In recent times Pakistani musician Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan was greatly instrumental in popularizing Qawwali in many parts of the world. He managed to produce an altogether effect by mixing traditional Sufi music with western traditional music and thus creating Qawwali masterpieces.


Normally instruments which are used in Qawwali are different from each other. The main instruments used are tabla, harmonium, saringda, santur, dholak, kartal, bulbul tarang, sarangi, and rabab. Another trademark musical effect used in Qawwali is clapping of hands in a rhythmic movement. Qawwali has very little similarity with classical music like meend gamaks, taans and few other enhancement factors which are essential part of Hindustani classical music. It is also similar to classical music in its structure. Like using alap initially without any musical effect then slow rising tempo and finally increasing pace in the middle and towards the end. Raags normally used in qawwalis are; Khammaj, Kalyan, Bilawal and Kafi etc. but most fascinating rags associated with qawwalis are rags of Persia. Qawwali uses numerous tals. Common among them are fast kaherava of four to eight beats and breezy dadra tal of 6 beats.


Qawwali performance generally continues non-stop in a group setting with one main qawwal and several supporting qawwals. Audiences are also encouraged to participate in qawwalis. No wonder, this ancient version of Islamic devotional song has never lost its sheen and kept on mesmerizing people all over the world.


Interestingly, development of Qawwali coincided with growth of bhajans of Hindus. All credit to the India’s cultural diversity because of which two entirely contrasting genres of music coexisted and prospered together. Example of Kabir, the famous bhajan singer demonstrates the above stated fact. He is equally respected by both Hindu and Muslims.


Qawwali in its true sense symbolizes the Sufi tradition. Sufism is an Islamic philosophy which aims to achieve the real truth and heavenly worship by unswerving individual experience. It is also known as tasawwuf in Arabian. Sufism emphasizes on remembering god in vocal form through Qawwali.   


Development of Qawwali hit a roadblock during the time of Mogul emperor Aurangzeb. But with the fall of mogul empire, it again regained its rhythmic popularity amongst the masses. Though, problems occurred during British Empire because of lack of patronage but at the same time, the practitioners found the required freedom to indulge in the passion of playing qawwalis all over the India.


Then came the golden period of Qawwali with the arrival of Indian film industry. Indian movies helped a great deal in spreading the popularity of qawwalis. On one hand Indian films helped in revival of this precious genre but at the same time, filmy qawwalis had started to acquire those ostentatious attributes. Many great qawwalis have been included in Indian movies. In fact, during certain time duration most of the movies had at least one Qawwali sequence. Qawwali had found its voice again, though not in its purest form but still mere presence of it was sufficient to energize the audiences. 


Qawwali is one of the most conventional forms of songs. It’s basically a version of Islamic song, popular in India and Pakistan.  Origin of the word qawwali is traced to Arabic word Qaol, meaning ‘axiom’ or ‘dictum’.  Singer of Qawwali is called Qawwal. Qawwali is sung in praises of God and represents spiritual aspects of life.


Historically, qawwali is said to be originated somewhere around the era of the birth of Muhammad.  The first time basics of qawwali were defined, it was during 10th and 11th century. Al-Gazli is credited to define principles of qawwalis. Though, even before him, other Islamic scholars had talked about spiritual side of this genre of music. The spread and popularity of qawwali in Indian and Pakistan is because of Chisti school of Sufism. This school is rumored to be started by Khwaj Moinuddin Hasan Chisti (1143-1234).  However, this has not been established as a fact, yet.


Another Muslim saint who helped in spreading qawwali was Shaikh Nizamuddin Auliya (1236-1325).  Known as a pious man, he used qawwalis in his preaching, praising the deeds of God. Both Khwaj Moinuddin Hasan Chisti and Shaikh Nizamuddin Auliya are famous resource of inspiration to many people and every year mass gathering is held at their tombs. But one man who stands above the rest when it comes to propagating the musings of qawwalis, it is Amir Khusru (1254-1324). His fame is because of his talents as Philosopher and musician. He helped in the evolution of qawwali by mixing numerous musical elements from different cultures. He used musical parts from India. Persia (Iran) and Turkey and produced an altogether different magical effect.