Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Hazrat Inayat Khan: The Mysticism of Sound and Music (1)

On Tuesday the 16th of October, Susan Southall gave a presentation to the Spiritual Reading Group on the life and work of the Sufi writer and musician Hazrat Inayat Khan (1882-1927). Here is her paper, while in a separate post you will find the quotes from his book ‘The Mysticism of Sound and Music’ (Shambhala, 1996) used by the Group for discussion.

Hazrat Inayat Khan was born in 1882 in Baroda, then a princely state in what is now Gujarat, India. He came from a family that was intensely musical. His father descended from an ancient family of feudal landowners who were Sufi saints, poets, and musicians. His mother was the daughter of Sholay Khan Maulabakhsh, one of India’s greatest musicians at that time, who travelled throughout India and was given princely rank by the Maharajah of Mysore. 

Their home in Baroda was the centre of an extended family that contributed so significantly to musical culture in Baroda that it brought together not only Muslim, but Brahmin and Parsi families as well: this intellectual development was important to Inayat Khan in his exposure to different religious traditions.

            Inayat Khan was what is known today as a gifted child. His musical skill was so advanced that before the age of twenty he became a full professor at the Gayanshala academy of music founded by his grandfather in 1886 (now the Baroda University Faculty of Music). He had written his first book on music at the age of fourteen, and at age nine, he sang a famous Sanskrit hymn at a court ceremony, winning a reward from the Maharajah for his performance.

            The title Hazrat is an Arabic honorific used in India for high officials, royalty, and clergy. Literally ‘Presence’ it corresponds to ‘Your Honour’, ‘Your Excellency’, ‘Your Majesty’ or ‘Your Holiness’. The 25 Prophets of the Koran, such Muhamad, Jesus, Moses and so on, may be described by their names as Hazrat Moses, for example. Hazrat Inayat Khan has a princely background and is also a religious teacher. Imams may be addressed as Hazrat. He may be understood as not so much elite as superior: he comes from a high level of society and he has added to this by his personal accomplishments and qualities.

            His personality as a child was lively and intelligent, but he was also marked by deep reflection and questioning about God, nature, truth and morality. The tragedy of family deaths marked his youth: he lost his grandfather — the famous musician Maulabakhsh — his younger brother, and his beloved mother all before he was twenty. Thereupon Inayat Khan began to travel. 

            The life of famous musicians, even today, is often marked by travel. Inayat Khan began by going to Madras and Mysore, places where his grandfather had won fame, and had success there, returning home as a poet, publishing then a book of his poems in various Indian languages. He soon took his grandfather’s style of music to the centre of Moghul traditional culture, Hyderabad, where he moved in musical circles and wrote his final book on music, explaining his grandfather’s musical style for Urdu readers.

He was introduced at the court of His Exalted Highness Nizam Mahbub Ali Khan. When the ruler of Hyderabad asked about his music, Inayat Khan replied that his music is his religion, because sound is mysterious, and knowledge of sound through music reveals the secrets of the universe. His thought is music, his feeling is music, his emotion creates beauty which leads to ‘the harmony which unites souls in God.’

In Hyderabad, he met his teacher of Arabic and Persian literature, Maulana Hashimi, who saw in him a mystic developing into a Sufi Pir, a religious master. In the Sufi tradition, a spiritual guide or Murshid is required to bring a disciple to initiation into the mystical order as a follower of the Sufi path to God. For Inayat Khan, the Murshid he met in Hyderabad, Syed Muhammad Hashim Madani, although an Arab by background, came of the specifically Indian order of Chishtiyya Sufis. As with Rumi and his beloved guide and mentor Shams of Tabriz, the relationship of teacher and disciple was devoted and close. The ideal in Sufi teaching is for rapturous study of God through the Murshid, and the songs and poems Inayat Khan wrote in honour of his master testify to ‘the joy and exaltation’ he felt through this relationship until his mentor died in 1908.[i]
According to Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan, “Just before Hazrat Sayyid Abu Hashim Madani died … he directed Pir-O-Murshid Inayat Khan, his successor, to go to the West and attune the hearts of the people to the music of the soul. At that time my father was a renowned Indian musician; he gave up a career in music for the sake of the work he had been given to found the Sufi Order in the West.”[ii]

Inayat Khan then left Hyderabad and travelled throughout India, Ceylon and Rangoon, concentrating on perfecting his music and developing the process of the spiritual life, described as annihilation of the ego and resurrection to finding ‘the essence of being’. In 1910, he left the feudal life of India for the United States, accompanied by his brothers and cousins who were his disciples already.

