Sufi Music from India: The Chishty Sufi Sama Ensemble

Hear the driving rhythms and vocal gymnastics of qawwali, Sufi music from South Asia, performed by an ensemble based in Ajmer Sharif, one of India’s most sacred Sufi shrines. Present throughout much of the Islamic world, Sufis seek to personally experience the divine through music, poetry, self-discipline, and contemplation. The Chishty order of Sufis was founded in India in the thirteenth century.

This recording was made live in concert at the Meyer Auditorium on April 30, 2011.


Chishty Sufi Sama Ensemble

Amjad Hussain: solo vocals (tracks 1–3)
Dhruv Bilal Sangari Chishty: lead vocals, harmonium (tracks 4–6)
Aslam Hussain: main vocals, harmonium
Akhtar Hussain: chorus, clapping
Ashraf Hussain: dholak (percussion)
Sabir: tabla (percussion)

  1. Allahu (8:20)
    (God Is)
    Solo vocalist: Amjad Hussain
  2. Na't (11:16)
    In praise of the Prophet Muhammad
    Solo vocalist: Amjad Hussain
  3. Man Kunto Maula (5:00)
    In praise of Ali, the fourth Caliph and the cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad
    Solo vocalist: Amjad Hussain
  4. Qaul: Haq Ali Maula (20:24)
    In praise of Ali
    Solo vocalist: Dhruv Bilal Sangari Chishty
  5. Manqabat: Khwajae Kwajgan (16:45)
    In praise of the founder of the Chishty order of Sufism
    Solo vocalist: Dhruv Bilal Sangari Chishty
  6. Ghazal: Zihale Miskin Makun Tagaful (9:50)
    Lyrics by Amir Khusraw (1254?–1325?)
    Do not overlook my misery by blandishing your eyes and weaving tales
    Solo vocalist: Dhruv Bilal Sangari Chishty



with selected lyrics and translations

1. Allahu (God Is)
Solo vocalist: Amjad Hussain (8:20)

Allahu is one of the most popular songs in the South Asian Sufi repertoire, performed and recorded in a variety of versions by qawwali ensembles throughout the region.

2. Na't
Solo vocalist: Amjad Hussain (11:16)

Na't is a form of poetry in praise of the Prophet Muhammad. The lyrics to this na't are in Persian.

3. Qaul: Man Kunto Maula
Solo vocalist: Amjad Hussain (5:00)


Man kunto Maula
Fa Ali-un-Maula
Dar dil dar dil dar dani
Ham tum Tanana nana Tanana ri
Yalali yalali yala yala ri
Yalali yalali yala yala ri
Whoever accepts me as master
Ali is his master also
[see below]

At some Sufi shrines, all qawwali events begin with this famous composition; at others it serves as the finale. The lyrics express a basic Sufi tenet: that the Prophet himself instituted the spiritual succession in Sufism. According to Indian Sufis, it was first set to music by the thirteenth-century poet and musician Amir Khusraw Dihlavi (see also track 6), who elaborated upon the two lines with phrases in Persian, which today are only partly intelligible. He is also credited with creating the entire genre of qawwali that is a hallmark of South Asian Sufi ritual.

The music for this lyric, according to modern qawwali singers, is based on an archaic version of a north Indian classical music raga, Shudh-kalyan. Sufi tradition says that the raga has since evolved in the classical tradition while remaining preserved in its original form in qawwali.

The full song consists of six lines of text, but since the entire meaning is contained in the first two lines, the others are usually repeated only cursorily. The core opening statement is elaborated upon through a virtuosic range of musical variation, some of it original and some drawn from an established body of alternative tunes for the text. Some singers specialize in rhythmic variety, others in melodic improvisation.

Qawwali singers further expand on this text by inserting additional short lyrics, often many of them, given the deep significance this particular song has for Sufis.

4. Qaul: Haq Ali Maula
Solo vocalist: Dhruv Bilal Sangari Chishty (20:24)

Like track 3, this song is a qaul, a genre of song lyric devoted to sayings, especially those of the Prophet Muhammad. The lyrics are devoted to Imam Ali (Ali ibn Abi Talib, ca. 600–61 CE), the cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad and the fourth Caliph. Most Sufi orders trace their lineage to Muhammad through Ali, whom they believe inherited from Muhammad the saintly power for one's spiritual journey to God. Ali's many appellations include "Lion of God" for his religious devotion and success on the battlefield. The third and fourth verses refer to the battle of Khaybar, where Ali is reputed to have removed the fort's heavy door and used it as his shield in his defeat of Marhab.

The transliterated text on the left allows the listener to follow the singer's melodic elaborations on particular words and phrases.

Ali imam-e-manasto manam Ghulam-e-Ali
Hazar jaan-e-girami fida-e-nam-e-Ali
Ali is the master of all, I am the slave of Ali
a thousand lives are to be sacrificed for Ali


Haidariam qalandaram mastam
Banda-e-Murtaza Ali hastam
Peshva-e-tamam virdaram
Ke sage ku-e-sher-e-yazdanam
I belong to the Lion of God
I am an intoxicated ecstatic wandering dervish
I am a slave of Ali the Chosen One
I am the leader of all the drunkards
As I am a dog in the street of the Lion of God


Kabhi divar hilti hai,
Kabhii dar kaaNp jata hai
Ali ka nam sun kar ab bhi
Khaibar kanp jata hai
Sometimes the wall shakes,
Sometimes trembles the door
Upon hearing the name of Ali
The fort of Khaybar trembles even now.


Shah-e-mardan, Ali
Ali Ali Ali, Ali Maula Ali
Patthar pe alam deen ka gara jisne
Palkaar kar Marhab ko pichara jisne
King of the brave men, Ali
Ali Ali Ali, Ali, [my] master Ali.
[One] who implanted the flag of faith on the rocks
[One] who challenged Marhab and defeated him.


