Monday, August 15, 2016

Linkages between Sikhism and Sufism

A couple of months ago, at Siri Fort, there was a performance by the amazing Wadali Brothers of Punjab. Like many singers, the Wadali Brothers take their name from their village; Wadali, which is the birthplace of the sixth Sikh Guru Hargobindji.

The Wadali Brothers sing in the Gurbani, Kafi, Ghazal and Bhajan genres of music. They believe in the Sufi tradition deeply and are liberalists at heart, believing in freedom of religious practice as homage to the divine one. Their performances - part dialogue - part music - are deeply stirring. If you want to listen to it, here's the website:

Many people think 'Sufi music' (by which they mean quwwali) is a purely Muslim tradition. In the Punjab, though, there has long been a tradition of 'Sikh Sufi music'. 

Sufism became popular in the Punjab through the mystic Baba Farid (Hazrat Khwaja Farīduddīn Mas'ūd Ganjshakar), who belonged to the Chishtiya sect.

But in the 14th century, Guru Nanak, the first guru of the Sikh religion, distilled the Sufi, Nath and Bhakti traditions - three religious genres that influenced Punjab's spiritual tradition - in his divine verses.

Nanak even laid down the 'raag' (melody) in which each of these verses were to be sung. The concepts of love, secularism, universality, music, freedom of spirit and one god shine through in Nanak's verses; deeply influenced by these three traditions. The ballads of Islamic-Punjabi became popular among both Sufi story-tellers and the Gurbani musicians.

Thus, Sikhism and Sufism have many linkages, and they are not just at a philosophical level. Did you know that the foundation of the Golden Temple at Amritsar was laid in 1588 by a Sufi mystic, Hazrat Mian Mir? Guru Arjan Dev sent a palanquin to fetch Mian Mir to Amritsar from Lahore!