Sand Dunes of Mysticism – Sufi Festival
Although as a team we had researched and prepared for the festival, we were in no way ready for the magic that awaited us at the gathering. In the drab city of Jodhpur stands the majestic Mehrangarh fort, legend has it that in its foundation lies buried a man alive!
Nevertheless, we scaled the uphill pathways of the fort and arrived for a breathless experience (literally!). The days that followed dissolved and became a single long pleasant morning where the dead of the night and the beating of the sun did not reach us. We were alleviated into a body-less bundle of senses.
This was not just music but music with an all-encompassing soul that beckoned and took us under its stupor. The artists did not belong to a single culture, country or genre. They came from far and wide, from different histories and different ideologies. Even this disparity did not take away from the collective intensity of their music and our experience. They rose together like a tide in our hearts and joined in a rhythm they ebbed and flowed in a spell bounding, magnificent harmony.
The performances were spread out in the course of a day and after every two hours we would find ourselves thoroughly spent, only to rush to the next performance and go through the entire process of moulting all over again. We felt places in our minds and souls that we didn’t know existed.
What remains remarkable is the diversity of musical and art forms that came together and effortlessly became one. They were unified in their core. They talked, sang, danced and strummed similar notes. A gathering of tens of people fell into resounding silence when ‘The Bardic Divas’ sang and played; the same audience clapped and vigorously swayed their heads when ‘The Mantra’ played. The Nile Sufis made sounds which can best be described as laryngeal, accompanied with swinging body moments and when they finally stopped, we were the ones who were sweating and exhausted.
They were all summoning; some were calling to their inner strength and some their list less souls. The whirling dervishes invited us into their ancient beliefs and as they raised their hands from their bodies upward to the dark impenetrable sky, they took us along. Two Afghani artists in conversation with their Rubab and Tabla received a prolonged ovation as the audience expressed their approval and a consensus was reached.
What fascinated us immensely was how the ancient Indian temple traditions flawlessly merged with the Sufi philosophy. With elaborately painted faces and exaggerated head gears, these men embodying the spirit of Gods and Goddesses transcended reality and narrated ancient stories of creation through annihilation. The Theyyam performance was a violent assault of the senses.
These seven days that we spent in the merciless Thar Dessert was not just a journey outward but also inward. We won’t say that we are re-defined souls but we might just be on our way!
We would like to thank H.H Maharaja Gaj Singh of Jodhpur and the Mehrangarh Museum Trust for their support.