Wadali Brothers: Sufism as Emancipation


Noted Sufi singer brothers Puran Chand Wadali and Pyare Lal Wadali and three members of their troupe were injured when their Tavera vehicle collided with a stationary truck on the Amritsar- Jalandhar road in the wee hours today.

While Puran Chand Wadali got internal injuries, his younger brother Pyare Lal was stated to be serious.

As I read this chilling piece of belated news (via Sufinews), I was reminded of the many performances by the Wadali brothers that I have had the privilege to attend.

The Wadali Brothers are a 5th generation Sufi singers from the village called Guru ki Wadali in Amritsar district.

I first heard them sometime in the early nineties. We sat on rugs on the floor in a DAV college auditorium, as mists swirled in the wintry evening outside. The auditorium was not exactly overflowing with students.

This was to change later, when I heard them next, the show was in the city’s biggest theater and it was packed to capacity.

But in both cases, one was struck by the electrifying quality of their singing. It was not just the sheer quality of their deep throated rendition, but also the selection of the qalam. They sang not only much from the doyen of the Punjabi Sufi poets, Baba Bulle Shah but also one could not but help noticing that their compositions combined poetry from various Sufi poets.

Some of the most radical snippets were taken from various sources to deliver a performance that not only mesmerized with its musicality but also delivered a strong message of emancipation. The verses were from Bulle Shah, Baba Farid, Amir Khusro and Sant Kabir as well as Shah Hussain, Ghulam Farid and other Punjabi Sufi poets.

This is one aspect of their singing that renditions available in cassettes, CDs and also online do not seem to contain.

Only in this rendition of the Jugni does this aspect come forth to some extent. The Jugni had been, for many years, trivialized to some extent. The Wadali Brothers’ version of Jugni that I heard in a live performance had elegantly combined some very powerful snippets from Kabir and Bulle Shah, both of whom have written very critically about institutionalized religion. Bulle Shah, for example says:

dharamsal vich dharvi rahinde, thakur dware thug
vich maseet kusatti rahinde, aashik rahin alag

(In temples reside the ruffians, in gurudwaras, the thugs
In mosques reside the liars, the true lovers (of the Divine), stay aloof from all these.)

If I am not mistaken, the Wadali brothers come from among the Dalits for whom Sufism has a strong appeal with its message of emancipation.

The elder of the two, Puran Chand Wadali spent 25 years wrestling in an akhara before becoming a full time musician. They describe their initial experience in performing at the Harballah Sangeet Sammelan thus:

Our admirers in the village told us of the Harballabh Sangeet Sammelan in Jalandhar. Ready to perform, we headed for the concert, where we were disallowed entry due to our appearance. We did not even remotely look like musicians, what with my handlebar moustache and all. We were attired in chadar kurta and had no airs around us.

Incidentally, though they had been singing for a quarter of a century, their first cassette was released only in 2000. Their popularity was to soar quickly, as CDs by TIMES and others were released subsequently.

They went on to sing Amrita Pritam’s poem Aj aakhan Waris Shah nu in the film Pinjar.

A very comprehensive collection at Musicindiaonline.
The Apnaorg site also has a good selection of some of their recordings.

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9 thoughts on “Wadali Brothers: Sufism as Emancipation

  1. The accident news is sad. I hope they recover soon.

    Although I’ve never had the privilege of listening to them live, I have been a fan of Wadali brothers ever since I heard them on Doordarshan years ago. Their buland awaaz is truly representative of the spirit sufism embodies.

    The description of singing in the sammelan is hilarious. Appearance wise they do indeed make up an unlikely musical duo.

    Thanks for the Musicindia link. I shall have a great time now.

  2. You must attend a performance whenever you get a chance. I know it’s tough in Delhi, but it will be worth the effort because the effect that comes across in recordings is a mere fraction of what one experiences during the performance.

    There has been very little news about their accident in the English media (this report itself is 2 months old), and I haven’t been able to seen other news item about them.

  3. hey guys…m a big fan of wadali brothers….but i dont know about any of their concerts..nd i really wish to attend one…if anybody knows bout their upcoming concerts…plzzz mail me…..il be grateful to u….plzzzz.

  4. Pingback: The Deafening Silence of Dalits in Punjab « a reader’s words

  5. Asslam-o-alykum,
    Dear anyware,
    My Full Name ANSAR HAYAT QADRI
    RUQUSET
    Please Wadali Brother me Search is book Baba BULLE-E-SHAH of Qannoon-e-ishaq please Tell Me This Link,Shop,Labrery Anyway.

    Ok
    Thank & Regards

  6. i have attended a live concert yesterday in delhi Town hall and the perfomence was abt 2hrs and it was great and i liked soooo much i have been listning to them on CD’s and records and it was first time i have seen tnem perfoming on the stage and that was really great time for me and i wud like to see that again and be a part of their group and if i get notified abt all the places where we can litsen to them i wud come for sure….

    Wadali Brothers
    God Bless U Both and Your family and ur loved once
    i pray for ur health
    Thank you

  7. Thanks for this blog entry. It’s very true re: emancipation. Ironic though… if I understand correctly it was largely Mirasis (shudra) who kept classical/sufi traditions alive… not upper castes. I often wonder how Bade Ghulam Ali Khan (mirasi) would be treated if he had been born in our time….perhaps his dark skin, obesity and handle bar moustache would suppress his marketability in today’s pathetically shallow classical music industry when compared to the days in which he was fortunate enough to have lived. I think there are too many notable ICM musicians these days who draw a crowd for their appearance/clothing/marketing rather than their musical merit.

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