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Girls, protectors of Kashmiri Sufi music

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When teenager Shabnam Bashir started playing classical Sufi music six years ago, she had to sing in secret as her family did not want her to sing.

Ground Report | Srinagar: In Kashmir, the 17-year-old is now singing traditional Sufi songs under the guidance of her teacher, Muhammad Yaqub Sheikh. Once upon a time, there was a male monopoly in the field of Sufi singing, which is now gradually disappearing with Shabnam Bashir and girls like her. “It took me two months to convince my parents,” Shabnam Bashir, a classmate of the other girls, said.

“My father finally allowed me on the condition that it would not affect my education,” she said. Millions of people in Muslim-majority Kashmir are followers of Sufism. It is a branch of Islam, in which the peace of the soul is lost through music and dance.

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The songs of this musical are full of self-sacrifice, humility and submission in the old Kashmiri language and Persian and their history dates back to the fifteenth century, but over time in a unique way only became the tradition of men and so on. Centuries passed from generation to generation.

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Shabnam Bashir’s teacher Muhammad Yaqub Sheikh is untouchable in this matter. He learned the art from his grandfather, Ghulam Muhammad Qalin Baf, who was known as one of the best Sufi singers in his area.

Sheikh, who lives on the outskirts of Srinagar, says, “In the past, teachers did not pass this art on to their grandchildren, because they were the sons of daughters, because the art was considered exclusive to sons or grandsons.” ‘

Sheikh started teaching Sufi singing to other people to protect this untouched art of music and according to him he is working hard and he has achieved great success in this regard.

The songs, which use the lyrics of old Kashmiri- and Persian-language devotional poetry, date back to the 15th century. But they have evolved as a uniquely male tradition, sung by men and handed down through the male line of the family. Sheikh is the exception — he learned the art from his maternal grandfather, Ghulam Mohammad Qaleenbaf, one of the region´s best known Sufi singers.

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J&K has never had a film industry, unlike other states in India where regional cinema thrives. The scant efforts at film production have resulted in movies about Kashmir’s political history and social issues. The first Kashmiri movie was “Manziraat” (Henna ceremony) released in 1964 and screened at a theatre in the main city of Kashmir. It was well received by the general population and even won the President’s Award for the best regional film in Kashmir.

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