Ottoman maqam and sufism
When we think about music in the context of Sufism then we remember how deeply connected Indian music and mysticism are. Hazrat Inayat Khan, the great Indian Sufi Mystic and Musician, writes:
"The Life Absolute from which has sprung all that is felt, seen, and perceived, and into which all again merges in time, is a silent, motionless and eternal life which among the Sufis is called Zat. Every motion that springs forth from this silent life is a vibration and a creator of vibrations. Within one vibration are created many vibrations; as motion causes motion so the silent life becomes active in a certain part, and creates every moment more and more activity, losing thereby the peace of the original silent life. It is the grade of activity of these vibrations that accounts for the various planes of existence. These planes are imagined to differ from one another, but in reality they cannot be entirely detached and made separate from one another. The activity of vibrations makes them grosser, and thus the earth is born of the heavens.
Man is not only formed of vibrations, but he lives and moves in them; they surround him as the fish is surrounded by water, and he contains them within him as the tank contains water. His different moods, inclinations, affairs, successes and failures, and
all conditions of life depend upon a certain activity of vibrations, whether these be thoughts, emotions or feelings. (Hazrat Inayat Khan, Mysticism of Sound, Chapter Silent Life)"
This is how Hazrat Inayat Khan introduces the topic of Silent Life in Mysticism of Sound, shortened a bit by me. The concept of vibrations as the source of all existence is an old typical Indian concept, where Music and Mysticism have been the same, as Hazrat Inayat Khans Mysticism is at the same time his music, and his music his mysticism. Indian music is based on a system called Raga, and is one of the great music traditions of humanity. Another great music tradition of humanity is the Ottoman music, which is based on a system called Maqam. While the Indian Raga system can be traced back to around 2500 year ago, the Ottoman maqam system can be traced back to around 14th century and is as such like a younger brother or sister of the Indian Raga system. And indeed, the ottoman music and it’s maqam system have a lot of similarities to the Raga system of India, and today I would like elaborate on the mystical concepts behind ottoman maqam music.
In short, every maqam represent a certain scale with a starting note and ending note, notes which the maqam loves to stay as well as melodical progress, which can be likened to a color of music. Besides this musical explanation of maqam, since the old times there has always been an explanation of maqam as carrying a certain thought and meaning, which has an influence on body, mind and soul.
There are 3 types of communication according to the old masters. Lisani-i kal, speech; Lisan-i hal, expression and atmosphere; and Lisan-i elhan, melodies.
The moment where we did get in touch with melodies is expressed in the Quran as the moment of Elest’u bi rabbikum, Am I not your Lord, where we did hear that divine sound. Thus we have endless melodies already in us impressed on our soul at that moment of the touch of the divine presence.
"Our sense of music, our attraction to music, shows that there is music in the depth of our being. Music is behind the working of the whole universe. Music is not only life's greatest object, but it is life itself." (Hazrat Inayat Khan, A Message of Spiritual Liberty Vol II, Music of the Spheres)
And a bit later in the same lecture Hazrat Inayat Khan teaches "What makes us feel drawn to music is that our whole being is music; our mind and our body, the nature in which we live, the nature which has made us, all that is beneath and around us, it is all music; and we are close to all this music, and live and move and have our being in music." A Quranic statement cited by Hazrat Inayat Khan on that topic is Kun fayaqun, Be and it became, a statement which makes clear that God only says Kun, BE, and it became. Where we have again a sign on the importance of Sound.
A maqam is not invented but found. That means all maqams already exist. There is nothing outside, which is not inside. One just needs to get in connexion with it, explore it, and find it. That means one searches in oneself for the maqam and from there it manifests. Very similar to how the divine is already existent in our depth and we just need to explore it. Similarly, to understand a maqam one needs to get aware of it inside.
A maqam also means a station, a place where one is, symbolizing a station on spiritual growth. To deepen inside what is being symbolized then is part of the individual spiritual training and experience.
The maqams are divided into 3 categories. The first category are the tasviri maqams. This maqams express a feeling or a picture and are in general describing a condition. There is a good example to show how a maqam can be found inside. A very famous composer of Ottoman times was Haci Arif Bey. he found a maqam that is called Kuerdilihicazkar. around the time when he found this maqam, his wife took the two children and left him. He deeply felt the pain because he had loved his wife and children a lot. The maqam of Kuerdilihicazkar is pictured as a palace in flames. That means it represents the pain of love. Exactly the condition in which the great master was.
