali. Amir Khusrau, the most beloved disciple of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, supposedly created this style of music as a form of veneration.

Scholars, however, say the tradition is now dying out. Children in qawwal families are found to carry the tradition forward, but without any formal knowledge of music. To train them, AKTC is now in the process of hand-picking children from these families from the Nizamuddin Basti, Chitli Qabar in Old Delhi and Fatehpur Sikri. They will be sent to maestros in classical music for formal training.

Last year, the ‘Jashn-e-Khusrau’ programme included khanaqahi qawwali performances, poetry-reading, lectures and discussions on qawwali and Amir Khusrau, exhibitions depicting the world of Dargah Hazrat Nizamuddin and the Basti area urban renewal projects, as well as heritage walks through the settlement of the Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti.

A similar programme is being planned for 2012, when a travelling exhibition-cum-workshop will also travel to UP, Rajasthan, Punjab, and Jammu-Kashmir, where the AKTC is documenting and archiving the existing qawwali traditions.

The AKTC has also put forth a suggestion to the Ministry of Culture to set up an Amir Khusrau Resource Centre that can house books, manuscripts, illustrations, recordings and artifacts pertaining to Khusrau’s legacy.

The AKTC has proposed that the centre be located in the Nizamuddin area, while regular events can be organised at central locations like the India International Centre and monuments such as Chaunsath Khamba that will create an interface between performers and scholars to ensure that Khusrau’s legacy is carried on.

“Qawwali traditions initiated by Hazrat Amir Khusrau here in the Nizamuddin area in the 14th Century are as much our contribution to the world’s heritage as Humayun’s Tomb. Hopefully this programme will lead to the revival of the pure art and generate greater interest amongst the younger generation while giving the qawwals new performance venues and greater recognition,” Ratish Nanda, project director, AKTC, told Newsline.

“Nizamuddin Basti has been the cradle of Hindustani culture for 700 years and we hope to revive it through these programmes.”

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