College of Arts and Sciences

Mysticism, Musicality, and Folk Epic: The Tragedy of Hir-Ranjha in a Kafi Performed by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan

First Mondays Series

Erik Ohlander, Religious Studies

Erik Ohlander, philosophyDecember 2, 2013
Noon - 1:15 p.m.
Science Building, Room 185

Blending elements of Hindu devotional music with Islamicate forms of mystico-religious literary expression, the Indo-Muslim musical tradition known as qawwali has occupied a prominent place in the culture of religiosity associated with the tomb-shrines of holy men in India and Pakistan for over half a millennium. Popularized in recent decades by the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (d. 1997) qawwali employs multiple rhetorical-linguistic registers to communicate mystico-religious ideas which both embrace and transcend the conceptual and ritual contexts of the tomb-shrine settings in which it is traditionally performed. Often set opposite to the performance of hymnic compositions in formal Indo-Persian or Urdu, one of the most evocative of these registers is the singing of poetic compositions known as kafian, refrained odes in vernacular languages which often evoke folk narratives local to the qawwal’s ethno-linguistic milieu. This talk will examine one such example, the performance of a kafi in Punjabi by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan which references the epic of Hir-Ranjha, a tragic romance whose most poignant images are used programmatically to communicate certain mystical ideas and teachings which might otherwise be obscured in other, less accessible registers of the performance.