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The music of the soul

The music of the soul
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If words come out of the heart they enter the heart. If they come out from the tongue, they do not pass beyond the ears” goes a Sufi saying and Sufi...

If words come out of the heart they enter the heart. If they come out from the tongue, they do not pass beyond the ears" goes a Sufi saying and Sufi music seeking to discover truth by deepening one's relationship with the creator is steeped in mysticism and poetry that emerges from the heart. It is this quality that makes Sufi music universal and beyond narrow divisions says Smita Bellur, the country's first female Hindustani vocalist who has been accepted into the lineage of traditional Qawaals.

Her deep engagement with mysticism and training in this genre, has been winning her much appreciation and the musician hailing from North Karnataka describes the Sufi experience as a state of 'heightened consciousness". Smita's shift to Sufi happened around 2009 by which time she had already given around 350 classical concerts and was an IT professional. In a pensive mood while travelling from work one evening she was taken into a trance by the soulful rendition of the famous 'Allah Hu" Sufi Kalaam rendered by Aziz Ahmad Khan Warsi, the famous Qawwal who was awarded the Padma Sri. "This song just drew me to it and I was lost in its melody and meaning. Listening to music is a part of our taleem (practice) and I must have listened to over thousand hours of music by then. This song however was absolutely captivating and I felt I found my calling" recalls Smita about her foray into Sufi music. This genre of music helped her through the rough and tumble of life bringing calm and stability which she hopes to convey to audiences through her soulful renditions.

A training of over two decades in the Khayal form of North Indian Classical music helped her reach out to listeners at the many prestigious venues where she performed with her knowledge of ragas and rhythm enhancing the listening experience as classical music is the base of every kind of music says Smita. Many Sufi songs are rendered as an extension of the Chota Khayal while those that speak of the longing for the divine as being united with one's beloved take on the tumri style, she elaborates. Learning from the Warsi brothers (Naseer and Nazeer Ahmed Khan) who are grandsons of Aziz Ahmad Khan Warsi brought Smita to Hyderabad for a while and led to her fascination with the beautiful Urdu poetry of several legendary Hyderabadi poets like Maqdoom Moinuddin, Amjad Hyderabadi and Saeed Shaheedi among others. Not being able to learn from Hyderabad's famous Pt. Vittal Rao who passed some years ago remains a big regret to this day. However encouraged by an idea that developed during an informal practice session with Sardar Khan (tabla), Yakoob Ali (Harmonium) and Dr. Ghani, a senior disciple of Pt. Vittal Rao Smita is all poised to present a programme based on the works of great Hyderabadi poets through the musical legacy of Pt. Vittal Rao and the Warsi family in Hyderabad in March 2020.

Smita Bellur's most recent offering "Faiz Unplugged" conceptualised, scripted and narrated by Suhail Akhtar Warsi is a celebration of Faiz Ahmed Faiz's poetry and his life and times through his body of works ranging from the romantic to the revolutionary. "Hum Dekhange" Faiz's work has become controversial in recent times as several anti-establishment protestors have been using it as a song of defiance. "Faiz's works reflect eternal truths. It is not anti anyone. Fitting it into certain dogmas robs it of its artistic flavour" opines Smita. Against extreme views right or left Smita says her performances bring about profound aspects of humanity addressed by the rich spiritual poetry of our country. Different aspects of Nirgun Bhakti, Sufism, Veerashaiva and Haridasa traditions are part of her vast repertoire.

Akka Mahadevi, Amba Bai, Khwaja Ghulam, Allama Iqbal, Kabir. kannada Bhava geethe, vachana Sahitya and innumerable works attributed to people from different parts of our country have an underlying thread of divinity about them according to her. Smita quotes a beautiful Kannada Bhava geethe written by K.S Narasimha Swamy which sums up the philosophy of the mystics. Deepavu ninnade/ gaaliyu ninnade/ Aradiralli Belaku/ Kadalu ninnade, hadagu ninnade/ Mudugadirali baduku (The candle is yours and so is the wind. Don't let the candle die. The sea is yours and the ship is yours too. Don't let life drown). Sufi Kalaams touch hearts that resonate with higher thoughts and are beyond narrow thinking says Smita who believes that it is truly the music of the soul. Asked about unforgettable moments in her musical journey she says they are all related to audience responses because of the inevitable bond forged with the listeners. "I remember with gratitude tears that flowed down the eyes of listeners after a rendering of "Kab tak mere Moula" she adds. Success according to her is being able to convey the poet's energy and emotion with melody and devotion and it is her endeavour to keep doing that.

Aruna Ravikumar

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