AbstractsLanguage, Literature & Linguistics

Poetry in Sufi Practice : Patrons, Poets and Performers in South Asian Sufism from Thirteenth Century to the Present

by Mikko Viitamäki

Institution: University of Helsinki
Department: Department of World Cultures
Year: 2015
Keywords: islamintutkimus
Record ID: 1131188
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/10138/153398


This study discusses poetic communication in the context of maḥfil-i samāʿ (an assembly of listening to sung poetry) among South Asian Sufis. Drawing from both textual and ethnographic materials, the study explores the relationship between Sufi practice, poetic expression, and musical performance. It presents a context-sensitive reading of a multilingual (Persian, Hindi, Urdu) poetic corpus that takes into account its literary characteristics, the framework of Sufi practice, as well as the various techniques the qawwali musicians utilize in delivering the meaning of a poetic text. The study comprises three parts that are distinguished by their sources and methodological approaches. The first part discusses the dynamics of samāʿ as a meditative and ecstatic Sufi practice, and it is based on close reading of textual sources in Arabic, Persian and Urdu, written between the fourteenth and twentieth centuries. Throughout these texts, the authors have characterized samāʿ as a spiritual practice whose transformative effect is sudden, even violent. The second part examines twentieth-century anthologies of qawwali poetry and shows the extreme fluidity of the poetic repertoires; the performers are fairly free to choose the texts they sing as long as they bring about the desired effect in the listeners. The study of poetry in samāʿ, however, is bound to remain suggestive, if it is solely based on textual sources. Each performance of a poetic text is uniquely shaped in the interaction between the listeners and singers. For this reason, the third part of the study covers an ethnographic analysis of four samāʿ assemblies that took place in Delhi and Hyderabad. While the focus is on the poetic text, the analysis takes into account the physical settings of the occasions, the hierarchies that regulate the interaction of the participants, as well as the economics involved. The analysis reveals how the qawwals intertwine musical and poetic conventions in order to continuously alternate between tension and release during maḥfil-i samāʿ. In this manner, they intensify the listenersʼ feelings and emotions which are then ideally integrated into their spiritual practice. The impassioned poetic expression that addresses god as the beloved also constitutes a significant religious discourse that complements the more systematic approach found in Islamic theological and legal prose writings. Kyyneliä, vaatteiden repimistä, tajunnan menetys ja joskus kuolema. Näin kuvailevat intialaiset suufit reaktioita laulettuun runouteen sama'n aikana. Sama' on uskonnollinen harjoitus, jossa musiikkia ja laulettua runoutta kuuntelemalla pyritään luomaan uskonnollisia kokemuksia. Toisinaan näitä kokemuksia luonnehtii seesteisyys ja meditatiivisuus, toisinaan ne taas ilmenevät rajuina ekstaattisina tiloina. Islamintutkimuksen alaan kuuluva väitöskirja analysoi Intian qawwali-muusikoiden sama'-istunnoissa laulamaa runoutta. Tämä runous kattaa laajan ja jatkuvasti muuttuvan valikoiman persian-, urdun- ja hindinkielisiä tekstejä, joita on…