Another tasviri maqam is Ferahfeza, the meaning of the word is increasing relief, or happiness, which already describes the effect of this maqam. Ismail Dede Efendi, one of the big ottoman composers, composed a Ayin in that maqam, a very beautiful one. The story is, that the Sultan II. Mahmud told him one day, that it would be beautiful to have a Ayin in that maqam. And Dede Efendi did compose it. At that time, the sultan was very sick. And the both had been close to each other in the love of music. When it was ready and should be played for the first time in a Mevlevi ritual, the sultan was invited but his staff told in the day of the event that the sultan was not well and won’t be able to come. When the ceremony just started, the sultan came, with all his pains he did come. He had one of his last moments of relief and happiness, then he passed 3 month after this event. The moment of relief and happiness is not speculation, but his own words, which shows the effect of the maqam.
Another tasviri maqam is Sultani Yegah, a maqam found by the previous mentioned Dede Efendi. It is a maqam of happiness and exaltation. It’s symbolized as ‘giving life to the beloved within’. It is like sweet-talking to the beloved, like the nightingale to the rose.
I hope this shows a bit of the nature of the tasviri maqams.
The tasviri maqams do not have that depth of love, or the smell of the unlimited like the two other types, but they teach us important lessons on the way to that depth and unlimitedness. For me, one of the most important teachings is that we are not always in the control of life conditions. There are sad times and happy times. But whatever the maqam, we can play a beautiful music or an ugly one in this maqam. That is in our control. And this maqams teach this to us, showing us what Hazrat Inayat Khan expressed as ‘Self-pity is the worst poverty’, and instead self-pity to create beauty and harmony in the music of our life, and through that develop further as human being on our way to completeness, which Hazrat Inayat Khan expresses as the ‘way from limitation to perfection’.
"Music, the word we use in our everyday language, is nothing less than the picture of our Beloved. It is because music is the picture of our Beloved that we love music. But the question is what is our Beloved and where is our Beloved? Our Beloved is that which is our source and our goal; and what we see of our Beloved before our physical eyes is the beauty which is before us; and that part of our Beloved not manifest to our eyes is that inner form of beauty of which our Beloved speaks to us. If only we would listen to the voice of all the beauty that attracts us in any form, we would find that in every aspect it tells us that behind all manifestation is the perfect Spirit, the spirit of wisdom." (Hazrat Inayat Khan, Vol II., Music)
With these words of Hazrat Inayat Khan I would like to give examples of the Garami maqams, the maqams of divine love.
The maqam of Yegah has a similarity in it’s name to the Sultani- Yegah maqam. In a way one could say that Sultan-I Yegah is more on the surface of Yegah, which is from beginning to end Love. It symbolizes the state in which the tongue is not able to say anything anymore. The tone it ends is a deep tone which is not so easy to play on the ney for example, or to sing. The lovers pain deepened the lover more and more, and he now became silent, waiting to see the face of the beloved. That is the symbol expressed by Yegah.
Another maqam is Ussak, that means the plural of Asik, the lover, so it means Lovers.
Mustafa Naksi Dede, who was a Mevlevi, expressed it in this way:
I’m not Me, what I call I is always You
What I call Soul, what I call body, is always You
A kudum like my heart has become a drum
The Tenna tenana ten I say is always You
In other words, there is no I in the maqam, only the Beloved is. And is connected closely to the esma al-wadud.
Then there are the uhrevi maqams, maqams which are connected to the unlimited.
One of these is called Buselik. Buse means a kiss, and buselik then made to be kissed. It’s symbolizing unconditional, endless love, and hence ready to be kissed by the beloved. It’s the depth of love kissed by the perfection of love harmony and beauty. It’s like a garami maqam, but when you think it’s not possible to love much more, from there, to take one step more to get the kiss of the beloved. The moment of kiss is not a moment of speech, but of silence with lips closed, and of experiencing the silent life. This is also symbolized in the playing of the Ney, which is a reed flute. Live is given by the breath of the player, and the way it is plays is like kissing the Ney.
Another Uhrevi Maqam is Mahur. Mahur means a cliff. In other words, imagine standing at the top of the mountain, beneath your feet it goes down into an endless depth. The courage to stand there and to look and enjoy the view, that courage is given by the maqam Mahur. Mahur gives the courage to look at our own self, our innermost being, to touch that endless depth which is our true self, without any kind of fear.
And in that, the purpose of life takes a step in its fulfillment.