His life as a Sufi in the West was then unusual. In 1912 he travelled widely in Europe and Russia, giving concerts of Indian music and lecturing; he also married an American, Ora Ray Baker (Amina Begum) and the couple eventually had four children. They settled in France, but lived in London throughout World War I, from 1914-1920.  It was in London that the Sufi Order was arranged, having a headquarters there where initiates could be trained and lectures, courses, and concerts were given. By this time there were national branches in various countries: in 1920 the headquarters moved to Geneva, while the family moved back to France and lived near Paris.[iii]

Of his four children, his two sons became heads of the Sufi Order in their turn, while one of his daughters, Noor-un-Nisa Inayat Khan, was a heroine of the French Resistance in WWII. As a British agent, she was a wireless operator in France when she was captured, interrogated by the Gestapo, tortured and executed in Dachau, without giving information to the Germans. She was posthumously awarded the George Cross. [iv] The role of a woman in Mughal nobility was ‘to live her religious faith, and to live and represent, and so perpetuate, her ancestral standards and values’[v] so therefore ‘one could never take a great lady’s name in any personal sense’, as ‘discussing women, and especially high-born ladies, with others, was disrespectful and so, offensive … Divulging one’s actual name, rather than one’s alias, degree or title for public purposes was shocking, breaching accepted conventions. . Even the deliberate shortening of names out of reverence, although grammatically faulty — such as Inayat Khan for Inayat Allah Khan — contained something of that dissimulation of the “real” name’ (even for men). So, the book published about Noorunnisa under the title of her code-name Madeline caused problems for the family. His other daughter Khair-un-Nisa is not written about so and has fulfilled the tradition of Mughal women remaining obscure.

Inayat Khan worked intensively as teacher, lecturer, performer and administrator of the Sufi Order, until his death in 1927 on a return visit to India, where he had visited the most famous Sufi shrine, the tomb of Khwaja Mu’inuddin Chishti, with its serene atmosphere and sacred music. He caught a fatal chill in this place, and died at Delhi 0n 5th February, 1927.[vi]

 The beginning of the 20th century brought movements in art, religion, music and philosophy that we are still dealing with today. Inayat Khan shares a birth year with Stravinsky and Joyce. Major events circle around the year 1910, when Inayat Khan was sent to the West. Daighilev’s Ballet Russes performed Stravinsky’s Firebird in the Paris 1910 season, bringing new colour and excitement to the stage. Schonberg produced his Theory of Harmony in that year, and Pierrot Lunaire, with its expressionist Sprechstimme in 1912, and began to explore atonal music. The boy Krishnamurti came to the attention of the Theosophical Society in 1909.

Picasso painted Les Demoiselles d’Avignon in 1907 and 1909-1912 made the break with traditional perspective that would lead to cubism. Matisse in 1907-1913 was exploring his Wild Beast (Fauve) colourism, including orientalism during his time in Algeria 1906. In literature, Joyce began writing Ulysses in 1914.  Gertrude Stein was producing experimental writings and stream of consciousness, including automatic writing with William James, who has already described the mystical experience in 1902 in Varieties of Religious Experience.

While James is a pragmatist, who believes that truth is best measured by practical results (a viewpoint particularly appropriate today), Freud went about founding the International Psychoanalytical Movement in 1910. His book on religion, Totem and Taboo, was published in 1913.Wittgenstein was in Cambridge with Bertrand Russell during this period: his notes written during WWI will become the Tractatus, striving for a new understanding of language.

There are many other examples of this extremely fruitful period. New sounds, new sights, new thoughts and understandings are coming into the West, and some of these arise in other cultures: Russia, North Africa, and India. 

For Inayat Khan, musicianship early ‘ranked only and uniquely with sainthood and nobility’: it is his ‘specific firm ground from which to move the world.’[vii] There you have his background as a whole: feudal owners of lands, properties, honours, and titles; Sufi mystics; courtly and gentlemanly musicians. The Mughal heritage identified as ‘the highest, most humane mode and standard of life’ or ‘humanity’ for India became through Inayat Khan universalism. Where his grandfather attained princely rank, Inayat Khan reached even higher, becoming a ‘God-realised mystic.’[viii]

[i] Material in this article from htpps://inayatiorder.org/hazrat-inayat-khan/ (accessed 24 August2018).
[ii] Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan, Awakening: a Sufi Experience, edited by Pythia Pray. (New York: Tarcher/Putnam, 1999). p.166.
[iii] Material from htps://inayatiorder.org/hazrat-inayat-khan

[v]Shaikh Al-Mahaik Mahmood Khan, ‘ Mawlabakhshi Raijkufu A’lakhandan: The Mawlabakhsh Dynastic Lineage, 1833-1972 ‘in A Pearl in Wine: Essays on the Life, Music and Sufism of Hazrat Inayat Khan, ed. Pirzade Zia Inayat Khan (New Lebanon, Omega, 2001), p. 28, pp 35-36.
[vi] Material from https://inayatiorder.org/hazrat-inayat-khan/
[vii] Ibid, pp. 5-6.
[viii] Ibid, pp. 50-51.

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