[May 27 is the day this year when Sufis will observe the 764th Urs – or death anniversary – of the saint Lal Shahbaz Qalandar. I have posted about this anniversary, this saint, and these Sufis before, but since most of the song clips that I used have disappeared, I am going to post about the song and the event from scratch here, meaning no links to other posts. And this is going to be a pretty big post, so I’m dividing it into two parts. The first is about THE song… I’m going to write a bit more about this song than I did before, and I am going to include a few versions. Some are versions I have shown in this blog before, but I also found a few very good ones that I had not seen or shown here yet. I have also discovered a little about the composer of the music… And that is enough for Part I. Part II will be about the Urs celebration – the whole Sufi saint festival. I might post that part at the time of the festival or, hopefully, not long afterwards.]
The Song – Descriptions and History
Although I am an agnostic (with distant Jewish heritage), I also feel as though I am an emotional/musical devotee of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar because of this incredibly compelling song, which I am sure has made millions of other people want to be worshipers of the red-robed Sufi saint, too. Incidentally, the “red-robed one” is also referred to as Jhulelal – which is actually the name of a Sindhi Hindu god, but the two figures were apparently mixed together as Hindus switched to Islam or maybe as some Muslims switched to Hinduism – it is a bit confusing… But Lal Shahbaz Qalandar was actually known for bringing the two groups together and for bringing peace and harmony between them.
I think I forgot to name the song so far. Well, it has different names. The poem it is based upon is “Dama Dam Mast Qalandar,” but I think that when it first became the popular song sung in modern times – which began with Pakistani films – it was referred to by its beginning line (as many film songs are), “Lal Meri Pat Rakhiyo,” and we still often see it referred to by that title or just “Lal Meri Pat.” Those are the Punjabi names. But there is also a Sindhi variation (as there should be, because it is a song about Sindhis), that begins, “Lal Muhinji Pat.”
This poem was initially written by the 13th Century Sufi poet Amir Khusro, but it was modified by the 18th Century Sufi poet Bulleh Shah, who is the one who actually made it specifically about Lal Shahbaz Qalandar. (By the way, I probably got that information first from Wikipedia; their post is pretty readable and to the point.) The lyrics are said to be full of cultural symbolism, but basically, they comprise a colorful praise of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar for being the great protector of Sindhi people. For a good viewing of the lyrics in Punjabi and English, I suggest going to Technology of the Heart.
A lot of people know about the origins of the poem, the Sufi poets, etc. What most people don’t seem to know about is the man who composed the music for this song – that is, the music that the famous Sufi poem has been sung to by thousands or millions of people over the last several decades. That man is the Pakistani film composer Master Ashiq Hussain.
A Few Classic Film Clips
The first time Master Hussain used this song was in a Pakistani film, Jabroo, from 1956. I have been able to find one copy of this version on YouTube. As the YouTube poster “tmjatala” admits, this copy is a bit screwed up and scratchy but is well worth having and viewing for historic reasons.
This song became much more popular – in many parts of the world – a little over a dozen years later, because of the rendition sung by Noor Jehan in the film Dilan Dey Souday, which came out in 1969. This is the version that permanently planted “Lal Meri Pat” on my mental map as well. As many know, Noor Jehan sang this song as a playback singer for two different actresses in two different dances. A lot of people praise the one by Firdous, but if I’m going to pick one version out of the movie to show, it’s always going to be the incredible performance by Naghma.
Another classic film version came out about seven years later, in 1973. This time it was sung by Inayat Hussain Bhatti and Masood Rana, picturized on Bakshi Wazir, in the film Dhian Nimanian. This is a superb rendition, by the way.
And, of course, there were many more film versions after that, but those were the classics that I felt I absolutely had to show (this time around).
There are some contemporary film versions out, too. One, which was discussed on this blog before, is a Bollywood scene involving gangsters and a wedding. The scene, in my view, is full of contemporary Bollywood clichés, and I am honestly not that enamored with it. I’m sure that a few people know which one I’m talking about; there’s no need to go into it more here.
There is a very contemporary film version that I have become enamored with… Actually, as of this writing, the film hasn’t come out yet. The film is Dhanak, and it looks very sweet. I don’t know anything about the singers or performers in this video, but they’re all pretty good. There is an English part sung along with “Lal Meri Pat” that is a sort of paraphrase of an old John Lennon song. That part is performed by a stereotypical white American hippie, and he is very funny – but not bad, actually. The part performed by the young boy is fantastic.
A Kathak Dance
A lot of people choreograph dances to “Lal Meri Pat,” and it often works out very nicely. In addition to watching musical performances of the song and film scenes created for it, I’ve enjoyed looking at a bunch of live dance clips. I could add quite a few of them here, and maybe I will in the future. But right now, I’ll stick with one favorite by the contemporary Kathak dancer V. Anuradha Singh. She is great at spins and often performs a Sufi-Kathak fusion. Her dance is, as one commenter put it, “unique.”
[I have to add, though, that listening to this one, I don’t hear the “Lal Meri Pat” melody. Is it that this is the end part (where everybody tends to improvise), or is it a different dhamal? It’s such a fine dance, though, I am tempted to leave it in regardless.]
A Performance at the Shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar
And I’ll close with something I’ve posted before, a performance at the red-robed one’s shrine by the mostly California-based qawwali group, Fanna-Fi-Allah Sufi Qawwali Party. I’ve also seem some other performances that took place at Lal Qalandar’s shrine, but this one is particularly fun to watch, shot so well and with lots of joy put into it. And it is a good way to close this post, as a preview to Part II, where I’ll post more about the shrine and the festival.
P.S. Let the main part of this post end on an upbeat note… But unfortunately, I do have something rather sad to add… I have found a video from Dawn.com (posted to Vimeo) about the musical composer, Master Ashiq Hussain, and it is not very cheery at all. Though he composed one of the most famous tunes in the history of South Asian cinema (as well as a lot of other fine music), Master Hussain and his family were left in poverty. Unfortunately, this is not a unique story. There have been so many actors, singers, etc. in Indian cinema and – maybe more so – Pakistani cinema whose lives ended in poverty. But depressing though this video may be, it is also very interesting and informative.
P.P.S. Last week, shortly after I started to plan this post, I happened upon an article at Scroll.in by my Facebook friend Nate Rabe, Mustt mustt: From Turkey to the US, seven international tributes to the legacy of Dam Mast Qalandar. Nate’s post is very different in ways, because it consists completely of contemporary international versions of the song. But he also goes into some details about the original poem, and I am sure that influenced me a little. If Nate hadn’t described those origins of the song so well, maybe I also would not have thought so much about the origins of the song. In any event, I also recommend it for the interesting music.