Of Sufism And Kathak Dancers

Music has the power to transcend borders, faith and even time itself. One of the greatest regrets of my life is that I never could attend a live concert by the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Recently a much-hyped concert was held in Kashmir by a pakistani rock band – Junoon. I did not attend the concert for two reasons. First of all, Junoon without Ali Azmat is like Coke without the fizz – absolutely flat. Two, the idea of attending a music concert surrounded by barbed wire and jackboots is somehow disconcerting. No pun intended.

However, that is not what this post is about. It is about the fact that the ‘hire-for-your-cause’ Junoon like to call themeselves a ‘Sufi Rock‘ band. Marketing whiz-kids have adopted ‘Sufi‘ as GenX catch-phrase and this disturbing trend has been picked up and amplified by the media who are now billing every wannabe as a ‘Sufi This‘ or ‘Sufi That‘.

Someone like Kailash Kher, a self-professed follower of a form of yoga called ‘Nirguna Upasana‘, is commercially savvy enough to title his album “Sufism Simplified“, all the while maintaining that he is not a sufi singer – probably to keep the saffron brigade off his back. This crass commercialisation has been taken to its extreme by a dancer who apparently performs and teaches something called ‘sufi kathak‘ commercially, while making statements like “Sufi Kathak is not a mechanical dance form that anyone could learn, one has to learn the nuances of Sufi thought to be able to carry it through panache“. If only it were that easy. All this from a website offering VCDs for sale and press kits for download.

Sufism is the mystical or inward dimension of Islam. Just as there can be no Yoga without Hinduism, no Zen without Buddhism – there is no Sufism without Islam. The term Sufi itself means a muslim mystic. At its very basic level Sufism denotes an absolute detachment from wordly desire in search of the ultimate truth. Unfortunately the mass marketing juggernaut is distorting/transmogrifying ‘Sufi‘ into a catchphrase for quick and easy money.