IF one hails from the subcontinent, it is hard never to have heard the throbbing beat of ‘dama dam mast qalandar’ — a Sufi anthem whose following has transcended geographical boundaries thanks to the popularity of fusion music and technological advancement. Hundreds of singers have rendered it in genres ranging from qawwali to film songs. It is believed to have been originally written by Amir Khusro in the 13th century and then added to by Bulleh Shah in the 17th century.
Recently, it was claimed on a TV show that Saghar Siddiqui penned the famous song. Now Saghar was a tremendous poet who went uncelebrated and totally ignored. He deserves appreciation and acknowledgement without any doubt. However, he was too big a poet to be laden with someone else’s creation. Probably what caused this confusion is that he may have written the lyrics for one of the two movies featuring this song in 1956 and 1969. In the latter year, it was sung by Madam Noor Jehan who truly immortalised it.
It happens many a time that folklore is adapted for contemporary usage and minor tweaks make it more accessible and attractive for audiences. To that extent, Saghar, or anyone else for that matter, would deserve accolades as it is no mean feat to make a change, no matter how minor, in an already phenomenally popular work of art without taking something away from the beauty of the original.
The song as we know it today may be an amalgam of devotion to various mystics.
It is important to differentiate between dhamal, the tune and the lyrics of the song set to it. Since this region has been a melting pot of cultures, in all likelihood the tune predates the song as dhamal, a stomping beat, is accompanied by an ecstatic whirling and stamping that has come to be associated with a particular type of dance performed in a trance-like state at Sufi shrines. Its appeal is so widespread that both dhamal and the song’s refrain ‘dama dam mast qalandar’ have entered the sociopolitical lexicon to connote meanings far from its original intent. Among its myriad usages, ‘dhamal’ is used to signify ‘intense’ and ‘dama dam’ to warn ‘the end is nigh’.
It was Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who first used the term ‘dama dam mast qalandar’ in 1973 to predict the political turmoil ahead. Subsequently, the late Pir Pagaro used it to relay his master’s voice to the elected governments that their days were numbered. It is also attributed to ZAB that right before the orders for his judicial murder were to be pronounced by the presiding judge, he murmured ‘Qalandar pat rakh jaan’ (O Qalandar, help save my honour). This attribution is weak on two counts. One, it has not been corroborated sufficiently, and two, ZAB most likely was not so conversant with Sindhi to have used ‘pat’ for honour.
While tracing the genesis and evolution of the anthem, it should be kept in view that Jhuley Lal is a different saint from Lal Shahbaz Qalandar. His real name was Udero Lal while the latter was named Usman Marwandi. Udero was a Hindu saint and his mausoleum complex in Tando Adam, district Sanghar in Sindh, has a unique distinction of being administered jointly by the Muslim and Hindu community. The references to ‘jhula’ (cradle) as in ‘jhuley lal’ or ‘jhuley lalan’ are reminders of the legend of Udero Lal and how as an infant he is believed to have performed miracles from his jhula.
There is nothing wrong in combining reverence for two or multiple mystics who spread the message of love and peace. Like Shahbaz Qalandar, Udero Lal enjoys a huge following among people from various faiths, but very few people realise that the references to ‘jhuley lal’ in folk music may actually pertain to him, and the song as we know it today may be an amalgam of devotion to various mystics, a tribute in unison to their teachings of tolerance and coexistence, a definite case of ‘the more the merrier’.
As a noun, ‘dhamal’ means a loud melody that is not just heard, but felt under the feet — of earthshaking variety, you may say. It is used as an adjective, especially in India to signify something very exciting, very intense, eg ‘the match had a dhamal ending’. The spontaneous dance that Pakistanis all over the country break into when surprised by something good coming their way is what we are referring to here — yes, those index fingers in the air, shoulders raised whirl is dhamal!
Given the rising political temperature and the excitement it causes among those vying for power, it seems we are poised for a rather extended dama dam season as the next general elections are not due before 2023. Incidentally, the economy too can be explained within the ambit of this piece through a proverb that reflects our predicament so perfectly that it cries out to be shared: ‘pai na paisa paley; dhamal pendi challey’ (not even a coin in the pocket, but the gait is earthshaking).
The writer is a poet and analyst.
Published in Dawn, December 5th, 2019