Muharram, the first month of the Islamic calendar, is observed as a period of mourning by devout Muslims, as it was during this month that Imam Hussain, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, was killed in the Battle of Karbala in 680 AD. In particular, the first 10 days of this month witness ceremonial mourning. An overt display of emotion is particularly seen among Shia Muslims.
In keeping with this practice, many Hindustani musicians who follow the Islamic faith strictly do not practise or perform music during the first 10 days of this month. But some of them present musical renditions of poetic forms like soz and marsiya as lamentations in remembrance of the historic battle. They are rendered without any accompaniment, although other voices often maintain the tonic in ‘aakaar’ (using the the vowel ‘aa’) as a drone.
Special training in sozkhwani or the art of soz presentation has been imparted in the past and those from hereditary musician families continue to have their collection of soz and marsiya compositions. Importantly, although the poetry is set to tune and is raag-based, they refer to the presentation of soz or marsiya as “padhnaa” or recitation and do not consider it to be a part of singing.
Shehnai maestro Bismillah Khan speaks about his participation in Muharram congregations.
The inimitable ghazal and thumri-dadra exponent Begum Akhtar has also recorded sozkhwani. Here is a link to one rendition. (Please do use headphones to listen to this track).
The next soz is by Kajjan Begum, a well-known vocalist from Pakistan. Listeners will note the presence of melodic phrases usually found in the tappa form.
The final track features Rampur-Sahaswan gharana maestro Ghulam Mustafa Khan presenting a traditional Soz-o-salaam. He is accompanied by his sons Murtuza Mustafa, Qadir Mustafa, Rabbani Mustafa, Hasan Mustafa and grandson Faiz Mustafa. The track has been arranged by AR Rahman, the pathbreaking and iconic film music composer.