The man and his music: Rahman on his spiritual connection with Sufism

The man and his music: Rahman on his spiritual connection with Sufism

By BHUMIKA POPLI | | 16 September, 2017
A.R. Rahman, Sufism, international Sufi concert, Mukhtiar Ali, Mohammad Rumi, Mozart of Madras, The Sufi Route
A.R. Rahman at his recent press conference in Delhi.
Musical maestro A.R. Rahman was recently in Delhi to promote an international Sufi concert he will be performing at in November. At the event, he talked about his attempts to spread the Sufi gospel through his music, writes Bhumika Popli.

"You see I am not an intellectual man. I am a lay person and I know that certain things can’t be explained,” said A.R. Rahman in a recent press conference in Delhi. He was asked about the influence of Saint Nizamuddin Aulia on his life. “My answers would be simple, I feel that my internal connect with him is much stronger than I can put into words. I sometimes go at the dargah  at 2 a.m. and come out at 6. a.m., only aware of the power of the eternal.”

The impact of the eternal has  always been felt in the music of the maestro. Rahman has brought Sufism into his practice as a musician. In songs such as “Kun Faaya Kun” from Rockstar, “Piya Haji Ali” from Fiza, “Khwaja Mere Khwaja” from Jodha Akbaar—the list is delightfully long.

The acclaimed musician was recently in Delhi for the announcement of a Sufi concert where he will be performing with other artistes. To be held on 18 November, “The Sufi Route” will take place at Delhi’s Qutub Minar. In the event, organised by the production house Friday Filmworks, other Sufi artistes such as Nooran sisters, Mukhtiar Ali, Hans Raj Hans, Konya Turkish Music Ensemble, Dhruv Sangari and Dervish dancers will also perform.

The concert will bring together two ancient and culturally rich roots of Sufi music—Turkish Tasawuf and Indian Sufism (as Konya Turkish Music Ensemble will perform at the show). The aim of Turkish Tasawuf is to commemorate Hazrat Mawlana Jalal ad-Din Mohammad Rumi and to make Shab-e-Arus (the whirling dervishes ceremony). After the Delhi performance, the show will travel to the UK and UAE.

At the press conference, Rahman at first seemed lost in his own world. He was digressing from the questions asked and often asked for the questions to be repeated. On being asked how the preference of listeners of Sufi music has changed over the last couple of years, he replied, “My intention is to really do something which is honest, I feel I should not judge people for what they do as I still need to cleanse myself.”

The artiste, it appeared, is always, as he said at the event, “half in another world”. In this other world, he is extremely close to the Almighty. He interacts with his God and derives energy from him. Someone at the conference mentioned, “I feel every song of yours is like a prayer.”

Rahman often prays in his music studio, where he is known to spend days at a stretch.  “I sometimes come out, then go back and change something in my music. For someone else this might be boring, but for me this is my life,” said the master about his creative process.

Away from the studio, it is the stage that he considers special and central to his life. On being asked, what he enjoys more, the stage or the studio, he replied, “Both. The stage takes all the negative energy away.”

Talking about how Sufism can change the world for the better, he said, “The need of the hour is to share the spirituality and love which the Sufis give within humanity. I am a student still; I am learning a lot. I am going from preacher to preacher to encompass the values of Sufism in my heart. There are four stages in Sufism, namely shari’a (exoteric path), tariqa (esoteric path), haqiqa (mystical truth) and marifa (final mystical knowledge). I don’t know to which stage I belong. But I am very fascinated by the process of getting there. I am almost like a beggar in front of a very rich person—the almighty. That’s what spirituality teaches you: to be a  fakir.”

Rahman often prays in his music studio, where he is known to spend days at a stretch.  “I sometimes come out, then go back and change something in my music. For someone else this might be boring, but for me this is my life,” says the master about his creative process. Away from the studio, it the stage that considers special and central to his life. On being asked, what he enjoys more, the stage or the studio, he replied, “Both. The stage takes all the negative energy away.”
But the person who considers himself a beggar in front of the Almighty is greatly repected all over the world. Numerous national and international awards—like a couple of Oscars, Grammies and national awards among others—have been given to the multitalented artiste.Rightfully called the Mozart of Madras, Rahman once was also conferred with the title of one of the most influential person in the world by TIME magazine. But all these titles don’t matter much to the artiste. In an interview, he once said: “Ever since I embraced Sufism, I have learnt to separate myself from my desires and my success. Now, I can distance myself from all the adulation showered on me.”

Rahman is respected the world over for the soul-enriching music he creates. One of his fans is Roger H. Brown, the president of the acclaimed Berklee College of Music. “Given his institution that produces very  talented musicians, composers, technicians, I was surprised when once Brown told me that “Kun Faaya Kun” is one of his favourite songs, but then I understood that the song is beyond language and it translates from one heart to another,” said Rahman.

Through the concert, Rahman aims to connect people with Sufi music and art. He said, “Sufism is in our country’s roots and this is due to the strong presence of faith in this country. We are all lucky to be in India and the sense of pride for this country comes from within.”

Rahman thinks that he has a great sense of responsibility towards his listeners. He said, “When we take any job, there should be an ingrained idea of accountability within us. For example, if something goes wrong with my driver then I am gone. Similarly in music, we ensure that what we give to the audience is the best we could do with all our limitations. My team and I never compromise. There is no resting till the very end. The commitment we make to the audience is to be fulfilled.”

With “The Sufi Route”, Rahman wants to reach out to new listeners. “I want to pass all the energy on the event to the audience I derive from the infinite when I am sitting in front of my keyboard and feeling like a worthless idiot,” said one of the greatest musicians of our time.

 

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