In the book The Sufis, author Idries Shah wrote that no academic study of Sufism is complete if the researcher is not a working Sufi. The performers of the musical show Sound of the Sufis prove that it is enough to be Sufi at heart.
Sounds of the Sufis is a three-hour stage show in which three performers, Priyanka Patel, Anuraag Dhoundeyal and Karan Chitra Deshmukh, entertain the audience with personal anecdotes, songs, and stories tracing the origins of Sufism from the eighth century.
Through the performance in English and Hindi, the group narrates the lives and messages of Sufi mystics such as Amir Khusro, Rumi, Kabir, Mirabai, Lal Ded and Rabia Basri. The musical compositions are based on original poems written by saints and poets in many languages, including Kashmiri, Punjabi and Urdu. Sounds of the Sufis will be staged in Mumbai on September 25 and in London on October 12.
Patel and Dhoundeyal run a company called The Looking Glass that organises life skill workshops integrating the arts, psychology and education with music, dance and theatre. Deshmukh is a multi-percussionist for the show Sounds of the Sufis, which has travelled to several Indian cities and London since they began performing in 2014.
Priyanka Patel, who plays the part of a raconteur in the show, said, “How can we relate to it if we are not Sufi at heart?” She described how her own troubled personal life forms one of the stories she narrates in the show. “When I recount it, there is no remorse and it is one way of reflecting my own Sufism to let go of the past.”
Dhoundeyal finds his Sufi spirit in singing the songs of 13th-century poet Amir Khusro, strumming his guitar to the beats of Deshmukh’s tabla. Their goal is to take Sufism to the masses without turning it into a gimmick. “The songs you see in Bollywood films is not what Sufism is about,” Dhoundeyal said, explaining how songwriters misuse the word sufiana (like a Sufi) in their lyrics to rhyme with ishqiana (like a zealous lover) and dilute the philosophy.
“Our aim is to blend our stories and songs with historical evidence,” he said. “We have consulted experts in the field of Sufi studies.” Scholars Nagendra Pandey and Asma Rehman were consulted, and they suggested focusing the show on the Chishti order of the mystic Sufi tradition that began in India in the 12th century.
The poems of the 15th century poet Kabir and the 16th century poet Mirabai, two major influences of the Bhakti movement, have been included in the Sounds of the Sufis because of their syncretic views of Hinduism and Islam.
Initially the show started with the three collaborators managing every aspect of the performance, including the staging and lighting. With the addition of director Faraz Arif Ansari, the performers have been able to broaden the scope of the production. Ansari directed a short documentary on their road trip across the country, visiting the shrines of the Sufi saints. “We are soon going to start a crowd-funding campaign to raise funds so that the documentary can be made into a feature length documentary,” Patel said.
Music lovers attending their shows have often requested for a music CD of the songs they perform. “We are going to make an album too,” Dhoundeyal said, opening a booklet of songs by the mystics. “We distribute these before our performance so that people can read the lyrics and sing with us.”
The show has attracted audience members of all ages, from eight-year-old children who are initiated into the Sufi experience and ecstatic 80-year-old men who sing along rapturously. “Ultimately, Sounds of the Sufis shows us how to rise above the superficial and hit a deeper space and tap into our collective unconsciousness,” Dhoundeyal said, breaking into an impromptu rendition of Kabir’s poem Naiharva hum ka nab have (I don’t find peace at my home).