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Learn More About Miraculous Kashmiri Music and Ustaad Ramzan Joo

The culturally rich Kashmir has a hidden gem: Sufiana music. Popularized by immigrants in the early 20th century, the tradition is a historical one. This classical fusion music has a rich and diverse history that brings spirituality and divinity to this form.
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Learn More About Miraculous Kashmiri Music and Ustaad Ramzan Joo

Ustaad Ramzan Joo

March 24, 2023 09:07 EDT
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Sufiana music arrived in the Kashmir valley with Islam. Originally, musicians from Iran and Central Asia were patronized by Sultan Zain ul Abdin, a liberal and tolerant ruler of Kashmir. These musicians brought new musical instruments to Kashmir, then modified existing ones to make them compatible with the new Sufiana Music in the Kashmir valley. 

At its core, Sufiana music is a Central Asian musical tradition influenced by Indian classical music. Like Hindustani classical music, Kashmiri Sufiana music also evolved through a gharana system. The main concept in Sufiana is that of maqam, a counterpart of the Indian raga system.  The thematic content of the compositions is mostly mystical, spiritual, or focused on divine love. Sufiana music is sung by a group of musicians led by the leader, who generally plays the santoor—the principal instrument in Sufiana singing. There are a hundred strings (Shat-tantric Veena) in the Sufiana santoor stretched over twenty-five bridges. Each bridge has four strings for each note. It is played with two wooden hammers known as kalam.

In the not-so-distant past, there was also a female dance form associated with Sufiana music called Hafiz Nagma. In this dance form, a female dancer known as Hafiza expressedthe meaning of Maqam compositions through various movements and body gestures. The Hafiza Nagma was banned by the Maharaja in the early part of the 20th century as it became associated with prostitution.

Today’s Sufiana Traditions

At present, we have only four surviving gharanas located in the three districts of Jammu and Kashmir: Budgam, Srinagar, and Anantnag. There were also two Kashmiri Pandit gharanas of Sufiana music. Of these two, one was from Sopore town and the other from Srinagar city. The Sopore gharana was represented by Pandit Shankar Nath Sopori. He used to play Sufiana music on the Kashmiri Sitar (Sehtar). 

The other gharana belonged to Pandit Khera Kak Munshi. Pandit Khera Kak was one of the leading Sufiana musicians of Kashmir who held regular Sufiana Mehfils at his home. Apart from this, Pandit Ved Lal Dhar Vakil of Tankipora (Srinagar) was also a Santoor player who taught Sufiana music to his daughters Rageshwari and Jaijaiwanti. 

Ramzan Joo, a father of Sufiana music and a deeply spiritual man, was the patriarch of the Saaznawaz gharana of Daan Mazaar, Safa Kadal Srinagar. After he died in 1971, this gharana was carried forward by his able son and disciple Ustad Ghulam Muhammad Saaznawaz. Ustaad Ghulam Muhammad Saaznawaz was awarded India’s fourth highest civilian honour the Padma-shri in 2013. He was also awarded the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1998 for his contribution to the Sufiana music of Kashmir.  

Ustaad Ramzan Joo could sing and play many instruments like Santoor, Kashmiri Sitar ( Sehtar), Tabla, Saz-e-Kashmir and Madham. All these instruments are vital in the Kashmiri Sufiyana orchestra. The combination of all these five instruments is known as ‘Panjhatheyari’. Ustaad Ramzan Joo was into spirituality simultaneously apart from being a wonderful Sufiana singer and instrumentalist. 

Born at Dana Mazaar, Safa Kadal, Srinagar, his ancestors (who were also musicians) are believed to have come to the Kashmir valley from Iran. Music was in his blood. He learned it from his elders since his childhood. He was known to be a perfectionist who never compromised with Sur (note), Taal (time) and Lai (rhythm). He preferred singing to Sufi saints and disliked using Sufiana music for Hafiz Nagma. Ustaad Ramzan Joo learned Sufiana music from his father, uncle, elder brother and Ustaad Abdullah Shah. Quite often, both his brother and Ustaad Ramzan Joo would perform together. 

Ramzan Joo and his brother, Ustaad Sidh Joo, would sing in the darbar (court) of Maharaja Hari Singh—the ruler of Jammu and Kashmir till 1947—who was a patron of music. They would also sing for saints and Sufis. It is said that Saint Gopinath Ji was also a lover of Sufiana music and as such Ustaad Ramzan Joo also performed before the saint. The ustaad and his brother were possibly brought to Saint Gopi Nath Ji’s Ashram by Pandit Ved Lal Dhar Vakil, an ardent admirer of Ramzan Joo and his brother. 

A devout Muslim, Ramzan Joo is on record as having refused to sing in marriages. It is said that if he was convinced that the gathering had real connoisseurs of music, then and only then he would agree to perform. Ramzan Joo had a unique style of playing Shakal (the commencement of the performance) and singing Nasr (a short poem without rhythm sung after the Shakal).

Syed Zeeshan Fazil writes this about Ustaad Ramzan Joo in his book “Falcons of  Paradise”:-

Ramzan Joo was well versed with the most difficult Maqams of Sufiana music like Nawroz e Arab, Dev-Gandhar, Jazvanti, and Sindhuri. He had a melodious voice and he would play the Tabla, Kashmiri Sitar and santoor professionally. While playing the Tabla, he could also sing freely with the perfection of Taal.

Prof Jaya Parimu, who taught music in various degree colleges of Jammu and Kashmir, has this to say about Ramzan Joo and the Sufiana music of Kashmir:

Like Hindustani classical music, Kashmir’s Sufiana music is also based on taals, ragas and the time theory of ragas.To me, it is more akin to dhrupad than khayal gayaki. That way it is a form of Hindustani Classical music. Like Hindustani Classical music, it has Taraana, Ek-Taal, Teen-Taal, Duyaktaal, Neem-dore, Chapandaz etc. Sidh Joo and Ramzan Joo, both brothers were ace musicians of the Kashmiri Sufiana genre. Sidh Joo –Ramzan Joo gharana scores over all other music gharanas of Kashmir. As I understand, this gharana had a definite edge over others in terms of style, Baaj, melody and Santoor accompaniment. By the time electronic media support and radio patronization arrived, Sidh Joo had expired. Ramzan Joo did broadcast his music over the radio but age had overtaken him though he still retained his unique magical touch. He was an ace Santoor player. His music and Maqams had depth. He had a wonderful style of reaching the crescendo. One could feel as if honey bees were dancing around the honeycombs. Once my father had engaged Ramzan Joo for a month in a Doonga anchored at Naseem Bagh. I vividly remember the Sufiana Musical Mehfils that took place in our home in Kashmir.

Some Listening Recommendations

To get a soulful feel of the music created by Saaznawaz gharana of Kashmir, listen to Padam-shri Ghulam Mohammad Saaznawaz’s two compositions listed below: 

Bozu myan zaar,

Zaarai paar,

Awaara karthas

(Listen to my woes,

Listen to the agony,

An aimless wanderer

I have been rendered in this love)

And the second: 

Baeti na ye dooreyr

Chonuyi zaraai

Baal maraai yo

(I can’t withstand this separation

My love, I may die in youth)

[Bella Bible edited this piece.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

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