Sufi musical gathering and sufi musical instruments in chitral

Sufi musical gathering and sufi musical instruments in chitral

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Sufis consider music as a tool to reach God and sound plays a very important role in the life of a Sufi. It is a process of dissolving the physical realm into the spiritual one by polishing the heart and enhancing the spiritual aspect of life over the physical aspect. These days there are spiritual gatherings in Upper Chitral and out of Chitral where Shia Ismailia Muslims perform spiritual music to transcend the physical realm into a spiritual one. In the olden days, Pir Nasir khasraw is credited to introduce spiritual music in Chitral. He was a preacher of Islam who belonged to Arabia.

The Muslim rulers of the 12th century were great patrons of music. The family of musicians looked after the music and made institutions where they were doing their rehearsals. The royal family as well as the elite class of the states were patronized music and musicians with great interest. The structure looked as with the Sultan or Badshah (king) surveying all from its pinnacle. The Mehtar (ruler) was responsible for patronage the court musicians. Dilawar of Drosh is a recent example who performed for more than a decade in the court of prince Hisham ul Mulk, the governor of Drosh.

The Sufis have been accused by the doctrine of many offenses. One of those was offering patronage to music. it might have been a tussle between the two branches of Islam to set a way of life for the people in the subcontinent. It appears that it tended to be not only polemical but also violent. But certain Sufi salsas (orders) continued to encourage and protect musicians and the musical expression throughout this period. Pir Nasir Khesraw promoted Islam by reciting ginans or religious lyrics in Chitral. Ginnans are the sacred literature of the Shia Ismaili Muslims. The topics of ginnans are mostly for divine love, cosmology, rituals, eschatology, ethical behavior, and meditation. Ginans are attributed to the pir, who was second to the Imams in the Ismaili hierarchy.

One can refer to the diversity of Sufi music from its mainland: the sun of Africa, the shore of the Atlantic Ocean to the mountains of Pakistan, and the diversity of Sufi music are enriched by all the cultures when it crosses in Egypt, Palestine, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, and India. But in India, Amir Khusro is seen to be the representative figure of the Indo-Muslim culture. Everything has been attributed to him in poetry and music. He is seen to be alone responsible for offering a larger and more humanistic expression of religious preaching. He was aware of various strands coming together and forming a new cultural matrix of synchronistic nature that was unique to this land and not a replication of a model.

There must have been serious research into the augmented role of music and its immense qualities as has been done in other systems and orders. the importance and value would not let it remain just a means but must have sprung forward to give substantial result and frustration. All this would not be considered a waste for somebody as perceptive and wise as Pir Nasir Khesraw who instituted what remains a living tradition, was also responsible to promote Islam by using Daf, flute, and Gharba as musical instruments by reciting ginans. Here is a short description of Gharba, Daf, and flute which are being used by Shia Ismailia Muslims in their spiritual gathering in Chitral.


It is a short-necked lute with five strings made of sheep intestine due to which the sound is bum (flat) and one resonant string. The strings are tuned in C -C –C –C -F –F. The plectrum is used to play and the instrument is close to Rubab. Gharba The wood used to make Gharba is mulberry. In Upper Chitral and northern areas among Ismaili communities, it is played with spiritual music. It is played by their spiritual leader only.  The Persian poems of Nasir khesro, Mullana Roomi and Shamstabrizi, etc, are played on instruments. The melody is monotonous and similar, and on Gharba it is not repeated fully as on the Chitrali Sitar. It only keeps the rhythm but nowadays the whole tune is played with it. Gharba was not played on festive occasions but nowadays it is also played at marriage Ceremonies other fairs. The famous Gharba players in Chitral are Muhammad Amin, Aftab Alam, and Ahsan Ali, and his son Iqtidar Ali.


It is an Arabic word and is known as dap in middle Persian. It reached Chitral from Central Asia. It is a frame drum with metal bangles and ringlets attached while the membrane is usually of goatskin. It has a 6-7 inches deep hollow cylinder of wood about 32-46 inches in diameter. Daf is played on different occasions, either marriage or spiritual music. chitrali daf It is mostly used with Gharba and considered as an instrument with a religious connotation. Most people say that when Nasir Khesrow came to Chitral he brought Gharba flute and Daf and sang spiritual songs on these instruments. Tuning of the Daf is done by heating the membrane of it and balances it with the reference note of the other instrument Gharba. The left thumb put into the hole of Daf while all the nine fingers used to play, the beat is count as seven. It is used to bring about a repetitive sound that often takes the listener into a trance. Sufi music uses recurring sounds combined with rhythmic tones. It sounds like a melody following the rhythm of the “life pulse” in all its different stages or it seems the movement of the ocean under all kinds of weather. Just like our world, it forms a unity in diversity.


It is also made in the same pattern as surnai (clarinet) but its sound is less in volume than surnai. The wood of apricot or bark is used to make it. There are eight holes on which the notes are produced by placing the fingers. The instrument is mostly connected with the shepherd and in the past, there were many women in Chitral who play belu.chitrali flute,chitrali musical instrument It is also played by the Kalash. There are different sizes of flutes; most people prefer to play a middle-sized flute. Nowadays flute is also used in the Sufi music gathering in Upper Chitral. It has a symbol of the human soul that has to be totally void so that it can resonate. It has a deep meaning of its emptiness. The human soul must be empty and clear to connect with the divine power. The essence of Sufism and its connection with music is poignantly expressed in the opening words of the “Mathwani” the “spiritual couplets” written over seven hundred years ago by the famous poet Jalal Al-Din Al Rumi.


“Listen to the reed, how it complains
and tells a tale of separation pains.
“As I was separated from the reed instruments it has
has caused man and woman to moan.
I want a bosom torn by separation,
to explain the pain of longing.
Everyone who is far from his source
again trying to reconnect to the source of their origin.”

Naghma e Israfil, a sufi musical group consist of artists from Chitral and Gilgit Baltistan is accompanying daf, gharba, tabla, harmonium, and rubbab with the vocal. This group has performed both inside and outside Pakistan to touch the mystical dimension of life. As it is, music has been considered for entertainment only which is no justification with music. The purpose of music was to touch the inner music, while inner music. The purpose of Sufi music is to transcend the limitation of the logical mind because logic and language do not work to know the truth of life. therefore, when logic and language do not work music started there. Truth can not be explained or told but it can be realized and experience. Sufi music is only the tool to realize the truth.

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The writer Saifuddin is a culture critic based in Chitral



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