‘Yemberzal’ An All Girls Sufi Ensemble From Kashmir Is Reviving A Lost Tradition

‘Yemberzal’ An All Girls Sufi Ensemble From Kashmir Is Reviving A Lost Tradition

In conflict-ridden Jammu and Kashmir, a group of girls have been trying to revive the dying art of Sufiyana Musiqi (Sufi music) that has lost its audience to Western and Bollywood music, pushing the music form to the brink of extinction. Among the many reasons for the loss of the Sufi culture in the valley is the loss of royal patronage that can be linked to the exodus of Kashmiri pandits from the region who were among the major patrons of Sufi music, along with this civil strife in the region and rise of conservative Islamic groups.

Sufiyana Music, a devotional form of music has traditionally been in the male realm but five girls donning the traditional Kashmiri pheran and headscarves play their musical instruments against the backdrop of the Himalayan mountains. Their all-girls ensemble (of young women in their late teens and early 20s)–Yemberzal (the first flower that blooms in Kashmir post harsh winters) forming a sense of community, subverting traditions and reviving a music form that is losing its eminence. 22-year-old lead musician, Irfana Yousuf Beigh, strums the chords on her 100 stringed instrument – a santoor with her fellow music mates joining in with Saaz-e-Kashmir (a stringed instrument with a bow), tabla and hand drums. “Sufiyana music used to be performed by men in mehfils for a small audience at homes before, but today it’s moved to stages and radio and television. There are a lot of elements to this genre of music like Sur ( the notes), the matra ( the beat) and muquams (like ragas) - each of which can be played only at one time of the day,” explains Irfana.

Sufiyana Music traces its origin to Central Asia with the music based on the poetic verses from the region with lyrics based in the Persian language. The language found its way to Kashmir back in the 15th century through Iran. With assimilation into Kashmir lending it a touch of Hindi and Urdu. The mystical form of Islam that is based on tolerance, peace and pluralism where its followers seek spiritual communion with a higher power through whirling and music had various gharanas at its peak. Thousands of people in Kashmir follow Sufism but losing touch with Persain is leading to its descent. Professor Shabir Ahmed Saaznawaz, from the University of Kashmir who is an expert on music says, “Its popularity waned in Kashmir with less people speaking Persian which was the original language of all the lyrics. But with the introduction of Kashmiri and Urdu, more people are able to understand and appreciate it and there is a resurgence in the interest in this genre.”

“This music is part of our Kashmiri heritage. Since childhood, I have listened to my father perform this powerful music which always gives me peace and calm. I was also inspired to learn and perform this genre,” Irfana explains to TRT World. She further says, “Today, many people are interested in hearing our music, and it has helped us to break free from boundaries created for women, that they should only stay at home and do chores. “Music is a lifelong journey and for us, it’s just the beginning.”

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