Life n Living – Part 2

Kabir – Timeless wisdom

Two singers, Shabnam Virmani and Vipul Rikhi, present the wisdom of Kabir in their inimitable style and have captivated audiences wherever they have travelled.

Here’s an excerpt from an interview with Vipul Rikhi, who’s also a poet, translator and fiction writer:
1) What draws you to Kabir’s music? What inspired you to sing Kabir’s songs?
I am drawn to Kabir’s songs for the power of truth that they contain. Whether mocking, urging, inspiring, revealing or confounding, his songs seem always to carry that stamp of authority which comes from an experience of truth. It is this same power and strength, both in Kabir’s words and in the folk music traditions which carry them, that makes me aspire to become some sort of a vehicle for this poetry and song. 

Mukthiyar Ali, Pugal village
Photo Credit :Smriti Chanchani
Playing the tambura
Photo Credit :Shilo Shiv Suleiman

2) Are you a trained singer? Were you always drawn towards different genres of music?
I’m not a trained singer. I have no formal training. I was always drawn to music per se and always wanted to learn. But I had never imagined the compelling strength of this folk music tradition until I encountered it. And then it drew me in inexorably.

Vipul and Shabnam
Photo Credit: Kismet Jewell Nakai
Unearthing Old Songs
Photo Credit :Smriti Chanchani

3) Which is the place that resonates more with Kabir’s philosophy?
That place is Shoonya, Emptiness! Frequently Kabir calls you to his land, where there is neither sun nor moon, neither wind nor water, neither earth nor sky, no Vedas or Gita or Brahma-Vishnu-Mahesh, neither birth nor death.  He is calling us to experience this shoonya all the time, within ourselves! That place – no place – is Kabir’s special place.

4) Who are your favorite singers and why?

Among the folk voices, my most favourite singers are Mahesha Ram, Parvathy Baul, Prahlad Singh Tipanya and Mooralala Marwada. They each have a unique way of singing and expressing this truth. Mahesha Ramji is meditative and mesmeric.

Parvathy Baul is intense and soul-wrenching. Prahlad ji is rousing and inspiring. Mooralala is lilting and beautiful. Among the classical voices, my most favourite is Kumar Gandharva, for his plumbing the depths of each note that he strikes.

In conversation with Parvathy Baul,Trivandrum
Informal Satsang with Parvathy Baul at the Malwa Kabir Yatra, 2011
Photos bySmriti Chanchani

5) You have travelled extensively. What are the similarities and differences with which people embrace the Kabir philosophy?

There should be a book on Everyone’s Kabir, because people embrace him in so many different ways.  The common people of our country relate to him with a great sense of ownership and pride, quoting him with elan and even sometimes saying: “Ham bhi to Kabir hain” (I too am Kabir)! Certain brands of Kabirpanthis have mythologised him and look at him as an avatar or divinity himself. Scholars scratch their heads and try to find the “authentic Kabir” because there are very few historical records or texts from his time. Urban folk have rediscovered Kabir and are organising festivals and events  in order to relate with his words in an alive and contemporary way once again. People have written books, made films, staged plays or mounted dance productions based around his words. It tells us that many people in many places relate with one or the other aspect of his poetry and his truth. And that tells us something about its reach, power and universality.

Village Concert, Malwa Kabir Yatra 2011
Read an article by Vipul on this yatra
Photo by Smriti Chanchani

6) Any interesting anecdote that you would like to share with the readers…Often Kabir speaks in ways designed to confound the rational intellect. He has a whole genre of songs called ulatbaasi (upside-down verse). These may provoke dismay among adults who scratch their heads about the ‘meaning’, but are invariably a source of great delight for children! We love sharing these poems and songs especially in schools and with young children. There is one couplet which speaks of the earth becoming a roti/chapati, which the crow has taken into his mouth. Now, where is he going to sit and eat it, asks the couplet.Kids provide all kinds of entertaining answers to this strange paradox, including the crow flying off to the moon to sit and eat this particular chapati, or even to the sun because, in this upside-down world, the sun would not be scorching hot but cool!

Painting Kabir on the walls of Bangalore 
A design charette at Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology

The Kabir Project team, which includes Smriti Chanchani, Shabnam Virmani, Vipul Rikhi and a few others, is building a vast online repository of songs and mystic poetry from the folk oral traditions, called ‘Ajab Shahar’, freely accessible to all, with words of songs, translations and notes, among other things. See some of this content live on their Youtube channel:

The Kabir Project Team and friends

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