The Sufi Qawwals of Taj Falaknuma

The evening Qawwali was like a call to Arzan, a call for prayer. A group of half a dozen qawwals sat on the floor with harmoniums, tabla and jingles all set to sing the Qawwali, the most revered traditions of the palace. These guys were the soul of the palace and tied up the mood for the evening. I interviewed them briefly for my video. They were a group called Raja Bayan from the villages of Rajasthan who had been singing folk music for generations, father to son and so on.

“Since the last eight years that we have been in the Nizam’s palace, we have been singing qawwalis and now have turned to Sufi music as it touches our soul the most.” One of them remarked as he played a tune from his harmonium. I asked him to sing a song by Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, my favourite qawwal and the pioneer of Sufi music. As if on cue, the band started singing and it was music all over the place as I swirled my camera capturing the singing qawwals of the Taj Falaknuma Palace. On the other side, the windows were open showcasing the moon-lit night and the blue hue that had formed in the sky. The moon’s light had made the dark sky blue and purple with its reflection. People sat on the ledge of the palace jharokhas admiring the sky and the hills. Every night at the palace looked like a Diwali night, a night of celebration. The fountains threw jets of water in the air and the neatly cut lawns made way for the palace guests.

I got so drunk on the Sufi qawwali that I too started moving feverishly to the sound of the voices that at times were godly and at times haunting and empty. I realised the meaning of Sajda and Falk at these points – just music, me and my prayer to my maker. Me in direct contact with my inner god – that is the feeling the music created.

After the evening session, I proceeded back to the billiards room but the sounds and music of the Qawwals of Falaknuma palace will forever remain with me.

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