Uttar Pradesh is a state that was famed for its composite culture. The Ganga-Yamuna doab was not just known for being a rich fertile tract, but also for its tehzeeb that sought to imbibe the best of the Indo-Islamic traditions. It is, therefore, embarrassing that the kathak performance of danseuse Manjari Chaturvedi was stopped abruptly, reportedly because the dancer was performing to a qawwali — and in Lucknow — a city that lends its name to one of the three forms of this classical dance along with Benares and Jaipur. While the artiste initially presumed it was due to a technical glitch, the organisers later claimed that it was due to a shortage of time. Her first sequence, on Vrindavan, was allowed, but the later one was stalled.
Qawwali is Sufi Islamic devotional music, developed by Amir Khusro, and is popular with people from all communities. The Sufi saints, by shunning the rigid orthodoxy of religion, played an important role in the social and cultural integration of the subcontinent with their emphasis on human values. It was a Sufi saint, Miyan Mir, who was invited by Guru Arjan Dev to lay the foundation of Harmandir Sahib. Sufi saints, like Nizamuddin Auliya, were not in awe of the emperors and their popularity with the masses made them the object of envy for the monarchs. Akbar’s Navratnas included musician Tansen and Abdul Rahim Khan-e-Khana who was known to write verses on Lord Krishna. PM Narendra Modi’s constituency of Benares has had the distinction of producing shehnai exponent Bismillah Khan, who was awarded the Bharat Ratna. Shehnai, incidentally, is played at the time of weddings even in Hindu families. Some of the best devotional songs have been sung by Muslim playback singers and the Beatles, friends with sitar maestro Ravi Shankar, are known to have written many of their songs in Rishikesh, then a part of Uttar Pradesh.
Whether the Lucknow incident has got anything to do with the current political mood in the state after the CAA-NRC-NPR developments is difficult to say as of now. But music is part of culture and cultural repression can be symptomatic of political oppression.
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