Haq, Ali Ali Ali, Ali Maula Ali
[The] truth! Ali Ali Ali, Ali, [my] master Ali


Jap le jap le mere manva
Yahi nam saccha hai pyare
Yahi nam tere sab dukh hare
Isi nam kii barkat ne diye raaz-e-haqiiqat khol
my heart! chant this
[as] this is the name that is true.
This is the name that removes suffering
[and] the auspiciousness of this name opened the secrets of being.


Shah-e-mardan Ali. La fata illah Ali
Sher-e-yazdan Ali
King of the brave, Ali. There is no one except Ali
[and] the lion of God is Ali.


Haq, Ali Ali Ali, Ali Maula Ali
[The] truth! Ali Ali Ali, Ali, [my] master Ali


Tan par Ali, Ali ho zuban par Al Ali
Mar jaun to kafan par bhi likhna Ali Ali
My body chants Ali, so does my tongue
[and] when I die, then write Ali on my shroud.


Haq, Ali Ali Ali, Ali Maula Ali
[The] truth! Ali Ali Ali, Ali, [my] master Ali


Dast-e-ilaa kyuun na ho sher-e-Khuda Ali
Maqsud har ata hai shah-e-la-fata Ali
Jis tarah ek zat-e-Muhammad hai be-misal
Paida hu'a na hoga ko'i dusra Ali
At the door of god why not be like the Lion of God.
Every intention has a reward, King of the
Victorious is Ali
Like the progeny of Muhammad is unique and unmatchable


"Bedam" yahii to panch hain maqsud-e-qaynat
Khairunisa, Hasan, Hussain, Mustafa, Ali
There is none born nor ever will, like Ali
These five are indeed the reason of creation;
Khairunnisaa (Fatima, prophet's daughter), Hasan, Hussain (Ali's son), Mustafa (Prophet Muhammad), Ali


Shah-e-mardan, Ali
King of the brave men, Ali


5. Manqabat: Khwajae Kwajgan
(O Master of Masters)
A manqabat is a song-form devoted to Sufi saints and other great religious personages. This song is in praise of the founder of the Chishty Sufi order, Mu'inuddin Chishty (1141–1230), popularly known as Gharib Nawaz, "Benefactor of the Poor."

Solo vocalist: Dhruv Bilal Sangari Chishty (16:45)

O Master of Masters
Thou art the honor and pride of the World
Let the softness of thine eyes alight upon me
Thou, Saint of India and disciple of the Prophet
I am a beggar; I beg thee charity

6. Zihale Miskin Makun Tagaful
Persian ghazal by Amir Khusraw Dihlavi
Solo vocalist: Dhruv Bilal Sangari Chishty (9:50)

Amir Khusraw Dihlavi (1254?–1325?) was a distinguished Indo-Persian poet and musician. He served a series of royal courts, for which he wrote eloquent histories and tributes, but he is best-known today for his poetry and music. A pioneering musician, he moved audiences to ecstasy through his devotional music; he is credited with creating the entire genre of qawwali music heard on this recording. Amir Khusraw is considered a saint by modern Sufis, and his lyrics are often performed at Sufi shrines and festivities, one of which is the anniversary of his death ('urs).

Do not overlook my misery by blandishing your eyes and weaving tales;
My patience has over-brimmed, O sweetheart, why do you not take me to your bosom?

Long like curls in the night of separation, short like life on the day of our union;
My dear, how will I pass the dark dungeon night without your face before [me]?

Suddenly, using a thousand tricks, the enchanting eyes robbed me of my tranquil mind;
Who would care to go and report this matter to my darling?

Tossed and bewildered, like a flickering candle, I roam about in the fire of love;
Sleepless eyes, restless body, neither comes she, nor any message.

In honor of the day I met my beloved who has lured me so long, O Khusrau;
I shall keep my heart suppressed, if ever I get a chance to learn her trick.


Kidwai, S., "Khusraw, Amir," in M. Eliade, ed., The Encyclopedia of Religion, 16 vols. (New York: Macmillan, 1987)

Matringe, Denis, translation of Khwajae Kwajgan (track 5), from Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan: En Concert à Paris, 5 vols. (Ocora Radio France, 1989)

Nasr, Seyyed Hossein, "Ali," Britannica Academic Edition (, accessed 5-31-11

Qureshi, Regula Burckhardt, Sufi Music of India and Pakistan (University of Chicago Press, 1995)

Schimmel, Annemarie, "Islam in India and Pakistan," Iconography of Religions XXII 9 (Leiden: Brill, 1982)

Schimmel, Annemarie, Mystical Dimensions of Islam (Chapel Hill: University of North Caroline Press, 1975)

Translation and transliteration of Haq Ali Maula (track 4) from, accessed 5-31-11

Translation of Amir Khusraw's Zihale Miskin Makun Tagaful (track 6) from, accessed 5-31-11


Podcast, notes, and slideshow coordinated by Michael Wilpers, manager of public programs. Web design by Liz Cheng, audio engineering by Andy Finch, photography by Neil Greentree, curatorial review by Debra Diamond, and editing by Joelle Seligson.

This performance was recorded in concert at the Freer Gallery on April 30, 2011, in conjunction with the conference Piety, Poetry, and Politics: Sufi Muslims in South Asia, presented by the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, the Library of Congress, and the Freer and Sackler Galleries.

The 2011 visit to the United States by the Chishty Sufi Sama Ensemble was made possible through the assistance of the Embassy of India, Washington, DC; the Indian Council of Cultural Relations; the Chishty Foundation, Ajmer, Rajasthan, India; Kenneth X. Robbins; and Walter Anderson.

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